What threat do fuel protests pose to Iran?

What threat do fuel protests pose to Iran?

Protests have erupted across Iran on Friday following the announcement by Iran's National Oil Company of at least a 50% increase in gas prices.

"Several" people have died in the protests, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said on Sunday. In the province of Sirjan at least one person has been killed, the region's government has said. An officer was killed in Kermanshah, according to local media.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his government would start paying compensation for the rise in petrol prices from Monday.

The White House said that Washington condemns the use of "lethal force" and "severe communications restrictions" against demonstrators in Iran.

"The United States supports the Iranian people in their peaceful protests against the regime that is supposed to lead them. We condemn the lethal force and severe communications restrictions used against demonstrators," White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

Internet monitoring service Netblocks said late on Saturday that Iran was experiencing a near-total national internet shutdown. The move was condemned by U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus who tweeted: "We condemn the attempted shutdown of the internet!"

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi slammed such comments. "The dignified people of Iran know well that such hypocritical remarks do not carry any honest sympathy," Mousavi was quoted as saying.

He said that the "sympathising is being done" with the people who are under the pressure of Washington's economic sanctions.

Senior research fellow of the Institute for Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vladimir Sazhin, speaking to Vestnik Kavkaza, noted that a rise in fuel prices was inevitable in Iran, but the authorities acted too harshly, which provoked protests. "The Iranian economy is in very poor condition now due to the de facto blockade of Iranian oil exports. Therefore, Tehran had to take such a necessary measure - the other thing is that it was done very thoughtlessly, without convincing the population of the need for fuel reform," he said.

"According to media reports, about 85-87 thousand people are engaged in protests in almost 100 settlements. These demonstrations are not massive, but very active. It is clear why this happened: road transport plays a huge role in the Iranian economy, and raising fuel prices leads to an increase in prices for all goods, including food prices - which was perceived as a direct blow to citizens," Vladimir Sazhin drew attention.

The orientalist expressed confidence that, despite the protests, Tehran will not reduce fuel prices. "It can be guaranteed that the authorities will not deviate from the new prices, only compensations are possible, which will be rather small and absorbed by inflation. We also must understand that the authorities have extensive experience in combating such protests," he recalled, adding that the situation would be a blow on the image of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

"Rouhani was forced to raise fuel prices, and it will not make him more popular in the country. Now we can expect changes in the balance of power in the Iranian elite. The opposition to President Rouhani, of course, will take advantage of this. It is interesting that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supported the decision of President Rouhani and his government, but then moved away from it, saying that he was not an expert in economics. As a result he transferred all criticism from himself as the first person in the state to the second person in the state, that is, the president. And this is another signal to the opposition that there is a chance to hit Rouhani," Vladimir Sazhin concluded.

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