As several commentators have noted, the recent protests in Iran have included criticism of the regime’s foreign policy priorities.
At the Spectator Douglas Murray wrote:
“…most early reports indicate that protesters began by highlighting the country’s living standards. Specifically, they complained about the government’s use of its recent economic bonus (from the lifting of sanctions) not to help the Iranian people, but to pursue wider regional ambitions. Iranian forces are currently fighting in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This from a power whose defenders still claim is not expansionist. […]
The nationwide demonstrations, which have not been led by any single demographic, class, or group, have included cries of ‘Leave Gaza, leave Lebanon, my life (only) for Iran’. Chants of ‘Death to Hezbollah’ (Iran’s terrorist proxy currently fighting in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria) have also been heard from Mashhad to Kermanshah.”
At Foreign Policy magazine, Dennis Ross noted that:
“Placards criticizing corruption are rampant, and some demonstrators have even chanted death to the dictator, referring to Khamenei. Protesters have also railed against the costs of Iran’s foreign adventures: One of the earliest chants was, “Not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran.” […]
The protestors are asking why their money is spent in Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza […] On Hezbollah alone, Iran is estimated to provide more than $800 million a year — and their costs in sustaining the Assad regime come to several billion dollars.”
One of the BBC’s early reports – published on December 29th; the day after the protests commenced – also noted those chants.
“There is also anger at Iran’s interventions abroad. In Mashhad, some chanted “not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran”, a reference to what protesters say is the administration’s focus on foreign rather than domestic issues.
Other demonstrators chanted “leave Syria, think about us” in videos posted online. Iran is a key provider of military support to the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.”
However, when the BBC later began producing backgrounders on the protests in Iran, that issue was downplayed.
“The protests started out of opposition to President Hassan Rouhani and his economic policies. People were angry with high inflation, unemployment and corruption. But it quickly became bigger than that, and protesters started calling for the downfall of Iran’s most powerful man: Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. They also called for an end to Iran’s involvement in countries like Syria and Lebanon.”
BBC audiences were not however informed what that “involvement” entails or how much it costs the Iranian people.
In a written backgrounder also produced by Rana Rahimpour and published on the BBC News website on the same day under the headline “Iran protests pose an unpredictable challenge for authorities“, readers found the same statement.
“Within a day, the unrest had spread to some 25 towns and cities, and slogans went beyond the economic, including calls, for instance, for an end to Iran’s involvement in Lebanon and Syria.”
An article titled “Iran protests: US brands Tehran’s accusations ‘nonsense’” that also appeared on the BBC News website on January 2nd included analysis by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen in which readers were told that:
“When the protests started last Thursday, they were about the current economic crisis but as they spread, pent-up frustrations spilled out and politics became a big part of them.
President Rouhani has been widely criticised. He has disappointed voters who hoped he would do more to turn round an economy that has been damaged by years of sanctions, corruption and mismanagement.
Iran’s role in conflicts across the Middle East has also been criticised as it is an expensive foreign policy at a time when people in Iran are getting poorer.”
Another backgrounder – published on the BBC News website on January 4th under the headline “Six charts that explain the Iran protests” made no mention whatsoever of the vast sums of money shoring up the Iranian regime’s protégés and proxies around the Middle East.
Two and a half years ago senior BBC journalists covering the P5+1 deal with Iran assured BBC audiences that the vast sums of money freed up by sanctions relief under the terms of the JCPOA would be used by the Iranian regime to improve the country’s economy.
“President Rouhani was elected because people hoped that he would end Iran’s isolation and thus improve the economy. So the windfall that they will be getting eventually, which is made up of frozen revenues – oil revenues especially –around the world, ah…there are people who argue that look; that will go to try to deal with loads and loads of domestic economic problems and they’ll have trouble at home if they don’t do that. If people – the argument goes on – are celebrating in Iran about the agreement, it’s not because they’ll have more money to make trouble elsewhere in the region; it’s because things might get better at home.” Jeremy Bowen, PM, BBC Radio 4, July 14th 2015
“In exchange it [Iran] will get a lot. It will get a release of the punishing sanctions. We heard from Hassan Rouhani saying as Iran always says that the sanctions did not succeed but he conceded that they did have an impact on the everyday lives of Iranians. There’s an estimate that some $100 billion will, over time, once Iran carries out its implementation of this agreement, will be released into the Iranian economy.” Lyse Doucet, Newshour, BBC World Service radio, July 14th 2015.
Given that long-standing policy of omission, it is obvious that BBC audiences are not sufficiently informed on the issue to be able to understand the full significance of those euphemistic references to “Iran’s involvement in countries like Lebanon and Syria”, its “role in conflicts across the Middle East” and its “expensive foreign policy” found in content supposedly meant to explain why Iranians have taken to the streets in protest.