Nationwide protests in Iran as food prices rise

Protests erupted in many cities across Iran after the government decreed a series of subsidy cuts, leading to a harsh government crackdown that left four people dead.

Iranians on social media have been complaining since May about high prices for cooking oil, bread and dairy products. The price of certain foods has increased by more than 300%.

President Ebrahim Raisi promised on May 15 during a meeting with economic officials and ministers that instead of general food subsidies, money would be deposited in the accounts of eligible Iranians.

Vice President Mohammad Mokhber said the price of cooking oil, chicken and eggs would be “back to normal days to come.” Regarding the price of bread, Mokhber said that “violations would not be tolerated under any conditions.” He said that the administration had not taken any political decisions regarding prices, subsidies or their sale. He said the price of bread should not have changed by a penny, and if he did, there was a violation of the law. Mokhber suggested that some people were taking advantage of the increase bread prices and that they would face legal consequences.

Assurances from the administration that prices would be reduced did not quell the protests. A popular social media account expressed a protest in Tehran with photos of demonstrators blurred to protect their identity. Protesters appear to be chanting their salaries, suggesting they haven’t received them. Protests in other parts of the country have led to chants against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Republic’s legal guardianship system.

This is not the first manifestation linked to the reduction of subsidies in Iran in recent years. Since 2017, introductions or announcements of subsidy cuts have led to nationwide protests. Such protests are usually uncoordinated and unorganized, but quickly turn violent. Prior to the protests against the cuts in subsidies, protests in Iran were politically partisan and organized by specific groups that had political aspirations within the Islamic Republic. The protests against the subsidies, however, seem to be mostly followed by disgruntled young people who are non-partisan and would rather see an end to the current political system, even if they have no organized vision for the next day.

Repressing such protests will continue to be costly for Iran. There are no leaders to put under house arrest, nor specific political demands to acquiesce to. The strategy so far has been to violently disperse the protests.

Edward N. Arrington