The Matter of Persia: Discerning Meaning from Strife and Unrest
The year 2018 began with a renewal of some of last year’s main geopolitical clashes, the most prominent being the nuclear threats exchanged between North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump, China’s President Xi Jinping delivering grim speeches to his army, urging troops to be ready for war, and analysts offering generally gloomy forecasts for this year. One other significant event that has erupted near the end of 2017 were the unexpected and violent protests in Iran that have continued up to at least the first week of 2018, with mass demonstrations held both for and against the country’s current government and an uncompromising crackdown by Iranian police.
Time, however, is kept differently in Iran, as the country uses a calendar of its own, differing both from the widely-used Gregorian calendar as well as from the Islamic calendar. According to the official Iranian calendar, the year is 1396, and the protests began on the 7th day of the month of Dey, which corresponds to December 28, 2017.
While the Western world, Israel and the surviving members of Iran’s defunct monarchy in general voiced its support for the people’s right to express their discontent, Russia and Turkey have underlined that the protests are an internal matter and advocated instead for the cessation of violence.
These differences in the perception of time also change the way in which we frame the context of an event. Whereas the last days of December are mostly thought of as times of celebrations, cheer, settlement, and closure, and the beginning of January is greeted as a time of renewed strength and hopes for the best, the Iranian month of Dey is the 10th of its 12-month calendar, and signals the arrival of winter, with its harsh, unkind weather and hardships. Starting with 28 December 2017, the wave of demonstrations began in its second most populated city, Mashhad, spreading to other major cities rapidly. Despite the allegedly peaceful nature of the manifestations, the police reacted with unrestrained force; clashes between the demonstrators and security forces became more and more frequent, leading to hundreds of arrests, and the first victims were made. The body count has thus far reached 21 people, and 550 others have been detained by the police, most of them young people and students. Not only that, but a few thousand people marched in support of the establishment, especially since the period marked 8 years since the pro-government rally of December 30, 2009. On January 3rd, 2018, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards claimed the protests had been finally quelled.
Shaken and stirred
This is not the first time Iran has been shaken by protests. Its current theocratic political system came to be following the famous Iranian Revolution of 1978 – 1979, which entailed the death of nearly 2,800 people and the ousting of Iran’s millennia-old monarchy, which was replaced by an Islamic republic headed by a Supreme Leader. In July 1999, several students held demonstrations against the government in the aftermath of a newspaper being closed down by authorities. In its six days, the protest ended with the death of a dozen people and over 1,000 others being arrested by the government, with reports of students being beaten and arrested in their dormitories. Ten years later, in 2009 – 2010, a 7-month long wave of massive protests took place in several cities in Iran and elsewhere in the world denouncing the results of the presidential elections which confirmed incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad amidst claims that the votes had been rigged. Millions of people marched in favour of the opposition. The number of victims was officially estimated at 36 people, although the opposition claimed twice as much had been killed. 4,000 people were arrested, with numerous reports of abuse and violations of human rights by the authorities, again with reports of students being seized by security forces in their rooms. Two years later, in 2011, when the Arab Spring took flight, another series of demonstrations began in Iran, lasting a full year, building upon the population’s pent-up anger against the government and the previous protesters’ desires for reform. While the casualties remain unknown, it has been estimated that over 1,500 people had been arrested.
Shapes and patterns
Iranian officials have cited foreign intervention to incite dissent and protests attacking the integrity of the Iranian state.
If we compare the protests across time, we notice a pattern: they are usually initiated by the younger generation, mostly young people and students (a very large cohort in what was, until recently, a high fertility nation, just like many others of the Muslim world), the latter being also the first target of the security force’s operations; they are typically spurred into action by dissatisfaction with the country’s political establishment and its systemic problems (i.e. corruption, authoritarianism, human rights problems, poor implementation of democracy etc.); this year’s protests are somewhat different from its predecessors, in that its motivation had a strong economic basis. Despite the demonstrations being peaceful, the Iranian security force takes a rigid, forceful approach, with drastic measures generating reports of widespread abuse and violation of human rights (forced disappearances, sexual assault etc.). In order to curtail collaboration among groups of demonstrators and to prevent the encouragement of more people to march out, the government enforced its strict censorship on the media as well as on the main communication channels. Reactions to the current protests were, as expected, heavily polarised. While the Western world, Israel and the surviving members of Iran’s defunct monarchy in general voiced its support for the people’s right to express their discontent, Russia and Turkey have underlined that the protests are an internal matter and advocated instead for the cessation of violence. Iranian officials have cited foreign intervention to incite dissent and protests attacking the integrity of the Iranian state.
