Through international sanctions led by the United States, Iran has felt the pains of relative isolation in the global market. Its currency, the rial, has dropped in value, and the country has endured difficult economic conditions ever since the U.S. departure from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2018. These pressures have led Tehran to institute widespread price increases for everyday goods. Most recently on Nov. 15, they announced fuel price increases that could skyrocket up to 300 percent. This decision, championed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, caused many Iranians to take to the streets and protest against the government and its decision.

As those in major cities and population centers organized to express their outrage, Iranian officials warned of grave consequences for those caught participating in the movement. Punitive measures came quickly as demonstrating civilians fell victim to gunfire from rooftop and airborne snipers. As of Nov. 19 when Iranian officials reported that the protests had subsided, witness testimonies indicated that over 100 civilians were killed. The regime said that close to 1,000 people had been arrested in connection with the demonstrations. These events exemplify what the Iranian regime is willing to do to its people, while pretending they are acting on their behalf. Yet, this is just one chapter of a continuing saga of violence and repression perpetrated by the gatekeepers of Iran’s 40-year-old Islamic Revolution.

Since the turn of the century, there have been many instances of brutal operations undertaken by Tehran to shut down dissent and organization by Iranians. In 2009, following elections to choose the next Iranian president, protesters came out to dispute the results, alleging then-incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had not achieved a true victory due to suspicions of election irregularities. Perhaps the largest similarity between the protests of this month and a decade ago is the government’s widespread shutdown of internet and cellular service as a means of cutting off communication between protest groups. The current shutdown has lasted for over three days, even as officials, in Tehran — including Ayatollah Khamenei — continue to speak out against the movements, calling protesters “thugs” and accusing the U.S. of orchestrating the protests. 

In the protests between December 2017 and January 2018, there were also reported internet shutdowns and deployments of Iranian forces to quiet demonstrations. These riots, like those of last week, stemmed from frustration over government price of basic goods increases. Though short-lived, the protests enjoyed U.S. support while members of President Donald Trump’s administration condemned the Iranian government. 

Last weekend, according to CNN, White House officials once again came out rightfully in support of the protests and criticized the extreme use of force authorized by Tehran. Though reports indicate that the most recent demonstrations have come to an end, it is important the U.S. continues to voice its support for the Iranian people as they take steps toward, hopefully, taking back their freedom. The events of recent days appear to be over, despite the fact that at the time of publication, internet access has not been restored. No meaningful changes or promises came from the Iranian regime, and the extreme price changes will most likely stay in place. Yet the protesters expressed that there is a growing impatience among Iranian civilians with their corrupt, oppressive and unaccountable leaders.

While some might argue that American support for such protests only serves to lend credence to the notion that the U.S. is orchestrating them, it is important to voice our sympathy for the population of Iran, especially given the strong American opposition of the Iranian regime and its actions. This distinction is vital and must be upheld. We seek a better future for Iranians, one in which they have a government that serves their interests and allows them to become valuable members of the global community.

The goal of such economic sanctions is to make it apparent to Iranians that their officials care more about threatening the U.S. and its allies than granting their own people the rights they deserve. Tehran’s repeated brutal repression of dissent only serves to further prove this reality. As time goes on, America must continually offer its moral support as the Iranian people seek their liberty.

Noah Ente can be reached at noahente@umich.edu.

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