Tehran’s Grand Bazaar shuts down as protests mount

Tehran was rocked by protests today. Protesters confronted police officers in front of parliament and swarmed Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, forcing its closure (according to this account, though, merchants themselves initiated the shutdown to protest skyrocketing prices).

Rising prices and other economic woes are, indeed, at the heart of the protests, which in recent days have also forced the closure of major shopping centers in Tehran. Iran’s economy seems to be cratering, and its currency, the Iranian rial, has plummeted to 90,000 to the U.S. dollar on the black market. At the end of last year, it was 43,000.

Earlier this year, I noted Iran’s runaway inflation, and its possible consequences for the regime. Since then, things have gotten worse, as President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the nuclear deal fuels economic pessimism.

But there’s more to the protests than just economic discontent. Protesters reportedly carried signs and shouted chants expressing disgust with the regime’s foreign adventurism — e.g., “Palestine, Syria are reasons of our misery” and “Let go of Syria, think of us.” They blame Iranian foreign and military policy for the state of the economy.

President Obama may have outsmarted us all, and especially himself. His Iran deal raised expectations that, with sanctions lifted and cash flowing in, Iran’s economy would soar. But with so many resources being diverted to Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, etc. (and some no doubt flowing to the coffers of various ayatollahs), the peoples’ expectations are not close to being met. That’s a recipe for protests, at a minimum.

That protests have shut down the Grand Bazaar seems particularly significant. As this report explains, the Grand Bazaar has long been a center of conservatism in Iranian politics. In 1979, its merchants supported the Islamic Revolution. Since then, they have supported the theocracy.

The Grand Bazaar remains an economic force in Iran, notwithstanding the construction of massive malls. Losing that backing would be a blow to the regime.

Nor is discontent in the bazaars confined to Tehran. I’m told that the closures have spread from Tehran’s Grand Bazaar to other cities — Mashhad, Bandar Abbas, Karaj, Isfahan and even Qeshm Island.

Is this the beginning of a revolution? It would be premature to say so. But the Iranian protests are worth keeping a close eye on.

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