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Protests in Iran Continue As Government Shuts off the Internet

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  • Massive protests have been going on in Iran since Friday after the government said they would hike up fuel prices by as much as 300%.
  • The government responded to the protests by launching a widespread internet blackout all over the country, making information about the protests and violence difficult to obtain.
  • Iranian officials have said that only 12 people have died, but international organizations and Iranian journalists said the numbers are much higher.
  • The Trump administration said it supports the protests, but many have called its claims hypocritical, noting that the sanctions on Iran have played a huge role in the country’s economic downturn.

Protests Break Out

Nationwide protests have erupted in Iran over the last few days, prompting the government to shut down the internet in almost all of the country.

The demonstrations first started on Friday after the Iranian government announced that it would hike up fuel prices from between 50% to as much as 300%.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that the increase would raise up to $2.55 billion that would be handed out to about 60 million of Iran’s poorest people.

But because the country only has around 80 million people total, many have argued that the government was basically making everyone pay more for gas to just give that money back to most of the population.

The move was also significant because gas is incredibly cheap in Iran, which has the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves. Before the price hikes, people were only paying about 25 cents a gallon for gas.

Even though the new prices are still lower compared to global gas prices, it is a big deal for Iran where many people are struggling due to economic downturn and high inflation.

Similar to other recent protests in countries like Chile and Lebanon, a single decision by the government to raise prices on a population that was already hurting was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Like those other protests, that decision prompted much broader demonstrations against economic issues and corruption.

Following the government’s announcement, drivers abandoned vehicles on highways and protesters took to the streets, blocking roads. While protests in some areas have been largely peaceful, others have become violent.

In some places, protestors set fires and ransacked gas stations, banks, stores, and government buildings. Demonstrators also clashed violently with security forces who responded by using teargas.

Those clashes reportedly escalated Saturday, with some reports that the security forces were opening fire on protesters.

Internet Blackout

The full extent of both the protests and the violence is not currently clear because of the government’s internet blackout.

Iranian officials first imposed the sweeping internet restrictions on Saturday, and they have remained in place since then.

Internet monitoring service NetBlocks described the shutdown as “near-total.”

Oracle’s Internet Intelligence described it as the “largest internet shutdown ever observed in Iran.”

Government officials in Iran said Tuesday that they would gradually lift the block once they were sure the internet would not be “abused” during the protests.

A judiciary spokesman also said Tuesday said that the protests had died down, but there are some conflicting reports as to the validity of that claim, as well as other statements made by the government.

Iranian officials have said that 12 people have been killed, including both civilians and security forces, but others say those numbers are much higher.

The United Nations reported that “dozens” have died, while Amnesty International said the number was more than 100, based on credible sources.

Iranian journalists have also reported that there have been well over 100 shootings by the security forces.

But internet blackout makes it uniquely difficult to know what the correct numbers are. 

The blackout is also unique compared to other recent protests— specifically similar ones in Iraq and Lebanon— where social media has been essential in organizing demonstrations and sharing what is going on with the rest of the world.

United States’ Unique Role

In addition to the internet blackout, there is another aspect that sets apart the protests in Iran from other global protests over the last few weeks and months: the role that the U.S. has played.

Many of Iran’s economic problems have stemmed from the heavy sanctions the U.S. has placed on Iran. 

The U.S., under the Barack Obama administration, had previously lifted sanctions on Iran as part of the 2015 nuclear deal aimed at curbing Iran’s civilian nuclear program.

But in May 2018, President Donald Trump withdrew from that deal and re-imposed sanctions on Iran, including sanctions on their oil exports, which is a huge sector of their economy.

Since then, the Trump administration has continued to ramp up those sanctions, arguing that a “maximum pressure” campaign is more effective to crackdown on Iran’s government.

Many economists and human rights activists have said that the sanctions actually end up hurting Iran’s civilian populations more than they hurt the government.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the protests in a tweet on Friday where he told the people of Iran that “the United States is with you.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry condemned Pompeo’s tweet. In a statement, a ministry spokesperson said that Pompeo’s remarks were “hypocritical” because of the role the U.S. sanctions have played in the country’s economic problems.

