Protests over water shortages in Iran are approaching the end of their second week, and during that time they have grown both within and beyond the region where they started. The first demonstrations began on July 15 in the province of Khuzestan, where historic drought had helped to expose the full extent of the regime’s mismanagement and wasting of natural resources. As the protests entered their second week, solidarity demonstrations began to be reported in other provinces, with Tehran, Tabriz, Zanjan, Lorestan, Bushehr, and Isfahan all being sites of substantial unrest.
Many of these secondary protests are equally focused on the original issue of water shortages, which are certainly affecting persons beyond Khuzestan. In fact, at least one Iranian state media outlet has reported that over a quarter of the country’s 83 million people have been affected by water shortages over roughly the past year. Those problems threaten to continue proliferating in the near future since the regime authorities refuse to address the grievances that the people have been expressing en mass since at least the middle of the month.
The regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivered a speech on shedding crocodile tears for the residents of Khuzestan. Meanwhile, numerous incidences of shootings and other acts of repression have been reported throughout the nearly two-week ordeal, and leading authorities have certainly taken measures to deliberately amplify that response. The new judiciary chief, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, personally ordered the deployment of additional security forces, and Khamenei personally provided justification for expanded crackdowns by characteristically intimating that foreign “enemies” had a role in the unrest. .
Soon after the protests surpassed the one-week mark, Amnesty International reported that it had confirmed at least eight killings associated with the regime’s crackdown. Days later, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) placed the number of confirmed killings at twelve and backed this up by providing their names and basic biographical details. The leading pro-democracy opposition group also stated that other deaths had almost certainly already taken place, though the identities of victims had yet to be determined.
A funeral for one of the 12 known victims, 17-year-old Hadi Bahmani, had been arranged for Friday, three days after his death, and the event quickly became a rallying point for further demonstrations and clashes with security forces. Bahmani was one of two teenagers on the initial list of victims. Ages were reported for only half of the other ten persons on that list, but they are all between 20 and 30 years, a fact that presumably reflects the particular presence of Iranian youth in the ongoing demonstrations.
This in turn reflects the calls to action that were issued by the Iranian opposition president, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, in the wake of early reports of crackdowns on the protests in Khuzestan. Mrs. Rajavi called on all youths to rush to the aid of the people of Khuzestan, especially those wounded, and that she cited government attacks on the protesters as the latest contribution to a large body of evidence regarding the need for regime change.
“As long as the plundering mullahs remain in power,” she said, “poverty, unemployment, and disease will continue. The mullahs deny the people water, power, bread, housing, and vaccines to provide for the unpatriotic nuclear and missile projects and their warmongering in the region.”
This statement referred to both intentional and incidental contributions to multiple crises, not limited to water shortages. Those shortages were created in part by the enormous influence over industry and ecology that has been secured by the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Through its front companies, that body has controlled all of the dozens of dam-building projects that have been completed since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. In many cases, these were undertaken either without advance research or expressly in defiance of expert warnings about ecological impact. Those warnings have been as marginalized by the entire regime as by the IRGC itself, while profits from such projects have been spread among the power elite.
Similar corruption was on display, and was the subject of other protests, just a few weeks ago when blackouts began being reported across large swaths of Iran. In that case, the IRGC had been contributing to the proliferation of cryptocurrency mining as a means of circumventing US sanctions. The predictable consequence was a massive spike in power consumption, which left ordinary consumers without either light or air conditioning, while persons with ties to the government hoarded wealth that the population as a whole would never have access to.
To further this hoarding, regime officials and institutions have also taken advantage of the coronavirus pandemic. According to detailed reporting from the MEK, the death toll from Iranian outbreaks of Covid-19 is fast approaching 350,000. The severity of the public health crisis and the regime’s efforts to cover it up is both a function of the absence of certain interventions including an effective vaccination effort.
Soon after American and European vaccines became widely available, Khamenei banned their use, leaving Iran to rely on comparatively untested and ineffective imports from Russia and China, as well as domestically-made vaccines. Even so, the distribution of those vaccines has been inefficient and inequitable, thanks to it being entrusted to “private” entities many of which are IRGC front organizations. As a result, many Iranian vaccine doses have made their way to the black market, where they have become another source of profit for government-linked entities.
Each of these crises is another potential contributor to another nationwide uprising like those which took place in January 2018 and November 2019. Indeed the Khuzestan protests and the solidarity demonstrations are potential precursors to just such an uprising. Lending credence to this interpretation is the fact that participants in the past two week’s unrest have been heard to chant slogans that include “death to the dictator,” “death to Khamenei,” and “freedom, justice, national government.”