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Iranian Reform Opportunity Has Passed, But Will Likely Come Again



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News Analysis
by Drew Phelps
Many observers of the recent political protests in Iran have noted that, while Iran has a history of protests embedded in their political culture, this time around may be something new and, potentially, more lasting.
The uprising, which broke out on Dec. 28 and quickly spread to about 85 cities and towns, died down after the Iranian Revolutionary Guard reportedly killed 25 and arrested 3,700 in response.

What Made Iranian Protests Different This Time

An article published Jan. 27 in the Atlantic discusses precisely what made these protests different.

“According to the Ministry of Interior, over 90 percent of those detained were, on average, under the age of 25 and likely educated.” — The Atlantic magazine
The article goes in-depth exploring the causes of past protests, particularly the unrest of the 1990s and the Green revolt of 2009, and determines that these events have been guided largely by populist sentiment among those in the lower levels of society – poor citizens usually living in urban squatter districts or impoverished rural areas.
However, the more recent protests were driven by a demography that is slightly similar, but very different overall.
“According to the Ministry of Interior, over 90 percent of those detained were, on average, under the age of 25 and likely educated,” the Atlantic article stated.
These protest participants are what the article calls “middle-class poor:” young, educated people who have been exposed to the ideals of a more modern society, but are unable to achieve any of those goals or ideals because of lacking economic opportunity – namely, the absence of adequate job opportunities that leave many of them unemployed and unfulfilled.
This is the narrow window proponents of globalization’s democratizing effects often look for: a population that has seen and understands the benefits of liberal society, but is unable to enjoy the advances for themselves.
The Atlantic article concludes that, while the rebellion may be over for now, this more actionable group of dissidents is more likely to carry the sentiment further than in past uprisings.

Wall Street Journal Editorial Hit the Nail on the Head

All of this makes it more imperative that the Trump administration, among other policy moves, takes the advice of the Wall Street Journal editorial board and expands American media operations in Iran.
The board notes that the entrance of this new protesting class also brought an effective new method of organizing: social media. It has proven so effective, in fact, that the Iranian government had to, in more than one instance, shut down access to certain networking sites and messaging apps like Facebook and Twitter.

U.S. Can Do Much More To Help Iranian Protesters

Their suggestion for the Trump administration is to take advantage of the existing, taxpayer-funded Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
According to the board, “The BBG’s mission is to ‘inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy,’ which should put it in the center of Iran’s online battle.”
They go on to show that BBG leadership has spent only $15 million of its $787 million budget on internet freedom and anti-censorship projects — a sign that they are out of touch with conditions on the ground.
Further, the editorial board go on to state that BBG leaders have said that it would take a number of weeks to redirect additional funding to these purposes, even in situations that require quick, decisive action like in Iran.
Ultimately, their first chance has come and gone, but the evolving Iranian demographics tells us that they may soon have another opportunity to shape the outcome of a future uprising more favorably.