From this first examination, we may infer several facts: that society in general and the younger generations in particular are consistently disenchanted with the establishment; that they are strongly aware of the country’s systemic problems (economic ills, corruption, religious authoritarianism etc.) and strongly push for reform; that, if the reports are correct, the government reacts with extreme prejudice, primarily through the use of shock and awe tactics in order to contain and deter the further development of protests. In order to better understand the issue at hand and what it means, we ought to investigate the broader context in Iran. Some of the analysts that have looked into the problem have pinpointed several underlying causes and particular aspects that shed further light on the events. Chatham House, for example, noted that this year’s protests were attended not by the well-off, upper-class citizens contesting the elections results, but rather people from the working class; their discontent, as expressed by their highly transgressive slogans (going as far as to clamour for the ‘death of the dictator’ and the abolition of theocracy), extend beyond domestic affairs, and they dispute instead Iran’s focus on foreign policy goals (i.e. its support for close allies Syria and Lebanon) and neglecting its own citizens in the process, in particular clamouring for improvements in the cost of living alongside radical political reforms.
Chatham House noted that this year’s protests were attended not by the well-off, upper-class citizens, but rather people from the working class; their discontent, as expressed by their highly transgressive slogans, extend beyond domestic affairs, and they dispute instead Iran’s focus on foreign policy goals and neglecting its own citizens in the process, in particular clamouring for improvements in the cost of living alongside radical political reforms.
In a column for the Washington Post, Amanda Erickson underscores the fact that, although protests appear to have ended, this is by no means an indication of the fact that the country’s dissatisfaction with the regime has as well. Indeed, even if every major protest since 1999 has been quelled in some way or another, the fact that they explode and quickly grow to such large scales, seemingly out of nowhere to the average Westerner, is proof that the country is akin to a powder keg, now amplified by economic ills such as unemployment rising above 12% especially among the country’s youth as well as increases in the price of basic commodities, despite a very good yearly increase of 6% of GDP and the best performing stock market in Central Asia. The trigger for these protests often seems to be the revelation of some significant act of corruption, like the billion dollar banking fraud of 2011. Furthermore, Erickson points out that despite the fact that sanctions on Iran were lifted following the 2015 nuclear deal and the country’s economy grew as a result, the country’s citizens did not experience the much awaited improvements in terms of economic well-being, its oil industry lagging significantly behind its competitors; it needs foreign direct investments, but the cumbersome regulations, current protests and instability as well as the prospects of sanctions being reinstated in the aftermath of the current events threaten to deter foreign investors. The Atlantic’s Vali Nasr similarly underlines the economic nature of the protests and how they echoed the population’s frustration with the establishment’s lacklustre governance.
Despite the fact that sanctions on Iran were lifted following the 2015 nuclear deal and the country’s economy grew as a result, the country’s citizens did not experience the much awaited improvements in terms of economic well-being, its oil industry lagging significantly behind its competitors.
When current president Hassan Rouhani was first sworn into office in 2013, many saw him as a harbinger of normalisation in Iran’s international relations, and the nuclear deal brokered in 2015 was seen as the catalyst for Iran’s economic renaissance, yet the expected benefits were not delivered. Nevertheless, Nasr notes that Rouhani, while not particularly popular with the upper-middle classes, did not incur the same wrath from them as he did from the poor segments of the Iranian populations. Indeed, Nasr believes that, for as long as Rouhani can keep the major urban centres content, the chances for a revolution that can really result in political upheaval are slim. By contrast, former president Ahmadinejad was known for his populist bent and rhetoric, with the discontent of the urban population manifesting itself in such movements as the 2009 protests. He was not allowed to run for President in the 2017 elections, and his political ambitions have led to allegations of inciting violence during the protests, having been placed under house arrest. Furthermore, Nasr asserts that Rouhani relied on transparency to demonstrate that he was powerless in diverting funds away from religious projects headed by the clergy, which in turn led to the protesters’ anger towards Iran’s theocracy, a point voiced by Amy Myers Jaffe of the Council on Foreign Relations as well, who mentioned Ayatollah Khamenei’s stance in favour of maintaining an autarchic economy as opposed to integrating into the global economy, and the needs of the state overtaking those of the individuals.