“It seems weird to [be] sympathizing with a nation suffering from the US’ economic terrorism and the same person who has already said that the Iranian people should be starved to surrender,” the spokesperson said.

But the Trump administration seemed to double down on its position in a statement released by the White House Sunday.

“The United States supports the Iranian people in their peaceful protests against the regime that is supposed to lead them,” the statement said. “We condemn the lethal force and severe communications restrictions used against demonstrators.”

Many people criticized the White House response, also arguing that the U.S. is partially to blame for Iran’s economic problems, and accusing the administration of painting the protests just as demonstrations against the government when that is only part of the equation.

Some pointed out that the Iranian government implemented the fuel price hike in the first place as part of a broader plan to mitigate the huge economic hit from U.S. sanctions, as well as to help the millions of Iranian civilians who have been hurt by those sanctions.

Iranian government officials for their part have continued to downplay the protests. 

During a televised statement Sunday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: “The counter-revolution and Iran’s enemies have always supported sabotage and breaches of security and continue to do so.”

The Ayatollah also said that he still supports the price hike, saying that it “must be implemented” — which is meaningful because he has the final say.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps warned protesters Monday that they will take “decisive” action if the unrest continues.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Al Jazeera) (BBC)

International

Tunisian President Fires Prime Minister, Suspends Parliament Over Deadlock and COVID-19 Response

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President Kais Saied claims his actions are constitutional and have the support of the military, which has already blocked off government buildings. His opponents, however, call the move little more than a coup.


President Makes Massive Changes to Government

Tunisia’s government received a major shakeup after President Kais Saied fired the Prime Minister and froze parliament late Sunday.

The move, according to Saied, was meant to break years of parliamentary deadlock between Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and various political parties that have sturggled to find common ground. However, the timing comes just after a massive protest over how the government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic turned violent earlier on Sunday.

Either way, the move risks sparking a confrontation between Saied —who is backed by the army — and various political parties that view his actions as a coup.

The President’s actions have proven cotnroversial. Despite that, he has widepsread support after being elected in 2019 on a platform to fight corrupt politicians.

After the announcement, tens of thousands have taken to the streets in support of his decision to dismiss the Prime Minister and parliament, with many cheering as he appeared among the crowd Sunday night.

In recent months, anger at the ruling government has only increased as many feel the ruling coalition, largely made up of the Islamist Ennahda (“Renaissance”) party, have been ineffective.

It’s a common belief in Tunisia that Ennahda’s rule, alongside its tenuous coalition, helped exacerbate problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the economy shrinking by 8% as tourism plummeted.

One of the President’s supporters told Reuters and other outlets during Sunday’s demonstration, “We are here to protect Tunisia. We have seen all the tragedies under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

He mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood, which had a strong presence in Egpyt after the Arab Spring, becuase Ennahda has longstanding relationship with the group, although it has sought to distance itself as a more moderate political group over the last few years.

Now, for their part, the ruling coalition has argued that Saied’s move is clearly unconstitutional. Rached Ghannouchi, leade of Ennahda and Parliamentary Speaker, said that he is “against gathering all powers in the hands of one person.” His position isn’t without supporters eithers. Both sides have already gathered throughout the capital and have thrown rocks at each other.

Legalities of Article 80

The question across many minds is whether or not Saied’s actions are actually constitutional.

He claims that under Article 80 of the constitution, he can fire the Prime Minister, suspend parliament for 30 days, and appoint a premier to rule — all of which is true.

However, in order to do that, the Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Speaker need to be consulted; something Parliamentary Speaker Ghannouchi said was never done. It’s unclear what Mechichi’s position is as he’s stayed inside his home all day, though the army says he is not under any kind of arrest.

In addition to those requirements, a Constitutional Court needs to approve the move, and one hasn’t been set up. As the German Foregin Office put it on Monday morning, it seems like Saied is relying on “a rather broad interpretation of the constitution.”

