Trouble is brewing in Iran. Its currency, the rial, has weakened 25 percent since January, and the official exchange rate is now around 60,000 rials to the dollar. The governor of Iran’s Central Bank has accused Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of meddling and has also set a new exchange rate of 42,000 rial to the dollar.
Arab protesters continue to demonstrate in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, even as farmers continue to protest over water scarcity in Isfahan province. (The water protests are especially concerning, since a weak rial will make food imports more expensive.)
Relatedly, the government in Tehran is considering outlawing a messaging app called Telegram, which was a source of much of the reporting on protests that took place December 2017-January 2018. At the very least, this move suggests the government is interested in stopping the protests before they gain momentum.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful military force with vested economic and political interests, continues to push the envelope in Syria, attempting to establish permanent bases in the region and transferring weapons to Hezbollah and other proxies. (Israel’s latest airstrike on Tiyas air base, an Iranian target, is no doubt a response to these activities.) For a country with such dire economic problems, Iran is spending an awful lot of money abroad – something that probably hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Iranian public.
Meanwhile, there is reason to believe the country’s various political factions are fighting once again. The Iran nuclear deal, the hallmark of the Rouhani administration and the very thing that was supposed to break open the Iranian economy, may soon be abrogated by the United States. President Hassan Rouhani himself has made it a point in recent weeks to tout the deal’s successes – an obvious bid to downplay criticisms from hard-line officials. Moreover, the mayor of Tehran, who is considered a reformist, has resigned for a second time, ostensibly because of an illness, and this time the Tehran City Council has accepted the resignation. Some reports suggest his departure is due to pressure from hard-liners.
By themselves, none of these developments are cause for alarm. Together, though, they suggest that external economic pressure, overextension in the Syrian war and internal political competition are destabilizing the country. The protests at the beginning of the year may prove to be a prelude to larger ones to follow.
That’s not to say Iran is on the brink of collapse. But an important country in what is perhaps the most volatile region of the world is becoming more unstable by the week.