The revelation of the large proportion of the country’s budget spent on religious institutions, the outrage it was met with by the citizens, and young, working-class people spearheading the protests, all these point to another underlying issue: an identity crisis brewing deep within Iran’s socio-cultural conscience. The official Iranian calendar mentioned earlier uses Muhammad’s journey to Hegira in 622 as its starting point; it was temporarily replaced by the country’s last Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, in 1976 with one based upon the reign of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the first Persian Empire. This calendar was replaced with the current one after the conclusion of the Iranian Revolution. We thus have two calendars used in a relatively short span of time – one based upon the country’s Islamic identity, the other based upon its Persian identity. This contributes to the population’s discontent as it identifies neither with a clerical elite which it sees as diverting taxpayer’s money from solutions for the population’s needs to its own needs, nor with a political elite that the people see as looking out for its foreign allies more than for its own citizens, putting more stock into its geopolitical agenda instead of its domestic duties.
This paints an ironic portrait of a theocracy whose people sport a secular outlook against its government’s religious bent, contrasting, for instance, with Central Asian states, where secular governments fear the growing influence of religion in defining their citizens’ identity and take active measures to counteract it.
According to Foreign Policy’s Kim Ghattas, a turning point in Iran’s identity conundrum was the nuclear deal of 2015, highlighting the contrasts between Iran’s efforts to open up to the international community and bring its foreign relations back to normal, and its theocratic regime suspicious of change and resisting collaboration with those whom it deems its enemies (typically Western states); between the more traditional citizens of Iran and those who adopt a more modern lifestyle, especially after Rouhani’s election. Ghattas remarked upon the much subdued role of religion in public life compared to its Sunnite neighbours, and that while the clerics are bashing America and Israel, the population’s gripes are directed towards Saudi Arabia and its undemocratic nature. This paints an ironic portrait of a theocracy whose people sport a secular outlook against its government’s religious bent, contrasting, for instance, with Central Asian states, where secular governments fear the growing influence of religion in defining their citizens’ identity and take active measures to counteract it. The Iranian citizen’s growing disdain for the clerical elite is evident in the fact that this year’s protests began in Mashhad, appointed as 2017's "cultural capital of the Muslim world" by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
Arthur MacMillan similarly wrote about Iran’s identity crisis in the context of 2017’s elections, focusing on the stark differences between the competing camps: Rouhani’s side promising a more prosperous future while his adversary, Ebrahim Raisi and his supporters, focused more on the country’s problems that were due to their foreign enemies. Both authors draw attention to another contrast: the youth of Iran’s population, with almost two thirds being under 30 years of age, and the advanced ages of the clerics ruling the country. Aside from these points of view, there is yet another consideration to be weighed in this puzzle: the role of social media and the internet. The younger generation has access to a world outside that in which they live: they have the possibility to explore different systems of thought, different worldviews and models and see that there is room for improvement; they share information among themselves, and, in cases such as these protests, spur each other to action. Iran’s theocratic rulers typically attempt to offload all of the blame for the country’s plights on its enemies, America, Saudi Arabia and Israel, and try to portray Iran’s role in Syria and Lebanon as a religious duty, with one major problem: the majority of the population does not align with this view, and in light of the citizens’ rather secular outlook and economic situation, they are less preoccupied with waging holy war against foreign enemies or helping allies, but more with their own needs which they feel the government has failed to properly address.
Syria is a crucial transit point for Iran’s proposed pipeline which, if implemented, could transport Iranian energy to European markets.
