The measure taken on the price of oil was undoubtedly necessary to compensate for the deterioration in the State's revenues as a result of the American sanctions. However, the course of events leads at first glance to a hypothesis: the regime - all components combined - prepared, triggered and managed in cold blood the crisis in such a way as to "break" an all too inescapable popular protest in the face of the collapse of the Iranian economy.
One of the motivations of the Iranian authorities was undoubtedly to send a signal to Washington: "the Islamic Republic is capable of dealing with the consequences of the policy of maximum pressure". The spokespersons of the Iranian government obviously presented the riots as the result of the economic war waged against it by the Trump administration. Rouhani himself referred to a "foreign conspiracy". On 25 November, the inhabitants of Tehran were summoned by a text message to express their support for the regime. The Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary Guards, General Hossein Salami, told the crowd: "This war is over, we have triumphed".
Iraqi Shiites no longer comply with Tehran's directives
A second factor has most probably determined the Iranian authorities' action towards their population - the unrest that has been going on for weeks in Lebanon and Iraq -, whether to avoid a contagion effect towards Iran and/or to demonstrate in vivo the effective method of controlling rebellion. The leaders of the Islamic Republic find themselves in a paradoxical regional situation: they have managed to reverse the balance of power in their favour towards their Gulf neighbours; but the earth has begun to shake under their feet in the two key countries (besides Syria) of their area of influence, Iraq and Lebanon. In both cases, the youth is the soul of the protest, driven as in the first wave of Arab springs (2011-2012) by social despair aggravated by the rejection of corruption. In both cases, a political system rooted in confessionalism and dominated or remotely controlled by Iran is being challenged.
The Iraqi case is particularly serious for Iran. In Baghdad and in the south of the country, Shiites, since 1 October, have indeed been demonstrating, demanding the departure of the ruling parties and a complete reform of the institutions. Images of the famous General Qassem Soleimani, leader of the Qods force (the external branch of the Revolutionary Guards), are burned in the streets. The number of deaths is in the hundreds, but the movement does not seem to be running out of steam. Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, a leading figure in Iraqi Shiism, cautiously ended up taking sides with the insurgents, leading to the resignation of Iranian-backed Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi on 29 November. Iranian consulates are burning in the south of the country, including the holy city of Najaf. The demonstrators shouted: "the country to the Iraqis, the Iranians out". Qasem Soleimani had intervened in Baghdad from the beginning of the unrest to impose a firm line. This line has so far failed.
It even seems that the various security apparatus of the Iraqi state and the regime's militias are not fully aligned. As in Iran, videos show soldiers shooting at close range at demonstrators. In provincial cities, however, some services are said to have more qualms. Tribal networks are beginning to join the demonstrators. All in all, seen from Tehran, the results are appalling for the moment: the Shia world, which the Islamic Republic is destined to lead, no longer obeys.
Reasons for concern for the future
In Washington, the "hawks" will probably see this as something to celebrate - even if in reality the Americans are not involved in the unrest in Iraq and Lebanon. On the contrary, there are several reasons to fear the consequences of the current difficulties of the Shiite axis.
- First, of course, the considerable human cost of the ongoing developments, combined with the weakening of governments that are important partners for Europeans: in the case of France, this is particularly true of Iraq, which President Macron was soon to visit, while the fate of the French jihadists in the north-east of Syria is the subject of difficult discussions with the Baghdad authorities