The Coming Revolution of the Hungry: Iran’s Regime Faces Biggest Challenge to Date

July 6, 2022 Updated: July 6, 2022

Commentary

Iran’s revolution may well come by way of imperious necessity, and not, as experts have long posited, out of a yearning for democratic change.

And though this isn’t to say that Iranians don’t long for their freedom—they most certainly do—it remains true that a lack of leadership on the part of the opposition has made it difficult for people to find cohesion in their political struggle. For all their many calls for change, Iran’s various opposition parties have failed to capture the hearts and minds of their compatriots by offering a vision worth braving the regime’s infamous security apparatus.

But if prudence thus far has compelled millions to keep their dissidence under wraps, hunger may prove too compelling a motivation for Iranians to ignore, and as it were, a cry the regime forces will unlikely be able to reason with, let alone contain.

A growing need for bread, or rather, the inability of millions to afford it, may soon be the tide that sweeps through the leadership’s ranks and lays waste to the foundation of the Islamic Republic. If the masses may remain apathetic before politicians’ injunctions, bargaining that their discontent, however great, doesn’t outweigh the risk of mobilization, the prospect of famine, and the many deaths that are sure to accompany it, may have a way of galvanizing the crowds into action. Greater regimes throughout history have fallen to such realities—most famous of all is the case of France’s Revolution of 1789.

Though intellectuals have often romanticized the ascent of the French Republic by arguing that France thought to reinvent itself free of the diktat of the monarchy and the church, to become a child of the revolution and the Enlightenment, it was rampant inflation and mounting hunger that compelled peasants to brandish their forks against the king.

The people cried first and foremost for food—regime change was but a by-product of popular anger, a tool ideologues used to carve out their political narrative.

A more recent example was offered to us in Tunisia in 2011, when the act of a desperate street vendor unleashed a roar of such magnitude that Arab leaders suddenly found themselves on uneven ground, their authority challenged without much hope of political redemption.

Mohamed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old fruit seller whose self-immolation triggered revolutions across the Middle East, acted not out of ideology, but economic desperation. As the martyr of a system that preys on the weak, his pain became both a catalyst and a symbol—the very elements that make a grand revolution.

Bread of late has become central to Iran’s public discourse. And though the regime’s men have worked hard to rid their skies of the clouds of dissent, wielding both repression and indoctrination to engineer consent, hunger may be the one storm they won’t be able to weather.

Exhausted by decades of sanctions, the Islamic Republic’s economy is particularly exposed to market fluctuations. And if experts’ warnings are to be taken seriously, the coup de grace could soon come by way of a global food shortage, an insult to its socio-economic ecosystem that would prove impossible to absorb. The regime’s survival remains tied to its ability to negotiate a way out of financial strangulation, less so its willingness to reform, hence its officials’ determination to strike a deal with the West—although interestingly enough, not at the cost of their nuclear ambitions.

Peter Sands, the executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, warned that “Rising food and energy prices, in part sparked by the war in Ukraine, could kill millions both directly and indirectly,” Reuters recently reported.

“Food shortages work in two ways. One is you have the tragedy of people actually starving to death. But second is you have the fact that often much larger numbers of people are poorly nourished, and that makes them more vulnerable to existing diseases,” Sands told Reuters in a June interview.

Sands is not alone in his assessment, insofar as trouble is indeed brewing among communities.

In April, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) rang the alarm, noting that a mix of high inflation and supply problems will put vulnerable economies under a great deal of stress and thus exacerbate poverty.

“This crisis unfolds even as the global economy has not yet fully recovered from the pandemic,” the IMF’s research department director, Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, posits.

“Even before the war [in Ukraine], inflation in many countries had been rising due to supply-demand imbalances and policy support during the pandemic, prompting a tightening of monetary policy. … In this context, beyond its immediate and tragic humanitarian impact, the war will slow economic growth and increase inflation. … Furthermore, increases in food and fuel prices may also significantly increase the prospect of social unrest in poorer countries.”

Iran’s summer of discontent has only just begun; what comes next could potentially lead to a complete regional shake-up.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Catherine Perez-Shakdam is a French Jewish political analyst and Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society. A former consultant for the U.N. Security Council on Yemen’s War Economy, her research was instrumental in better understanding Yemen’s political landscape and actors’ financial interests.