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June 26, 2018 1:27 pm

Economic Crisis Triggers Massive Iranian Protests

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attending Army Day ceremonies in Tehran on April 18. Photo: Tasnim News Agency via Reuters.

Chants of “Death to Palestine,” “Help us, not Gaza,” “Our enemy is right here, they lie and say its America,” and “Leave Syria alone and deal with Iran” reverberated through Iran’s capital on Monday. These chants occurred as Tehran merchants and others protested the collapse of their country’s currency, the rial, which has lost half its value this year.

Demonstrations also broke out in other Iranian cities.

The protests and slogans show discontent with the government’s indifference toward Iran’s economy and its insistence on spending billions of dollars on foreign wars and terrorism. Iran received more than $100 billion in sanctions relief under the Obama administration’s nuclear deal, but ordinary Iranians have not seen the benefits.

Iran announced plans this week to set the official currency exchange rate at 42,000 rials to the dollar. A dollar bought 70 rials after Iran’s 1979 revolution. And US sanctions announced last month by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could further worsen the situation.

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The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) dominates Iran’s economy. It also forms the backbone of Iran’s terror support network around the world — from Hezbollah and the Shiite militias in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The IRGC’s investment in terrorism is directly connected to the plummeting rial, exiled Iranian journalist Babak Taghvaee told the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

Protesters spontaneously filled Tehran’s Grand Bazaar on Monday. They marched on the parliament and clashed with IRGC riot police.

According to some, the magnitude of the protests rivals those of 1978 that brought the current regime to power.

While the protests caught the regime off guard, they are not expected to lead to its overthrow, Taghvaee said. Unlike the Shah’s regime, which acquiesced to foreign pressure in the face of demonstrations, the Islamic republic will fight to keep its power.

“This regime is not acting softly like [the] Shah. As they always say: ‘We have not come to the power that easily, to leave quickly,'” Taghvaee said.

But if the regime did fall, the repercussions would extend far beyond Iran’s borders, Commentary magazine writer Sohrab Ahmari wrote.

“Hamas and [Hezbollah] and Palestinian Jihad can kiss their Iranian funding goodbye if the regime falls,” Ahmari said.

John Rossomando is a Senior Analyst at the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

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