January 16, 2020


Iranians Would Kindly Like Donald Trump To "Shut Up": Anti-government protests in Iran show a complicated opposition to repression and foreign power. (DANIEL MOATTAR, 1/16/20, Mother jones)

To understand more about the motivations driving the rallies, and where they might lead, Mother Jones spoke at length to [Peyman Jafari, a researcher and historian at Princeton University's Center for Iran Persian Gulf Studies], who studies Iran's history, social movements, and politics.

Could you give some background on the massive Iranian protests in November and December, and connect them to what's going on now?

[T]here has been an accumulation of crises in Iran. The crises of competency, of legitimacy, the socioeconomic crisis. The current establishment has moved away from promises of social justice and equality, and has introduced more neoliberal policies since the 1990s. Now we see flexibility in the labor market, lots of precarious jobs, subcontracting. Wages are basically low. Lots of strikes we see happening are about unpaid wages or low wages. And then we have an environmental crisis, particularly in southern Iran, with drought and so on.

All these crises are converging, and the demands are affecting both the lower classes and the middle classes, which have seen a huge drop in their income. So there is a chance of these [different protests] converging, but this will not happen automatically. What you need is actually people, organizations, trade unions, NGOs, activist networks that can make these connections, that can formulate these kinds of demands.

Was there any overlap between Iranians who protested the Soleimani assassination and the people who demonstrated against the airplane attack or the gas price hike?

Some people have been commenting that these protests mean Iranians were not united by the Soleimani assassination. But it's important to stress that Iran is a large country, and it's not monolithic. These can be existing groups, parallel to each other. Even more so, the same person can be against the assassination of Soleimani and be against corruption and authoritarianism in Iran. I think the assassination of Soleimani crystallized a nationalism that is still very strong in Iran. Those things can really exist simultaneously.

There's a lot of Iran-related disinformation on social media, especially Twitter, Telegram, and Instagram, where accounts with few followers sometimes share unverifiable info about demonstrations and crackdowns. How concerned should we be about disinformation as we try to make sense of these protests?

Disinformation is being sent out by the Iranian government and by the US government, which also organizes a disinfo campaign. You have these bots organized by very small but rich outside groups, such as the MKO [an armed, US-backed opposition group] and royalists, that create an echo chamber.

Trump was bragging about his tweet in Persian being the most retweeted Persian-language tweet. But much of that retweeting happens by these bots, and through these online activist cyber armies like the MKO. Their activism, now, is basically tweeting. They have these halls of aging activists sitting behind computers and sending out tweets all day long. [On Saturday, Trump issued his first Farsi tweet: "To the brave and suffering people of Iran: from the beginning of my presidency, I have stood with you, and my government will continue to stand with you. We are following your protests closely. Your courage is inspirational."]

That's definitely part of reality, but not the entire reality. There are other Iranians on Twitter, on social media, both outside of and within Iran, who are very active and taking positions. One should not dismiss those as not genuine. There is lots of genuine activity.

Are distortions on social media a major concern within Iran, especially for protestors?

In Iran, no. In Iran, people, by this time, know where everything's happening. When Trump tweeted in Persian, a lot of Iranians' reaction was just, "Shut up. You have instituted a travel ban. You have targeted our cultural sites. You have been sanctioning us." People are aware of that. 

Posted by at January 16, 2020 8:10 AM