In my op-ed article published in early January titled "What do the December demonstrations mean in Iran?" I've defined some of the forces behind the protests like socio-economic problems and outside interference. And now that pro-government supporters have taken to the streets, there is still the need to discover the forces behind Iran's domestic dynamics.
As an amendment to my previous statements, this op-ed aims to give some answers to the ambiguities.
When a spiral of recrimination follows a peaceful march, one might not relate it merely to the socio-economic or political challenges but rather, should consider the reflection of clandestine acts of foreign forces. Pertinent to this, the perception of all classes of a society about the country's political and security preferences or concerns is by no means the same; it makes the task of governments more unyielding since, as an intangible gap, it would be misused by certain opportunists to inflict the ultimate blow. Meanwhile, one might directly hold the whole system accountable for all the socio-economic challenges. However, what is mostly important is to make sense of government accountability first, since accountability is an elusive concept, but understanding where it originates can help citizens find ways to hold governments accountable.
As a result, the complex nature of developments in Iran can be analyzed through at least three major parameters:
1. Demonstration culture: Countries can often be distinguished by the differences in their geopolitics, history, culture, political system and constitution law. These differences affect the nature of their domestic and foreign policies. In effect, the culture of demonstration and public protests in one country may differ with that of others in terms of government repression, protestors' disorganization or disciplined protestors, and the concept of freedom of assembly. In the case of Iran, while always adhering to the country's national security and sovereignty, Iranians have always warned their governments of many socio-economic shortcomings by holding various nonviolent protests. Since Iranians have the right to hold demonstrations based on Article 27 of the Islamic Constitution Law, on condition that they do not carry weapons, inflict damage to public or government properties and not act against the Islamic norms. Thus, generally speaking, acts of vandalism, which may pose a threat to Iran's national security, should not be equaled to the wishes of those who are marching for their economic and living shortcomings.
2. Red lines: As an addendum to the first parameter, understanding the real characteristics of red lines for Iran is highly significant. Right after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, red lines were determined but transformed with the effect of inbound and outbound factors and decades of crippling sanctions by the West and the U.S. Though, for the sustainability of the red lines, to respect the internationally accepted norms and regulations, and staying attune and loyal to the Islamic teachings, Iran has only preferred defensive policies alongside massive activities in all domains of diplomacy – traditional, official and public – both to neutralize the anti-Iranian attempts and to stay more active in international arena. It has naturally inflicted some material and moral costs. These costs weighed heavily on every Iranians' shoulders, and of course the poor have specifically suffered.
However, Iranians have supported every government in foreign policy decision-making since the 1979 Revolution. The same people voted for the government of President Hassan Rouhani in the second round; the outcome was the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This achievement has caused a rise in the people's socio-economic expectations toward the government.
However, with Donald Trump's anti-Iranian policies to push the country back to its pre-JCPOA statues, the government's determined plans on various fields have faced challenges. It has added fuel to the existing domestic complex dynamics. The Iranians do not hold the government and/or the system accountable for all the shortcomings; thus they support it when necessary, in particular when under pressure from outside forces. It means the numbers of Iranians who really understand the country's security and political priorities as well as redlines are on the rise.
Under such circumstances, some peoples, groups, nongovernmental organizations from inside and outside Iran held the government accountable for the economic challenges.
3. Security and political preferences: Security and political preferences stands beside the "red line" factor. They relate to the necessities of time and the superiority of governments in terms of staying more alert to the risks and threats to the country's national security and sovereignty. For the same reason, every government in Iran has always remained reluctant to give permission to certain groups and nongovernmental organizations to hold demonstrations.
On the other hand, governments in Iran have been criticized of not being transparent to their people regarding domestic and foreign policies. Like in the case of many countries, the Iranians have the right to ask the government to be more transparent or even to question the government for non-transparency; however, influenced by these major parameters, the government may not always do so well. Since, an uncontrolled transparency would mean disclosure of the country's secrets; an approach that might be seen in democratic countries. Such sensitivity for a country like Iran multiplies, considering its specific geographic and geostrategic position, its non-secure neighbors, some of them supporting the West's anti-Iran policies.
1. Those who engaged in violent protests out of peaceful demonstrations are ignorant to the fact that they were the initiators of a campaign that they couldn't necessarily stop.
The opportunists have been supported by the foreign forces. However, these forces have always remained ignorant that the Iranians, regardless of language, color and race pay respect to their national security, sovereignty and the government they voted for.
Based on my field observations, the Iranians have exhibited their willingness to support the government – the most ever since 1979 – and the whole system in domestic and foreign policy decision-making. Nothing but the rise in their understanding of the depth of these major parameters as well as the real nature of U.S. policies can best define this aspiration.
However, every government should discover what factors separate the campaigns that maintain nonviolent discipline from those whose discipline begins to break down. This is also applicable to the governments in Iran.
Nonetheless, the major parameters already defined are neither the means for the government to overlook the people's needs, nor the people's expectations of the government's services.
As an amendment to the existing articles in Iran's Islamic Constitution Law, and as part of a measure to facilitate the redress of the existing grievances, it seems the government in Iran should specifically introduce new articles to speed up the promotion of economic boom and social welfare as a confidence building measure to hinder any misuse of the freedom of assembly in future.
* Iranian researcher, Middle East political and security analyst