Support the Iranian struggle for bread, jobs and freedom

12 January 2018

Support the Iranian struggle for bread, jobs and freedom

“Just like everywhere else in the world, the fight must be waged from below.”

For several weeks now there have been demonstrations in Iran for bread, jobs and freedom. Tens of thousands of people have made their voices heard in what have been the biggest protests since 2009. It was for the most part young people from the religious and conservative bulwark of Mashad, Iran's second biggest city with a population of over three million, who initiated the street protests. The demonstrations against the government's economic policies have been extended to dozens of cities, women are participating and the slogans are directed as much at the spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei as they are at President Rohani. Although the movement seems to have petered out, this is a clear signal to the regime. Both the conservatives and the so-called reformers want to see change, while even their own supporters are no longer happy with these policies. And there is open criticism of the repressive regime.

Given high unemployment – 30% amongst young people –, the failure to materialise of President Rohani's promised economic progress, the money invested in wars in Syria and Iraq, and a religious elite whose principal activity is self-enrichment, the protests are completely understandable. Where they will eventually lead and what changes will be forced is impossible to predict, especially in so complex a country, and above all by an outsider.

Repressive theocracy

Last year I spent several days in Iran. My image of the country had been culled from films and books: a strict, repressive theocracy which looked on the rest of the world as the enemy. The system is indeed absolutely repressive and unbelievably discriminatory, but out there amongst the people this cannot in any sense be said. Despite all the restrictions imposed on them by the system, women are demanding their rights. Young people are well-educated. Iran has, also, a rich cultural history.

So there is every reason to stand in solidarity with the Iranians who are fighting for bread, jobs and freedom; with the women who fight against the compulsory headscarf and for equal rights; with the trade union activists for whom it's actually impossible to unite, let alone to meet with their comrades from other countries. The fact that we hear what they have to say and see what they are doing, call attention to human rights and try to prevent the renouncing of the nuclear agreement with Iran by the United States, is extremely important to Iranians.

Human Rights

There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact that human rights are under considerable pressure. Once again more than a thousand people have been arrested, of whom twenty-one have been killed and five more have died in custody. Just as we are, Amnesty International is extremely concerned by this repression. Political prisoners should not be behind bars. An investigation must be conducted into why people died, while a prisoner's right to a fair trial must be put on the agenda. All of these points must be taken up by the Dutch government.

It's abhorrent that countries such as the US and Saudi Arabia are misusing these protests for their own political ends. A military invasion or externally-imposed regime change would not only be undemocratic but also disastrous for the future of Iranians. Furthermore, it strengthens the hardliners who portray every protest as a plot emanating from the evil outside world.

In short, solidarity with the Iranian people, yes; regime change imposed from abroad, no. Just like everywhere else in the world, the fight must be waged from below. We can support this hankering for bread, jobs and freedom by putting human rights at the forefront and saying to Trump and his ilk: back off. Anyone who doesn't take human rights seriously, who supplies arms to criminal regimes and acts as an agent provocateur, has no right to discuss politics. If the US president really wants to do something meaningful for Iranians, he must allow the successful nuclear deal with Iran to stand, avoid harsh sanctions which harm the general population and stop treating all Iranians as if they were terrorists.

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