Neoliberalism and Iranʹs protest movementIt's the economy, stupid!
On 1 January 2018 – the fifth day of protests in Iran – President Rouhani decided to follow the lead of his countryʹs security and military officials. While speaking of the importance of attention to economic and political realities and the peopleʹs right to protest, Rouhani overlooked the true reality of the situation, proclaiming: "There is a minority, a tiny group, who are seeking to come in and cause trouble: chanting slogans against the law and the will of the people, insulting the sanctities and values of the revolution and destroying public property. We will ensure they are rounded up."
There is no doubt that government – any government - is always engaged in "rounding up". It is in the essential working of government to round up collective wealth, to gather subjects and to stockpile power. At times, such an act takes on a harsher form. Banks and prisons, two important institutions in the modern Iranian order, are crystallisations of the ultimate form of this rounding up. These two entities may help us understand what has taken place in Iran in the last few months.
At the end of its rope
Since the moment privatisation and the economy of an "eastern" neoliberalism was rolled out in Iran during the administration of Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-1997) through its ripening in the Rouhani years, they have, beside their other results, created a class of poor and destitute people who have viewed their own meagre prospects as being bound to the very government which in fact saps their lifeblood. Owing to their dependence on government aid, these people have always been the greatest supporters of those in power.
Because of economic challenges posed by various administrationsʹ adjustment policies and international sanctions, this burgeoning class has widened to include the classical middle class and is now at the end of its rope, in just the fashion Fyodor Dostoevsky describes in his Notes from the Underground.
It should come as no surprise that this class tends to see itself as opposed to all the factions of Iranʹs two-party system (conservatives and reformists). In fact, it is the very thing the system in power has not been able to accomplish – unifying the government – that masses of protesters are doing now. This time around, protesters chant against all factions and cliques: reformists, conservatives, middle classes and the whole governing class have been called into question.