The information presented leads us to the following conclusions: that Iran’s population expects change; that Iran’s ruling elite is either not in tune with the roots of its population’s dissatisfaction or is confident enough in its ability to weather them – either way, more and more people perceive it as outdated; that these protests are a negative mark on the government’s performance, and another memory the population won’t forget until change happens. President Hassan Rouhani now treads a very thin line: on the one hand, he still answers to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and is himself a cleric, but on the other hand he needs to demonstrate to the population that he is different from former President Ahmadinejad, and that he can be an effective leader and not just a figurehead for the clerics to control. Geopolitically speaking, Iran’s involvement in Syria is more than just a religious duty; whatever role religion might play in the equation, it is sooner tied to more pragmatic, earthly interests than its own sake.
Saudi-American relations experienced a shift following Trump’s election and a change in Saudi leadership, with Trump’s first visit overseas as President being to the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
Iran’s assistance to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad can of course be chalked up to the latter belonging to the Allawite minority, which is regarded as close to the Shia; it is also to ensure a bulwark against Kurdish troops that also opposed al-Assad; Iran, like Turkey and Iraq, feared the Syrian civil war would spur Kurds living in these three countries to fight for the long-held dream of independence – Kurdistan, comprising territories from Syria and its neighbours. It is also worth mentioning that Syria is a crucial transit point for Iran’s proposed pipeline which, if implemented, could transport Iranian energy to European markets, but also allow it to tap into regional demand. A stable, Iran-friendly Syria would allow greater chances for this project, or other transnational economic ventures, to come to fruition. Consequently, Iran’s involvement in the Syrian civil war on al-Assad’s side is, to no small extent, a matter of national security and economic interests.
As regards Iran’s support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, the matter is a bit more nuanced. Israel and Iran have always had rough relationships, even after Rouhani became President. Iran consistently maintained an anti-Israel rhetoric, and Israel is still seen as Iran’s enemy, on both religious grounds and by virtue of its alliance with the United States.
The economic role of the IRGC is seen by the NY Times as a result of the US-imposed sanctions; now that these have been lifted, the weight of the IRGC in the economy is now seen as a liability that threatens to hamper the country’s long-term economic development.
Israel, in turn, has also viewed Iran as a regional threat and has sought to take measures to prevent it from escalating into a real danger for its safety; the infamous Stuxnet virus that crippled Iran’s nuclear program in the early 2010s was widely thought to have been the product of American and Israeli efforts. Since Rouhani became President, Iran’s position towards Israel did not warm up as some may have hoped; though incomparable in harshness with Ahmadinejad’s staunch, uncompromising “anti-Zionist” stance, Rouhani has voiced in no uncertain terms his disapproval of Israel’s role and policies in the region. While differing in the details, the West’s desire for stability in the region is not too dissimilar from Iran’s geopolitical goals, especially given that Iran’s aim to increase energy exports requires a stable climate that ensures safe transport and investment, as well as support for global oil and gas prices. At the same time, a nuclear power led by hardline theocrats that dispute the very existence of the state of Israel is far from the ideal scenario of stability in the Middle East for Israel, which is a major consideration in American geopolitical priorities. To the latter, the best option is a balance of power among the neighbouring Arab nations, along with internal fractiousness, with neither gaining the upper hand, and with a sufficient level of rivalry among one another so as to prevent it having to face a united adversary.
Whatever the effects of the protests, the timing seems to have been in the IRGC’s favour, as its forces have been crucial in containing the events and demonstrated its importance in maintaining the status quo.
That said, Iran is part of a so-called Shiite crescent, a geographic continuum of regions with large concentrations of Shia Muslims. In the broader context of the well-known rivalry between Shiites and Sunnites, and within the narrower framework of Iran’s uneasy relations with Sunni Muslim countries, who also oppose Israel, giving any inch to Israel would lead to Iran losing face not only in front of other countries with large Shiite communities, but also in front of its rivals, who would be quick to decry its betrayal of Palestine in favour of its “Western colonizer”. This would function even though, in the murky regional dealings, the threat of an ascendant Iran has reportedly spurred cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia and, by extension, the Gulf states.
Apart from that, providing support to Hezbollah militias is also a means for Iran to intervene in the Levant and Middle East, in conflicts such as the Syrian or the Yemeni civil wars. In short, Iran’s support for Hezbollah is an extension of its geopolitical reach and will.
As the dust settles in the aftermath of the protests, the Iranian leadership needs to take note of a few important lessons – that simply quelling protests yet another time does not mean they will not erupt again, or that their underlying causes are extinguished.
