In a perfectly predictable response, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the US of fomenting the latest irruption in the wave of popular protests that has swept the country since the start of the year. While failing to explicitly name Saudi Arabia, he accused other regional powers of joining with the US to fuel dissension in Iran to "separate the nation from the system." He said: "If the US was able to overpower the Islamic system, it would not have needed to form a coalition with notorious countries of the region to create chaos, unrest and insecurity in Iran." Last week, online videos showed police firing tear-gas at protesters angered over economic austerity. Vendors in Tehran's Grand Bazaar, a traditional area of support for Iran's leadership, went on strike over the collapse of the rial on foreign exchange markets. (The New Arab) Despite not having a union, Iran's truck drivers also staged a nationwide strike for almost two weeks in late May and early June. (Al-Monitor)
The US Department of the Treasury issued new sanctions against Iran on May 17. The new sanctions target two individuals, Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi and Abdallah Safi al-Din. Both of them have been identified as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs). Bazzi has been identified as a financier for Hezbollah, and Safi al-Din has been identified as Hezbollah's representative to Iran. The Treasury Department stated that the sanctions "show the convergence of Iran's support for terrorism with many facets of illicit criminal activity, including narcotics trafficking." The sanctions come after President Trump's decision to leave the Iranian nuclear deal last week and to begin reimposing sanctions against Iran.
After all the talk we've heard in recent years about how depressed oil prices are now permanent, in the wake of Trump's announced withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal Bank of America is predicting that the price of Brent crude could go as high as the once-dreaded $100 per barrel in 2019. The report also cited collapsing production in Venezuela due to the crisis there. Brent prices have risen above $77 per barrel since Trump's announcement. Prices have jumped more than 8% over the past month and 15% since the beginning of the year. According to the analysis, investors fear that renewed sanctions on Iran could lead to supply disruptions. (CNNMoney, May 10) Although the report failed to mention it, the Israeli air-strikes on Iranian targets in Syria have doubtless contributed to the jitters.
President Donald Trump announced April 8 that the US will withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 pact under which the US was to lift economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran agreeing not to develop nuclear weapons. The White House statement says the US will re-imposes all sanctions lifted or waived in connection with the JCPOA, including those instated by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996, the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, and the Iran Freedom and Counter-proliferation Act of 2012. The sanctions are expected to go into effect in no later than 180 days.
Abdul-Al Duraqi, a poet and activist from the Ahwazi Arab minority in Iran, arrested during the most recent protests in the city of Ahwaz (Khuzestan province), has been hospitalized after torture sessions at the hands of his interrogators. Family members told the Ahwaz Human Rights Organization (AHRO) that Duraqi was transferred to Ahwaz's Sepidar hospital on April 7 due to deterioration in his physical condition after severe torture in the Ahwaz intelligence center. Duraqi is revered in his community for keeping alive an Ahwazi literary tradition in the Arabic language. Protests in Ahwaz were sparked in mid-March following the controversial exclusion of the Ahwazi Arab ethnicity in a children's program aired by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Corporation. The program included a boy placing dolls dressed in the traditional garb of different ethnicities in their designated regions on a map of Iran—but there was no doll representing the 8 million Ahwazi Arabs. Nearly 400 have been arrested in protests over the past month. AHRO charges that the detained are being denied their due process rights. (UNPO, April 12; UNPO, March 29; AHRO, April 9)
Some rare good news is reported from Iran, where a reform of the country's drug laws may save the lives of thousands now on death row. Some 5,000 people are currently awaiting execution for drug offenses in the Islamic Republic, and all of them could now have their sentences reviewed, according to the New York Times. The move, part of a legal reform in the works since 2016, is aimed at reducing the number of executions in the country. Iran has seen ghastly mass executions of drug convicts in recent years, driving a spike in hangings that has appalled human rights groups. Iran saw 1,000 executions last year—making it second only to China, which keeps its stats on use of the death penalty secret.
Protests against austerity and the lords of capital are erupting simultaneously in Iran, Tunisia, Sudan, Morocco, China, Peru, Honduras, Argentina and Ecuador, recalling the international protest wave of 2011. Such moments open windows of utopian possibility, but those windows inevitably seem to close as protest movements are manipulated by Great Power intrigues or derailed into ethnic or sectarian scapegoating. What can we do to keep the revolutionary flame alive, build solidarity across borders, and resist the exploitation and diversion of protest movements? Bill Weinberg explores this question on Episode 1 of the long-awaited CounterVortex podcast. You can listen on SoundCloud.
We, the Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists, support the popular protests in Iran and call on progressives in the region and throughout the world to stand in solidarity with them as well. We believe it is an absolute necessity to build regional and global solidarity with anti-authoritarian struggles for democracy, social justice and equality, and to oppose patriarchy, racism, sectarian or homophobic discrimination and prejudice. We hope that the current protests in Iran will force the Iranian regime to withdraw its military and financial support for the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and to end its reactionary interventions in the region. We also hope that the efforts by some elements to inject anti-Arab chauvinism into the movement will be rejected in order to reach out to grassroots struggles across the region. Solidarity with the popular protests in Iran!