Iranians question French democracy as protests rage

Iranians are keeping a close eye on the ongoing protests in France, lashing out at the government of President Emmanuel Macron for its heavy handed response.

al-monitor Protesters stand in front of a police water cannon at the Place de l'Etoile near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, Dec. 1, 2018. Photo by REUTERS/Stephane Mahe.

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iranian media, hassan rouhani, emmanuel macron, protests in iran, protests, france, iran protests

Dec 4, 2018

Already in its third week, the civil unrest in France continues to make headlines in Iran, where many are questioning the government's violent response in quelling the public anger. The "yellow vests" have been protesting increased fuel taxes imposed by President Emmanuel Macron's government. The rallies have turned into France's worst turmoil in decades, with running street battles and intense scuffles between police and protesters amid burning tires and rubble from damaged public property.

Generally hailing France as the cradle of democracy, Iranians have long associated the French with the courage to vent anger on the streets. The response to the "gilets jaunes" is now making them question the French political system's claims about democracy and the right to public protest.

The current unrest has received nearly equal coverage from Iran's Reformists and hard-line media despite their starkly different political leanings. Kayhan, representing the most extremist layer of the country's conservatives, applauded the French protesters for forcing Macron into giving concessions. "Crisis at its climax," its headline read, describing the scenes as a street war. It speculated about whether the country's impoverished suburban dwellers will join the movement. 

Moderate papers Donya-e-Eqtesad and Mardomsalari also highlighted the theme of retreat and the French president's decision to back off in the face of the protesters. Ebtekar, which pursues a Reformist agenda, predicted a spillover into Belgium and the Netherlands, explaining the unrest as a challenge to the Western liberalist system and a movement that is "reversing history." Similarly, moderate Hamshahri also deduced a historical pattern as it reported on "Paris stone pavers as witnesses to 200 years of war, revolt and protests" that have redirected the path of the French society. According to Javan, a daily close to the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the protests are spiraling out of control as "Macron's iron fist hits the heads of the French in the Paris war zone."

Typically attentive to world events, ordinary Iranians have also been reacting to the French mayhem. Infuriated by the level of force used against the protesters, they have widely reposted pictures of the police crackdown. "If the same picture came out of Iran, all the pseudo-intellectuals and worthless advocates of human rights would have deafened the world's ears," tweeted one, "but no worries. this is France, the dream land for many, [where even] if a woman is kicked on the street, well, she definitely deserved it!" Using the same pictures, others slammed defenders of the Western democracy for "painting it as an imaginary paradise."

The unrest has also served as a chance to remind the French president to mind his own business. "Mr. Rouhani, this is the right time to make a phone call to your French counterpart and urge him to … exercise restraint," read one tweet in a sarcastic reference to Macron's telephone conversation with Hassan Rouhani earlier this year, urging Iran to "exercise restraint" in the wake of Iran's nationwide protests.

The protests in Iran in late 2017 and early 2018 rocked nearly 100 towns and cities. The rallies, rooted in economic discontent, were met with a heavy-handed police crackdown.

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