The events in Iran should also be seen in the wider context of its geopolitical implications. During his presidential campaign in 2016, Donald Trump had promised to renege on the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran supported by former President Obama (though not by Congress). In early 2018, the US called for an extraordinary UN-council session to discuss the matter, despite Russia protesting against the organisation of this meeting. During the session, the US found itself at loggerheads with its European partners, who distanced themselves from the US representative’s description of the events as a threat to peace and security, instead reinforcing the importance of maintaining the nuclear deal, while at the same time upholding the Iranian people’s right to peaceful protest. The debate once more revealed the varied viewpoints among the world’s leading actors: the US pushing for proactive measures against the Iranian regime (though Trump eventually relented and decided against the idea, with a warning that it’s “the last time” he did so); the EU powers who prefer to maintain a distance from the events in the Middle East, especially when it comes to an ally of Russia; and, finally, Russia itself opposing any Western attempt to interfere in the region.
The citizens want to see change, a sign that things are going in the right direction and that Iran’s policies yield tangible economic benefits.
These reactions can be seen as a proxy confrontation between geopolitical alliances. The US has had a long-standing alliance with Saudi Arabia, the latter being a key partner in the region in matters of stability and regional security, as well as a reliable global energy supplier and market maker, though no longer systemically important to the US. Following differences of opinion and, more importantly, the United States’ continued push for energy independence, this relationship began deteriorating, especially during the Obama Administration’s push to normalize relations with Iran. However, Saudi-American relations experienced a shift following Trump’s election and a change in Saudi leadership (despite campaign tensions regarding alleged support of the Saudis for Hillary Clinton and very visible twitter spats between Trump and Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal), with Trump’s first visit overseas as President being to the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
Iran’s prospective integration in the EEU comes with a lot of caveats.
As Aaron D. Miller and Richard Sokolsky write in Foreign Policy, this renewed rapprochement is twofold: first, there is Donald Trump’s tendency to distance himself at home and abroad from his predecessor, while Saudi Arabia wants to use Washington’s might to subdue its rival, Iran. Meanwhile, the Council on Foreign Relations looks into the development of the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia, focusing on their common interests and history of working together, on Saudi Arabia’s pivotal role in the global energy market owing to its ability to quickly manipulate its oil production, and its ambivalent role with regards to terrorism, being both an important aid to the US in counterterrorist operations as well as a major source of financing for terrorism and ancillary activities, such as the spread of extremist ideology.
In the context of several Saudi interventions in the region that have increased instability and strife (i.e. in the Yemeni civil war, the Qatar diplomatic crisis and subsequent blockade and the dispute with Lebanon), we can infer that Saudi Arabia wants to play a stronger role in the region, and it does not wish to allow Iran much room for manoeuvring. On the other hand, Iran is also an important partner for Russia in the region, its geopolitical counterweight to the United States’ Iran. Similar to the latter two, Russia and Iran have good relations, involving a $10 billion dollars arms deal, a 200% increase in bilateral trade in the span of a year from January 2016 to January 2017 and massive Russian investments in Iran’s energy sector, as reported by Reuters. Iran has also taken steps to become a part of the Eurasian Economic Union, the brainchild of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, viewed by Western analysts as a geopolitical project through which Russia attempts to cement its sphere of influence; Iran is due to enter a trade agreement with it in 2018. It is also worth noting that Iran has control over the strategically important Strait of Ormuz, which grants passage to approximately 20% of the world’s oil traffic. With Iran becoming part of this economic union, the EEU would gain influence over one of the world’s most significant geostrategic locations, which is both a trade boon as well as a geopolitical weapon to be used. Another important area of cooperation is the Syrian civil war, where both Iran and Russia are on al-Assad’s side and have cooperated to secure a favourable outcome in the conflict, counteracting Western intervention in favour of supposedly moderate rebel groups. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that Russia opposed Western influence in Iran, and increased economic, diplomatic and military ties worry both Saudi Arabia and the US in more than one way.
