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The Farda Briefing: As Iran Blames 'Foreign Enemies' For Anti-Government Rallies, Protesters Blame 'Real Enemy' Within

People in Arak protest over pensions and the cost of living.
People in Arak protest over pensions and the cost of living.

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, a new RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter.

I'm senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I've been following and what I'm watching out for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

Pensioners and retired government employees have staged two days of protests in more than a dozen cities across Iran to complain about the high cost of living and to demand higher pensions. The government said it was increasing pensions by nearly 60 percent. But pensioners say it is too little, too late to cope with soaring inflation. Demonstrators shouted, "Our expenses are in dollars, our income in rials." Others chanted, "Leave Palestine alone, think of us," suggesting the government should focus more on domestic issues. Security forces have detained several protesters.

Why It Matters: Iran has seen a string of demonstrations in recent weeks against skyrocketing food prices and following a deadly building collapse, which protesters blamed on government corruption and negligence. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has sought to blame the unrest on "foreign enemies" seeking to overthrow the Islamic republic. But the protesters have directed their anger at Iran's clerical establishment. Some of the protesting pensioners chanted, "They lied that America is our enemy, our real enemy is right here!" Other demonstrators chanted "Death to Raisi," a reference to hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi, and "Death to a deceitful government."

What's Next: Protests over price hikes, rising unemployment, and growing poverty are likely to continue in Iran. Teachers, bus drivers, and other workers have all staged rallies in recent months over a deteriorating economy that has been crippled by U.S. sanctions and years of government mismanagement. Authorities are likely to use intimidation and arrests to contain the protests for now. If the rallies start to pose a more serious threat to the regime, the authorities are likely to resort to force. In 2019, mass anti-government protests led to a brutal state crackdown that left hundreds of people dead.

Stories You May Have Missed

Over 50 conservationists penned an open letter on June 3 calling for Iranian authorities to free eight jailed environmentalists. Among the signatories was renowned British anthropologist Jane Goodall. United Nations Environment Program chief Inger Andersen made a separate call for the release of the environmentalists on June 4. Associated with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, the eight Iranians were arrested in 2018 and accused of espionage. One of the environmentalists, Kavus Seyed-Emami, died in jail in unclear circumstances. The others remain in prison. The jailing of the group has been widely condemned inside and outside Iran.

A group of thieves broke into scores of safety deposit boxes at a Tehran branch of Iran's biggest bank and took off with the contents. The state-owned Bank Melli Iran said 168 safety deposit boxes had been opened. The bank and police, however, have not revealed what was stolen or the worth of the missing contents. The incident occurred on June 5, a state holiday in Iran. Fars news agency reported that the thieves entered and exited through a rear door. Tehran police told the official IRNA news agency that several bank employees were under investigation for alleged negligence.

What We're Watching

The United States, Britain, France, and Germany have submitted a draft resolution to the UN's nuclear watchdog to censure Iran over its lack of cooperation with the agency. The draft resolution urges Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The vote is likely to take place on June 8 during a meeting of the IAEA's 35-member board of governors. In a report last month, the IAEA said it still had questions that were "not clarified" regarding traces of enriched uranium previously found at three undeclared nuclear sites in Iran.

Why It Matters: If passed, the resolution would mark the first time Tehran was censured at the IAEA since June 2020. The move is likely to anger Iran, where officials have already warned of unspecified retaliation. Ahead of the vote, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said it had turned off two cameras installed by the IAEA at an unidentified Iranian site. Iranian officials have said that the passing of the resolution, which is likely, will further undermine stalled indirect negotiations between Tehran and Washington aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. For the West, the resolution highlights growing frustration with Iran amid the ongoing standoff over the nuclear agreement.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your in-box every Wednesday.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

About This Newsletter

The Farda Briefing

The Farda Briefing is an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. Written by senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari and other reporters from Radio Farda.

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