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Are Protests in Iran Being Sparked by Economic Woes?

Written by Jeff Siegel
Posted October 11, 2022

Check out this recent headline from The New York Times

iran
While economic strife can certainly contribute to rebellion, the catalyst for this recent uprising is not lack of wealth. It's a lack of freedom.

These protests didn’t start because the price of food went up.

These protests began in response to the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman from the Kurdish city of Saqez.  

You see, on September 13, Mahsa Amini was arrested by the “morality police” (yes, that’s a real thing) because she was not wearing her hijab in the way that is mandated by the government. Apparently it was too loose and allowed for some of her hair to be revealed. 

That was her crime, and it was a crime that had her arrested and detained. 

Three days later, she died.

Iranian officials claim she suffered a heart attack and then fell into a coma after being arrested... which, of course, is suspicious since Amini had no preexisting heart issues. And according to women who were also arrested alongside Mahsa, she was beaten inside the transport van. Unsurprisingly, it seems that the video cameras in the van were not working that day, according to the morality police. 

Since then, an autopsy was conducted and, according to Iranian government officials, Amini died from organ failure related to cerebral hypoxia.

The deceased had undergone a craniopharyngioma surgery because of a brain tumor at age 8 at a hospital in Tehran 15 years ago. Due to her underlying disease, the deceased was on medication, taking hydrocortisone, levothyroxine and desmopressin.

Apparently this led to organ failure related to cerebral hypoxia.

While I’m not a medical professional, I’m unlikely to take the word of any government that maintains a morality police department and allowed no independent outside observers access to Amini’s autopsy.

And let’s face it: It’s not as if the Iranian government is known for being a pillar of truth or a champion of human rights. 

As reported by Amnesty International, human rights abuses are actually quite common in Iran.

In 2021, thousands of people were interrogated, unfairly prosecuted, and/or arbitrarily detained solely for peacefully exercising their human rights, and hundreds remained unjustly imprisoned. 

Security forces unlawfully used lethal force and bird shot to crush protests. 

Women, LGBT people, and ethnic and religious minorities faced entrenched discrimination and violence. 

Legislative developments further undermined sexual and reproductive rights, the right to freedom of religion and belief, and access to the internet. 

Torture and other ill-treatment, including denying prisoners adequate medical care, remained widespread and systematic. 

Judicial punishments of floggings, amputations, and blinding were imposed. 

The death penalty was used widely, largely as a weapon of repression. 

Executions were carried out after unfair trials. 

Seems to me that the people of Iran — particularly women, who have been suffocating under extreme tyranny and oppression for the past 43 years — reached their limit and are fighting back.

That being said, one can’t completely deny that economic failures under 43 years of religious rule are consequential.

In the six years that followed Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power in 1979, absolute poverty in Iran increased by 40%, with some estimates showing poverty rates getting as high as 75% by 1988.

Of course, it’s difficult to get reliable data as the Iranian government doesn’t provide it. But according to the IMF, it’s estimated that more than half of Iran’s population now lives below the poverty line. 

So yes, this increase in poverty under religious rule can’t be trivialized when we assess why the people of Iran are rising up. But to connect economic uncertainty and poverty with this uprising while trivializing the absence of freedom, liberty, and basic human rights is not only irresponsible but also very much in line with the type of propaganda that’s often used by those who benefit from tyranny and oppression.

Make no mistake, the more than 180 peaceful protesters who have been murdered by the Iranian government since these protests began did not take to the streets because they were denied a living wage. They took to the streets because they were denied basic human rights. 

However, it can be argued that if protesters are successful and basic human rights can be restored in Iran, so can a strong economy that benefits all Iranians — not just dictators and their families.

After all, ultra-conservative religious dictatorships don’t tend to be the types to embrace positive change or progress. But that’s exactly what will be necessary for Iran’s economy to thrive in the coming years and decades, because oil which is Iran’s top export will become less and less valuable over the long haul.

Personal Freedom = Economic Freedom

As reported by Bloomberg:

The displacement of oil as a road fuel will accelerate through 2025 as the uptake of electric vehicles ramps up...

Electric passenger car numbers are seen surging to surge to 77 million over the next four years... up from about 20 million now. That almost-fourfold increase will push the amount of oil that EVs curb from transport use as high as 2.5 million barrels a day by 2025, up from about 1.5 million barrels a day now.

With roughly 100 million barrels of petroleum and liquid fuels being consumed per day, 2.5 million barrels a day is merely a drop in the bucket. But what’s especially interesting is the rapid pace of displacement we’ll witness over the next 30 years. 

As reported by the International Energy Agency, sales of electric vehicles doubled in 2021 from the previous year to a new record of 6.6 million. 

Back in 2012, just 120 000 electric cars were sold worldwide. In 2021, more than that many are sold each week. Nearly 10% of global car sales were electric in 2021, four times the market share in 2019. This brought the total number of electric cars on the world’s roads to about 16.5 million, triple the amount in 2018. Global sales of electric cars have kept rising strongly in 2022, with 2 million sold in the first quarter, up 75% from the same period in 2021.

Today, there are about 20 million electric cars on the road.

This equates to the displacement of 1.5 million barrels of oil.

By 2050, there will be about 700 million electric cars on the road.

That equates to the displacement of 52.5 million barrels of oil, or more than half of global oil consumption. 

While Iran is not the largest oil producer in the world today, the country’s economy still relies heavily on oil exports.

So what happens when oil demand plummets?

What happens to Iran’s economy?

What happens to the people of Iran?

Instead of preparing for a world in which internal combustion will be as relevant as the rotary phone is today, government officials in Iran are busy murdering women who don’t abide by their mandated dress codes.

This reality is not lost on a younger generation of Iranians who know that their financial freedom is inextricably tied to their personal freedoms. And if they are successful in freeing Iran from its violent, religious regimes that don’t respect the basic fundamentals of personal sovereignty, they will be successful in ensuring a prosperous future for all Iranian citizens. 

Bottom line: Personal freedom translates into economic freedom.

And make no mistake — the people of Iran who are actively protesting in the streets and literally risking their lives are doing it because their thirst for freedom can only be quenched by the dismantling of the nation’s authoritarian regime. 

I believe they will be successful.

middle fingers

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