A Window into Iran’s Protests: SSG Analyst Report

Security Studies Group (SSG)

16 days ago

August 03, 2018

The following is an internal Security Studies Group (SSG) report that we have decided to make public. The reason to publish the report is to raise a crucial point that our analyst hits upon.  “The protests have become more like a channel through which various groups of people vent their frustration but there is no roadmap to what to do afterwards. In other words, it is protesting for the sake of protesting.”

SSG supports the Iranian people’s pursuit of a new birth of liberty. Almost every popular revolution has started with sustained protests, and these are indeed large, sustained, and also cut broadly across Iran’s social strata.  There is a potential for things to break rapidly if a proposed solution comes to be seen as viable by the bulk of the diverse protesting groups. That is how the 1979 revolution happened. Until it is clear what solution the Iranian protest groups find plausible, however, no one can assess whether there is a tipping point to these protests, what that point is, or who will ultimately benefit from reaching it. It remains a dangerous moment.

The recent waves of protests in Esfahan, Shahin Shahr, Najaf Abad (all three are in Esfahan province which has always been on the IR’s side), Karaj, Shiraz, Shahr-e-Kord, and etc. follows the pattern of the protests in Dec/Jan. The main issues are economic yet the main chants are ‘death to the dictator’ and ‘death to Rouhani’. The grievances are increasing daily yet there is no prospect for their betterment, the latter only creates more frustration. Devaluation of the national currency and the high inflation that is tailgating it, water and electricity shortage in most of the cities combined with the quotidian suppression of the social freedoms have made the recent protests a tapestry of grievances each peace coming from a different social strata. An interesting feature of the current protests is the visibly salient participation of women.

The current pretests, however, is relatively underrepresented on twitter. The news that I receive directly from Iran claims more people and more incidents than the ones that are covered on the social media. #چالش_دعوت_به_تظاهرات , for example, with 97,500 number of tweets is one of the hashtags that is being used with more frequency. The pattern shows a regular behaviour which corresponds to the ongoing and continuous protests in the mentioned cities. But as it was the case with the Dec/Jan, these protests, lacking leadership or a clear aim, will likely end after a few days. The protests have become more like a channel through which various groups of people vent their frustration but there is no roadmap to what to do afterwards. In other words, it is protesting for the sake of protesting. The government, on the other hand, has become more efficient and professional in dealing with the protestors. Comparing to the Dec/Jan protests with a death toll of 20, the recent ones have not had a single serious casualty so far.

#چالش_دعوت_به_تظاهرات pattern in a day

Apparently, the current protests have started from Isfahan Shahpour district—which is the market for heavy machinery and equipment—and has then spread to other cities. It was only a few months ago that the truck drivers went on strike because of the high price of the spare parts. Given that most of the heavy machinery and the spare parts are imported the recent downfall of Iran’s currency has heavily disturbed the market. As it has been the case with the recent protests in Iran, Tehran lags behind the nationwide protest. This is partly due to the general dominance of middle class population in Tehran whose concerns are not necessarily similar to other less affluent parts of Iran. Yet this explains the underrepresentation of the protests on the social media.

Another hashtag which is used with less frequency is #اعتراضات_سراسری and #IranProtests which is the same one that was being used during the Dec/Jan’s protests. The number of tweets for this one is 19,900 but the bot score for this hashtag is 4 which makes it less organic and more organized. Nevertheless the pattern is similar to that of #چالش_دعوت_به_تظاهرات albeit with less consistency which is the result of the fewer number of tweets:

#اعتراضات_سراسری’s pattern in a day

The following accounts have been received much attention and have shaped the discussion on the recent protests:

@PahlaviReza: the account of the former crown prince of Iran with 1507 re-tweets so far has been an influencial figure in the debate. Not all retweets, however, are endorsements and almost 30% are replies, which in turn, can be criticism of the content or the character of Mr Pahlavi.

Other Influences based on the number of views and retweets are:

@Z0RVAAN

@YaarDabestaani

@dadashirani

@kachalmooferfer

@_Cafe

@john_lucckk

@Z0RVAAN

@Pensylvani

@Tavaana

@tanasoli

Geographical distribution of the tweets

Both  #اعتراضات_سراسری and #چالش_دعوت_به_تظاهرات are tweeted from similar regions of Iran. Unsurprisingly, Tehran and Karaj where people have more access to internet and social media are overrepresented on the map.

The map shows the cities wherein some protests has been going on:

The global pattern of #چالش_دعوت_به_تظاهرات (high density in Balkan area has probably to do with the activity of MEK, the rest of Europe are normally old school Marxists who have been against the IR for decades.

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Security Studies Group (SSG)

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