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Iran: “Bitter Nightmare” of November 2019 Protest Will Happen Again, Expert Warns 

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Nationwide protests in November 2019 rocked Iran. People poured on the streets following the sudden increase in gas prices. In a few hours, their demands became political, with people calling for regime change. The Iranian regime narrowly escaped being toppled by brutally killing over 1500 protesters and detaining thousands more. Yet, the “bitter nightmare” of another uprising by “an unknown generation” haunts the regime. In a matter of days and sparking a broader crackdown that would see countless activists tortured over a period of several months. 

The state-run Sharq daily published an interview with an Iranian sociologist, Dr. Asef Bayat, on November 16, titled “The protest by an unknown generation,” explaining how the November 2019 uprising differed from previous protests in Iran. An incident that indeed became a turning point in the social conflict between Iranians and the mullahs’ regime.  

November 2019 protests sparked with the sudden increase in fuel prices and rapidly spread across the country,” the article’s opening reads. “The economic indicators had sounded the alarm for months, but the dimensions of these protests were unprecedented since the [1979] revolution.”  

“According to Asef Bayat, the middle-class poor and urban poor class collided. [The middle-poor class] is a different social class that we do not know well. It consists of educated but poor people, aware of their poverty,” Sharq wrote.  

According to Asef Bayat, “The November 2019 protests began due to the increase in fuel prices, but in fact, it resulted from a series of different economic, social and political dissatisfactions in the country that manifested themselves in this way.”  

He then compared the November 2019 uprising with protests in 2019 in Lebanon that began when the Lebanese government-imposed taxes on WhatsApp, but soon these protests turned political.  

Protests Erupt in Lebanon Over Planned WhatsApp Tax

“It seems that during the November 2019 protests, economic factors have played an important role, but the political rationale was more critical,” Sharq quoted Asef Bayat.  

Sharq then writes that the ruling system cannot “meet the needs of society.”

“People feel that their will is not reflected in the country’s management and that the government is in the process of realizing its own ideas, which has little to do with the demands and expectations of the citizens. These grievances include domestic as well as foreign policy and international relations, especially in the region,” Sharq quoted Dr. Bayat. 

People showed their opposition to the regime’s malign goals, such as regional adventurism, by chanting slogans like “let go of Syria, think of us,” and “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, my life only for Iran.”  

Sharq daily also quoted Asef Bayat, comparing the major Iran protests in 2019 with the Arab Spring, adding: “These protests are the collective actions of various social groups that demand profound economic and social changes. Now, new means of communication such as the Internet, Twitter, Telegram, etc., have made the mobilization easier and faster. There is a high dissatisfaction in society. There are large groups of activists, the social demand for change is clear, and the government is not accountable in practice. Under these circumstances, these tools and methods transform separate protests by different groups such as women, workers, villagers, the unemployed or the youth into a nationwide uprising.”  

Bayat then tells Sharq that the November 2019 uprising was different from any other social movement in Iran in the last 40 years, including widespread protests in 2009 and 2018.  

He told Sharq that protests in 2018 were by various sectors of society who joined together and formed a nationwide uprising that lasted for ten days.

“Each social sector also claimed their own demands. Farmers protested water shortages, workers demanded their delayed wages, defrauded creditors asked for their life savings, poor people demanded decent employment, and some demanded security. There were political slogans but not very much,”  Bayat highlighted. 

“In my view, this turning point was so important because the government’s responsibility for creating the current failures and crises became the common discourse of the protesters with different social backgrounds,” Sharq wrote.  

Iran Protests: Nationwide Uprising in Iran- November 2019

“I had said that the middle-class poor played a major role during the 2018 and 2019 protests,” Bayat told Sharq. “In November 2019, protests by urban poor and middle-class poor collided. The members of the middle-class poor are educated, holding university degrees. They know what is going on in the world. They are fully aware of social media technology and how to use them. They have the aspiration of the middle class, but they have joined the poor class,” Sharq quoted Bayat, describing a new social class and generation which consists of young people. “Many of these people are unemployed or have low-income and unstable jobs. Their occupations are not related to their field of expertise or education. Many of these people are forced to live in poor areas or shantytowns.”  

According to Iran’s state media, the population of Iranian poor has tripled in recent years in Iran, while the unemployment rate, inflation, and prices are skyrocketing daily. Thus, more people are becoming poor.  

Bayat then warned regime officials that “November 2019 protests could have been a warning to top officials to adjust the system of governance and socio-economic policies and find a solution to these economic and social problems.” 

But the regime increased its oppressive measures. “Instead, it seems that the authorities are dealing with this social phenomenon from a political-security perspective. It seems that the priority for them is how to deal with the protesters and want to neutralize them. We saw how the government solved this problem,” Bayat adds, referring to the bloody crackdown of November 2019 protests.  

“The truth is that as long as these socio-economic problems, shortcomings, and public dissatisfaction remain unresolved, mass uprising like the one in November [2019] is very likely to happen,” Sharq quoted Bayat adding, “What cannot be predicted is that when [these protests happen] and what sparks them.”  

Nearly half of the Iranian population are youths under the age of 30. This generation has experienced nothing but social and economic pressures under the mullahs’ regime. This generation has proven to be a threat to the regime’s existence by forming the majority of Iranian protesters during the mass uprising in 2018 and 2019.  

Iranian youth are increasingly joining the ranks of the “Resistance Units,” an internal network of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) opposition, carrying out dozens of activities against the regime every day.  

In June 2021, the state-run Students News Network (SSN) wrote: “This opportunist enemy is recruiting youth on large scales. If the state had paid attention to these youths and they were not frustrated, if the economic cycle was based on the domestic capabilities, we were not witnessing groups of two to three-person of the youth operating under the MEK’s command. The efforts of the security agencies around the clock and even the large number of arrests have not been able to stop the spread of the MEK’s activities. This the most dangerous issue.”  

Thus, the regime’s fear of Iran’s restive society and defiant youth is not unfounded and normally continues to grow.