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Oil Price Hike Out of Economic Crisis Result in Protests Across Iran

Under the gun of the United States sanctions, the Islamic Republic of Iran had no option than to make changes at home. However, the abrupt changes have been harsh enough for the people to result in protests.

Early on Friday, the state-run National Iranian Oil Products Distribution Company imposed a stern rationing system and raised the gasoline prices nearly as much as 300 per cent. Within hours, large angry crowds gathered in various parts of the country and protests against the regime of President Hassan Rouhani emerged.

The announcement indicated unity as it came through a joint statement issued by three key branches of the country, including government, parliament and judiciary. Following the new policy changes, the prices for a litre of gasoline rose to 15,000 riyals (about 13 cents) from Thursday’s 10,000 riyals per litre. The monthly ration for each private car has been fixed at 60 litres, purchased beyond which would cost 30,000 riyals per litre.

Although Iran has long pretended of not being affected by the American sanctions, the policy change displayed a varied picture. The state-run media said that the price changes were not related to the budget, however they did come as the government was struggling to compensate for the acute decline in oil export revenues.

A day before the oil price hike, President Rouhani had stated in a speech that the country is facing a deficit amounting to nearly two-thirds of its annual $45 billion budget. The shrinking oil market in Iran has been a result of several sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, after its withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018.

Where the latest energy policy came as a way to combat the worsening economic crisis, several Iranians appeared unconvinced. Hundreds of men and women in major cities – Ahwaz, Shiraz, Masshad and Bandar Abbas, as well as in an array of smaller working class towns – gathered to voice against the reforms.

Videos posted on social media revealed that the protests turned violent in some places, due to which police officers spraying tear gas in a clash and also smashing vehicle windshields. “We will reclaim our rights but not be oppressed,” the crowd chanted as it blocked roads in the southern city of Ahwaz.

People also expressed fury on social media, where the price increases were being denounced. Many stated that it would only hurt them and create more loopholes for financial corruption.

The changes that came without any prior warning are expected to cost Rouhani major loss in the upcoming parliamentary elections in the country. Citing similar concerns, the President opposed the policy, highlighted two of the energy analysts close to the Iranian government. However, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei overruled Rouhani.

Iranians are now calling for the ousted of Hassan Rouhani. “Rouhani, shame on you, let go of the country,” shouted protesters in Masshad as they turned off their cars and created traffic jams.

Reason behind the protests in Iran, economic anxiety, is similar to that in Lebanon and Iraq, where demonstrations are going on against Iran’s counterparts. The Islamic Republic, which is under the pressure of sanctions from the US, has created unrest in three countries, including itself.

It’s influence in the politics of both Lebanon and Iraq has created a turmoil, which is increasingly becoming unmanageable. Where the countries are already experiencing a crisis due to violent demonstrations, Iran’s energy policy changes chose a bad time. Where the country has been facing criticism at an international level, its own people have come down to roads in rebellion.

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