Thousands marched in Iran’s capital Tehran on Monday to protest a currency collapse and economic problems, in the largest show of discontent since nationwide demonstrations in January.
Protests began on Sunday in cellphone markets, over the spiralling cost of handsets. Yesterday, as the Iranian Rial plummeted 20% in two days to reach a new all-time low of 90,000:1 v. the US dollar, the demonstrations spread to the Tehran Bazaar with store owners closing shops and protesters chiding merchants who remained open.
The march then took to the streets, hoping to reach the Parliament building. More people joined as protesters chanted, “Don’t fear, don’t fear, we are all together.” Other chants targeted Iran’s military intervention to prop up the Assad regime, “Leave Syria alone, think of our own”, and praised the Pahlavi monarchy, which ruled Iran until the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Police finally fired tear gas to disperse the demonstration.
The Rouhani Government tried to ease the situation by announcing an alternative exchange market so importers could get access to less expensive foreign currency, with those bringing in medicines and other essential goods given preference.
The step brought the Rial, which has lost half its values since January, to about 86,000:1 v. the US dollar. However, there was confusion over how many alternative rates would be established and who would be given the preferential deals.
The head of the Tehran Bazaar, even as he insisted that calm had been restored, said, “We have repeatedly warned the government that it should strengthen its economic team but now we have come to a conclusion that this team must change.”
A more ominous warning came from the Supreme Leader’s military advisor, General Yahya Rahim Safavi, “Sometimes it seems that the country is better managed if there was no Government”.
Safavi, a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said Iran has “a problem with state-building”: “People go to the departments, organizations and municipalities, and their problems are not being resolved…partly due to the ineffectiveness of the authorities.”