International observers hope a solution will soon be made to keep what seems to be the last functional democracy to come from the Arab Spring from devolving into civil war or dictatorship.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Reuters) (BBC)

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International

South Korean President Makes BTS Official Presidential Envoys

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The position is largely ceremonial but will be used by the government to help give a friendly and popular face to national and international initiatives spearheaded by Seoul.


Government Recognition

The K-pop band BTS will be adding to its list of global impacts this year after South Korean President Moon Jae-in appointed its members as Presidential Envoys on Wednesday.

The role will include attending international conferences such as the United Nations General Assembly in September.

At these events, BTS will perform “various activities to promote international cooperation in solving global challenges, such as improving the environment, eliminating poverty and inequality, and respecting diversity,” according to Park Kyung-mee, a Blue House spokesperson.

The band has already appeared at U.N. conferences multiple times over the last few years.

Just last year, the group gave a message of hope and reassurance through the U.N. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior appearances at the U.N. have been either as part of U.N. organizations or as private citizens.

Wednesday’s appointment will make them official representatives of South Korea, although they won’t actually engage in any direct diplomacy and instead will be used to promote the country’s ongoing efforts in youth-related projects.

Longstanding Policy

BTS’ success, alongside prior and current K-pop groups, has remained a masterclass of soft diplomacy by the Korean government. For decades, the Korean government has cultivated promoting cultural aspects abroad in the hopes of generating more interest in the country. There are hopes that such efforts will encourage more tourism as well as an elevated image when consumers consider Korean-made products.

Such efforts, beyond cultivating K-pop and raising its stars as semi-official government symbols, also include helping fund Korean restaurants abroad as well as free Korean-language classes taught by Professors of some of Korea’s most prestigious schools.

The news comes as BTS’ newest single, “Permission to Dance,” quickly took the #1 spot on the Billboard top 100. BTS is also partnering with YouTube to promote a Permission to Dance challenge on YouTube Shorts that will begin tomorrow and end on August 4.

Fans will be encouraged to replicate dance moves from the music video, and the group’s favorite clips will be put into a compilation made by them.

See what others are saying: (Yonhap News) (The Korea Times) (All Kpop)

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Over 1 Million Chinese Displaced After Record Rainfall

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The rain has created waist-high waters throughout the capital of China’s Henan province, drastically affecting the lives of its over 10 million inhabitants.


Trapped in a Flood

The Henan province of central China experienced severe rainfall over the last week that has left at least 25 dead and displaced more than 1.2 million people due to severe flooding, according to figures released by Chinese authorities Wednesday.

Meteorologists claim that the sudden, severe rainfall is caused by Typhoon In-Fa colliding with a high-pressure system over Henan province.

The floods have forced people to wade through waist-high water throughout Zhengzhou, the region’s capital. In one tragic incident Monday, 12 people died after they were trapped in the subway amid rising waters. A similar situation occurred Tuesday, causing multiple lines to be trapped in chest-high water for up to three hours before rescue workers managed to save them. Since then, metro authorities have shut down many of Zhengzhou’s rail lines.

Between Monday and Tuesday alone, Zhengzhou was hit with an estimated 25 inches of rain, equating to about 87% of its average annual rainfall. At one point, seven inches of rain occurred in less than an hour.

In an effort to alleviate rising waters, authorities breached a nearby dam to release floodwaters on Tuesday, although it’s unclear how much that helped as many dams and rivers in the region have overflowed for days.

Elsewhere in Henan, villages have been cut off by landslides and flooding, killing at least four others and leaving some areas without power for more than 24 hours.

Long Recovery Ahead

The region was finally able to begin recovery efforts Wednesday as conditions have begun to die down.

Despite reduced rainfall, the situation has still proven to be dire, leading President Xi Jinping to issue a statement through state media ordering authorities to give top priority to people’s safety and property.

In total, more than 17,000 firefighters have been mobilized for rescue efforts, as well as local volunteers and other rescue crews from other provinces.

Chinese companies have rushed to donate money to help the affected communities, and so far over $300 million has been donated.

It’s likely that for some time, hundreds of thousands in the region will be left without homes as authorities begin the work of ensuring that buildings are safe to return to.

See what others are saying: (South China Morning Post) (BBC) (The New York Times)

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