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One ‘spark’ could reignite protests, warns Iran’s interior minister

Iran’s interior minister discussed the findings of a report dissecting the reasons for the Iranian protests in December and January.
TOPSHOT - An Iranian woman raises her fist amid the smoke of tear gas at the University of Tehran during a protest driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017.
Students protested in a third day of demonstrations sparked by anger over Iran's economic problems, videos on social media showed, but were outnumbered by counter-demonstrators. / AFP PHOTO / STR        (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

In separate interviews with leading Iranian newspapers, Iranian Interior Minister Abdul Reza Rahmani Fazli discussed the findings of an Interior Ministry report warning that the grievances that led to the nationwide protests in December and January could once again cause unrest in the country.

In an interview with Hamshahri newspaper, Rahmani Fazli said there are two groups of factors that led to the largest protests in Iran since the 2009 election protests. Rahmani Fazli said the first group of factors involved “social, political and economic discontent.” He said it could take just “one spark to inflame” the situation with this level of unhappiness in the country.

Rahmani Fazli also pointed to three deeper elements as the second set of factors for the protests. He labeled this second group “societal transformations.” Rahmani Fazli pointed to “generational changes,” saying that “39 years have passed since the revolution, and over time, ideologies, beliefs, thoughts and preferences have gone under fundamental changes.” He said this general change has been ignored, but that most people could witness such changes in their homes with their own children.

He said the second factor in this societal transformation group is a change in the “lifestyle” of Iranians. He added that this lifestyle change included preferences in “recreation, literature, discourse, relationships and clothing.” Rahmani-Fazli pointed to influences outside the country as having an impact on these changes. He said the public, at because of its exposure to the outside world, couldn’t easily be swayed on these preferences by official statements. Paraphrasing a speech by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei discussing social change, Rahmani Fazli said Iranian officials face “failure if they are not able to keep up with social changes.”

Rahmani Fazli said the third factor in this group is “technological changes,” which he said have “transformed people’s lives and finances.”

He said a copy of the report was given to the supreme leader, President Hassan Rouhani and the Supreme National Security Council. He said security, military, law enforcement, judiciary officials and the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) all had input into the report as part of the Interior Ministry’s Security Council.

In regard to whether organizations such as the IRIB are fully accepting that fundamental changes are taking place, Rahmani Fazli said that when he worked at IRIB eight years ago, it had a “complete monopoly” on the dissemination of the news. However, he said the IRIB cannot dominate the news the way it once did because “everyone has free access to news.” He said social media has offered not only news but also analysis, which is impacting how people make decisions and judge the news. Rahmani Fazli believes that social media had a larger impact on the 2017 presidential election than the IRIB. The head of the IRIB is chosen by Khamenei, and it often prefers conservative candidates.

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