November 2019 DIRT Project Update: Iran

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The economic sanctions placed on Iran by the Trump administration are working almost flawlessly. I’ve talked about this in recent blog posts and hope to get into it deeper in the coming week.  For the moment, however, its important to understand the amount of pressure Iran is facing domestically, and beyond its borders because of the sanctions imposed by the US. The sanctions have severely restricted the monetary, material, and military resources Iran can invest in its proxies around the Middle East. Within Iranian borders, the sanctions have brought on a budget crisis, and rising fuel costs which themselves have resulted in riots, and internal unrest. Lebanon, and Iraq are also experiencing violent riots as citizens protest economic conditions, as well as Iranian influence in their national politics. Iran is reeling at the moment. Diplomats, general officers, and analysts around the Middle East, Europe, and North America are attempting to create an accurate picture of what will come next. How will Iran respond? Does Tehran understand that time is no longer their ally? If so, what steps will the Iranian government take to reverse its fortunes without surrendering its nuclear program?

I have not had as much time to write in these past weeks, but I will attempt to answer these questions and discuss Iran in detail over the upcoming Thanksgiving week.

Rise in Iranian Fuel Prices Spark Protests

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The US economic pressure on Iran has been having a decisive effect for some time now. Unfortunately, this reality has been largely ignored by the Western media, and papered over by Tehran. This week the Iranian government ran out of paper mache and has been forced to face the grim reality that US sanctions are quickly moving the country towards the brink of economic collapse. On Thursday, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani admitted Iran is facing a major deficit, the number covering roughly two-thirds of its annual budget. Today, the government announced a 300 percent increase in fuel prices, as well as a strict rationing system. Within a few hours protests broke out across the country. Angry crowds in a number of towns and cities have called for the removal of Rouhani from power.

Since the Trump administration tightened the screws on Iran, protests have occurred periodically with some being violent. On the surface, the economic anxiety brought on by US sanctions appears to be the root cause of the Iranian people’s anger and frustration. However, the root cause, as has been the case for years, is the government, and its policies. With that in mind, it came as no surprise to learn that Friday’s protests have taken on an anti-government tone.

The timing of the fuel policy revisions could’ve been better. Popular unrest in Iraq, Lebanon, and many other locations around the world over economic conditions, and government neglect might provide an impetus for the Iranian citizenry to challenge the government in a similar fashion. It is a moot point now though. The prices have been raised, the people are responding, and the Iranian government now has another major problem to contend with. As if it didn’t have enough already.

For the United States, today’s developments in Iran are concrete proof that the Trump administration’s hardline policy on Iran is working perfectly.

November DIRT Project: Iran’s Influence and Power Around the Region

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To most of the world, the present unrest in Lebanon and Iraq have to do with citizens protesting against the reluctance or inability of their governments to improve the lives of the people under their care. To an extent this is true. However, an underlying reason for the violent unrest in Iraq, and destabilizing protests in Lebanon, has been the amount of influence Iran holds in both countries. In effect, Iran is the deep state in Lebanon and Iraq. This has never been a closely guarded secret of course. Tehran’s influence in Iraq has grown by leaps and bounds since the US withdrawal. Iranian militias and Tehran-sponsored politicians and clerics swooped in to fill the vacuum. As the years have gone by, Iran’s power and influence in its one-time enemy has increased immeasurably. With regards to Lebanon, Iran’s power there has long been known. Through Hezbollah, Tehran wields influence and power.

That influence is now being challenged on a broad scale from Beirut to Baghdad and beyond. In November, Iran’s influence in the Middle East, and the challenges facing it will be looked at and discussed. Articles will be posted on Mondays and Fridays starting on 10 November. Regular updates will continue to be posted as well.

Peaceful Demonstration in Chile’s Capital Draws over 1 Million Citizens

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Chilean President Sebastian Pineda’s apology, backpedaling on the subway fare hike, and introduction of socio-economic reforms apparently has not satisfied the majority of citizens. On Friday afternoon more than 1 million Chileans took to the streets of Santiago in a massive demonstration calling for major social and political change in the South American country. Many of the protesters were also calling for Pineda’s resignation. His crackdown on the protests last weekend and earlier this week appears to be the straw that broke the camel’s back in many citizens eyes. 19 people were killed, and over 3,000 arrested and detained. Friday’s demonstration was the largest Chile has seen since 1988 and brought Santiago to a complete standstill.

On Friday evening Pineda assured the people he’s heard their message. He tweeted: “The massive, joyful and peaceful march today, where Chileans ask for a more just and supportive Chile, opens great paths for the future and hope. We have all heard the message. We have all changed. With unity and help from God, we will walk the path to a Chile that’s better for everyone.”

What happens from here is anybody’s guess. The mood of the Chilean people right now is overwhelmingly hopeful, and positive after Friday’s demonstration. That may turn out to be short-lived though if the promised reforms do not come about, or if Pineda refuses to submit his resignation.

Chile is hardly the only country contending with a wave of protests demanding social, economic, and political change. What began in Hong Kong this summer is inspiring millions around the world to take to the streets in protest of real or perceived oppressive government policies, and actions.

I had wanted to discuss Canada a little more this weekend, but I think what’s happening in Chile, Iraq, Lebanon, Catalonia, and other places is worth a longer post on Sunday. I hope everyone is enjoying their weekend.

Lebanese Protests Lead to Cabinet Resignations

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Tens of thousands of Lebanese citizens took to the streets Saturday for a third day of protests aimed at tax increases and government corruption. Following today’s demonstrations, four ministers from the Lebanese Forces Party, a traditional ally of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, resigned from his cabinet. Samir Gaegea, the head of the party released a short, simple statement explaining the reasoning behind the resignations: “We are convinced that the government is unable to take the necessary steps to save the situation.” Protesters in Beirut responded to news of the resignations with cheers and celebration. So far, the demonstrations and protests have been peaceful and there are no indications that will change anytime soon.

Still, the Lebanese government has reason to worry. The rising costs of living, and tax increases are what prompted the protests. Right now, even though the tone of the demonstrations has been peaceful, citizens are angry and frustrated at what is largely perceived as the government’s inability to address the nation’s poor infrastructure, official corruption, and high unemployment. These frustrations are very similar to those recently voiced by Iraqi citizens, which led to violent, bloody demonstrations across Iraq.

Cronyism, unemployment, and crumbling infrastructures have become common issues around the Middle East. Iraq and Lebanon are not alone. In other nations civilian frustrations are simmering though it remains to be seen if the recent protests in Iraq, and Lebanon inspire similar actions in Tunisia, Egypt, or even Kuwait, and Bahrain. If so, do not expect the next wave of political instability will not become the radical-fueled conflagration that Arab Spring did in 2010 and 2011.