The current protests in Iran are making headline news, and the prevailing narrative is that the Iranian people want freedom from their oppressive regime. People from across the political spectrum are reinforcing that narrative:

(Irony alert: Ben Rhodes is the political mastermind who helped to prop up the current leadership in Iran by easing sanctions and covertly shipping over pallets full of currencies, so for him to pretend to support the people is suspect.)

At any rate, we’re told this is all about freedom, a narrative to which Americans are particularly susceptible. But is that right?

Moon of Alabama, a politically astute observer, sees it differently, and offers some informed comment.

The “western” democracies are used to distinguish political parties as left or right with fixed combinations of economic and cultural policies. The “left” is seen as preferring a social economy that benefits the larger population and as cultural liberal or progressive. The right is seen as cultural conservative with a preference for a free market economy that favors the richer segments of a nation.

The political camps in Iran are different.

The simplified version: The conservatives, or “principalists”, are cultural conservative but favor economic programs that benefit the poor. Their support base are the rural people as well as the poorer segments of the city dwellers. The last Iranian president near to them was Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. One of his major policies was the implementation of cash payments to the needy as replacement of general and expensive subsidies on oil products and foodstuff. The current Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is a member of the “reformist” camp. His support base are the merchants and the richer parts of the society. He is culturally (relative) progressive but his economic polices are neoliberal. The new budget he introduced for the next year cuts back on the subsidies for the poor Ahmedinejad had introduced. It will increase prices for fuel and basic food stuff up to 30-40%.

The protests on December 28 and 29 were about these and other economic issues. Such protests have regularly occurred in Iran throughout the decades. But the current ones were soon hijacked by small groups which chanted slogans against the Iranian system and against the strong Iranian engagement in Syria and Palestine. These are not majority positions of the 80 million inhabitants of Iran:

    According to the poll, 67.9% say Iran should increase backing for anti-IS groups, up from 59.8% a year ago. Meanwhile, a majority of 64.9% backs the deployment of Iranian military personnel to Syria to help the regime of Bashar al-Assad, up slightly from 62.7% a year ago.

The small groups that hijacked the protests against Rouhani’s economic polices were heavily promoted by the usual suspects of U.S. influence operations. Avaaz, the RAND cooperation, Human Rights Watch and others immediately jumped onto the bandwagon. (True to form HRW’s Ken Roth used a picture of a pro-government rally to illustrate the much smaller anti-government protests.) The smaller groups that hijacked and publicized the demonstration seem well coordinated. But they are far from a genuine movement or even a majority.

MoA goes on to share a motive for the US narrative, noting that the protests will likely not succeed in regime change, but they will bring further restrictions on rights in that country, giving the US another reason to punish them and paint them as the bad guys. Which is exactly what our Saudi “allies” would want.

Do I know for certain who’s protesting what in Iran? Not at all. But when US voices from across the spectrum settle on a single narrative for something I get very suspicious. I hope others will as well.

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