Despite reports of thousands of arrests and over 20 deaths, the anti-government protests in Iran appear to be continuing, albeit on a much smaller scale. A member of the US think-tank, Brookings Institution, Suzanne Maloney, is a senior fellow on Middle East policy and describes them as reflecting “Anger over these [financial] losses came on top of years of pent-up frustration over a sluggish economy. When the government announced recent price increases and released an austere budget bill, it ignited at-times violent protests that spread rapidly to dozens of cities nationwide. Demonstrators quickly turned their fury on corrupt officials and the Islamic republic as a whole”… “What’s different is that it seems to have tapped into a deep sense of alienation and frustration, that people aren’t just demonstrating for better working conditions or pay, but insisting on wholesale rejection of the system itself ” (see article from the Washington Post dated 7 January, “Iran Expert says…”).
The article also suggests that there was a recent deterioration in the economic situation for most Iranians and that there was an apparent failure for them to benefit from the Obama-led decision to allow Iran access to its large $US reserves, which had previously been frozen when Iran was discovered to be developing nuclear weaponry. Officially, unemployment is at about 14% with youth unemployment about double that. But others suggest it is probably higher.
Other analysts draw attention to the increased opposition in Iran to the strict application of Islamic rules, such as the requirement for women to use hijabs and burkas. In an article in Weekend Australian, Caroline Overington argues that the protests have been “extraordinary for the bravery of women, many acting alone” against “the brutality of Iran’s Supreme Leader”. Overington refers to what is now a widely published picture of an Iranian woman standing on a bollard or a box who “has removed her hijab and is waving it at the end of a rod” as a part of the protest. But where, she asks, is the West? The hijab, she claims, is “not a democratic ideal” but “a symbol of repression of women in the Middle East” (See Women in Iran, Jan 6).
That is a question which Turnbull should help answer by supporting the leadership shown by US President Trump in forcing a meeting of the UN Security Council and the Europeans and Russians to expose their Iran policies there. Their difference of opinion with the US at the UN shows that country’s importance as a world leader in ensuring Western values and that it is shameful that others have held back. Australia should make it clear that it is not in that group.
The fact that Trump has been attacked in a just-published book entitled Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House should not mean that US foreign policies, such as the one above in regard to Iran, be dismissed: they should stand on their merits (or not), which in this case is laudable and important in a world exposed to extremist Islamic beliefs and policies, such as those adopted by Iran.
It might be noted that, contrary to the impression given by the news presented by the ABC and SBS, Trump’s popularity measure of about 40% (and has increased recently) in the US. That is higher than Turnbull’s Performance measure of 32% in last December’s Newspoll. Our unemployment rate is also higher than the US’s, which recently recorded the lowest ever rate of 6.7% for black Americans.