Last but not least, we must not disregard the pivotal role of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, a secretive military organisation that answers only to the Supreme Leader himself. The group also has a significant economic reach, often described as a business empire spanning multiple economic sectors, controlling up to a third of the country’s economy when added to the stakes held by the clerics through the bonyad system (religious foundations ostensibly dedicated to charity). The economic role of the IRGC is seen by the NY Times as a result of the US-imposed sanctions; now that these have been lifted, the weight of the IRGC in the economy is now seen as a liability that threatens to hamper the country’s long-term economic development. The group’s affairs have gained it an infamous reputation, especially in the eyes of Western policymakers. In an attempt to curb its influence and promote economic competition, President Rouhani began cracking down on its operations in October 2017, just two months before the start of the protests. Whatever the effects of the protests, the timing seems to have been in the IRGC’s favour, as its forces have been crucial in containing the events and demonstrated its importance in maintaining the status quo.
It is very likely that Iran will continue to work towards strengthening its relationship with Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union, while also forging closer relations with China, whose Belt and Road Initiative harbours an important place for Iran.
As the dust settles in the aftermath of the protests, the Iranian leadership needs to take note of a few important lessons – that simply quelling protests yet another time does not mean they will not erupt again, or that their underlying causes are extinguished. Furthermore, unlike past incidents, Iran is facing much wider international exposure, thanks to the information technology that gave way to increased interconnectedness among communities, which also increases its vulnerability to foreign events, i.e. in case a revolution in another country is successful in toppling unpopular leadership, there is a danger that public discontent will manifest again in the hopes of re-enacting that success in Iran. What Iran’s political elite needs to understand is that the gap between it and the country’s mostly young population that does not put as much stock in the role of religion in daily affairs as its theocratic government does will not be closed by constantly offloading the blame on the usual suspects – Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States. The citizens want to see change, a sign that things are going in the right direction and that Iran’s policies yield tangible economic benefits. Iran’s prospective integration in the EEU comes with a lot of caveats – on the one hand, it might benefit greatly from increased trade and its membership to an economic union; on the other hand, it relinquishes its ability to regulate its trade policies towards third parties; it risks becoming dependent upon a relatively small number of partners, and the expansion of its trade network will rely on that of the EEU itself, not to mention the significant influence of Russian preferences on energy policy. Furthermore, we may recall the EEU’s mixed track record, especially in the beginning when Russia’s troubled economy following EU-imposed sanctions related to its military action in the Crimean Peninsula led to a chain of economic problems in other EEU members.
Like some of its Central Asian neighbours, Iran’s strategy is to speculate the geopolitical rivalry between Russia and China so as to avoid becoming overly dependent upon one superpower or another for political and economic support.
It is likely that the IRGC would see its influence unchallenged, if not increased. To call Iran a police state would be a stretch, but the force’s place in the Iranian power structure was made very clear by the recent uprising. Given its role in the country’s economy and politics, we note a mutually beneficial relationship between it and the country’s clerical leaders: the latter depend on the IRGC for protection from any attempts to topple it, while the IRGC enjoys a privileged status from its clients. Hassan Rouhani would try to maintain the image that he is working towards reducing the IRGC’s grip on the economy, but whatever measures might be taken overtly to diminish its influence, it is likely that the theocratic government would seek to compensate for it in other ways. Yet, with the relief and opportunities provided by the nuclear deal, it should be clear that events such as these can very well undermine Iran’s ability to take full advantage of this recent opening for its economic development. Despite housing vast energy reserves, Iran could not gain as much from its oil and gas exports when sanctions were in place. Giving the IRGC free reign does not help stimulate domestic entrepreneurship to develop the private sector, and the signs of societal instability certainly do not help, seeing as it competes with other energy suppliers who can provide a greater degree of stability and reliability, such as Central Asian countries.
To conclude this analysis with a view towards Iran’s foreign policy, it is very likely that it will continue to work towards strengthening its relationship with Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union, while also forging closer relations with China, whose Belt and Road Initiative harbours an important place for Iran. Like some of its Central Asian neighbours, Iran’s strategy is to speculate the geopolitical rivalry between Russia and China so as to avoid becoming overly dependent upon one superpower or another for political and economic support. It is from arrangements such as the trade agreement with the EEU and investments from China that Iran hopes to gain the economic shot in the arm required to show its population as well as its rivals that it can achieve economic competitiveness even while maintaining its current political structure.