Bad Political Decisions as an Engine for Change
Progress, in all its forms, implies the destruction of the status quo and its replacement by a new one. It cannot exist without emancipation or change, without the evolution of the old into the new, or even the disappearance of an element giving place to a novel one. Considering this view, progress can be viewed as a (r)evolutionary process. By changing the status quo, the foundations of a society shake or cease to exist.
Political change is often fostered by statesmen and politicians, by the social class of the decision makers that are elected by the population. Statesmen make their decisions in favour of their voters, or at least should do so. But there are times when situations arise that said decisions are taken against the population, making their life harder, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not. Such situations, yet seemingly incomparable, can be found in the recent social unrest in both France and Iran, where protests and civil movements rose from political decisions considered unjustified by the French and Iranian populations.
This article will analyse the social movements from France and Iran, correlating them to past political decisions and concluding whether they might be a future engine of change “for the good”, or just unjustified violent manifestations, heading “for the evil”. Economic, cultural and political motives are central to these protests and also to the decisions taken by the statesmen, hence they will be carefully taken into account.
Mahsa Amini and the Pension Reform Bill, fuels of change
Anything can ignite a feeling, as long as it is an important matter for the community. Iranians rebelled after a fellow countrywoman lost her life because she did not comply with the political decision of the well-defined modest dress code. To shortly resume, the Islamic Republic of Iran impose gender-based persecution by forcing women to wear a hijab and to avoid dressing “taboo” in public. Males are also persecuted in Iran, since they cannot wear shorts or short-sleeve t-shirts, but it is obvious that females are the bigger victims since basic lifestyle aspects should be based on state-laws and not personal preference. The protests gained momentum after a young Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, was allegedly killed by the Iranian police while being held in custody after not wearing the hijab in accordance with the state standards. This led to various manifestations in the country, fighting against the dress code imposed in 1979 shortly after the Islamic Revolution and mainly against the entire Islamic regime in the country.
As for the French people, they raged against the political decision of increasing the retirement age by three years. The context is that in recent times, mainly in the last decades, the pension reform was tackled by many governments in order to temper the (future) budget shortfalls. The decision to raise the retirement age led to a show of unity by trade unions in France, blocking national roads, international flights from different airports within the country and leaving the workplace to protest in the streets, a habit of the modern France.
Political decisions by the Islamic regime in Iran and the Macron-led establishment in France were taken against the general beliefs and hopes of their peoples.
On the one hand, Iranians are slightly moving away from the Islamic rules of the country, the general feeling being that they must live in such a way that does not coincide (anymore) with their opinions and choice. The way the state handled the case of Mahsa Amini enraged the population, her name being also subject of unrest within the streets, state institutions, families and also private companies. On the other hand, French masses voiced loudly their concern that increasing the retirement age is only the first move for the state officials in taking more and more such decisions viewed as being against the well-being of the “citoyens”. Rebelling on a large scale against such intrusions in the (work)life, liberty and the pursuit of retiree happiness was the “right” thing to respond, it was considered, with the French president (having an acceptance rate as low as 28%) being the epicentre of the political distrust.
While Iranians want change and struggle for a new way of leading the country, eventually not so rigidly anchored in religious-based prohibitions, the French population is tackling the change of the retirement policy, since they appreciate that the present day finds the retirement age at an acceptable point. The sole change the French want is to have a government that truly represent their need (inter alia, of not being existentially disturbed).
Also, the Iranian conflict has an obvious cultural and social background, while the French one has mainly an economic and political motive. It is thus interesting to analyse the struggle for change and the struggle against change, and the effects of a purely economic and political conflict and of a more complex, cultural, and social one. The fact that the two are also happening in different cultures and contexts captivated my legitimate scientific interest in exploring the metabolism of social conflicts and the metabolization of changing or unchanging forces. However, I will be back with more on these with another occasion.
Economic impact of the protests
The direct and indirect implications of the manifestations add up to the economic impact of the social movements. As an example, a direct effect of the strike in France is felt by the air tourism industry, mainly by the individual traveller, as 30% of daily European flights were impacted while the protests took place. According to Eurocontrol, 10 million travellers were hit by delays or cancellations. Other negative effects of the strikes on the economy are tied to the important role of international shipping, a lot of companies having their activity delayed and their accounting turned on its head because of the unpredictability of the protests. However, the “training” that the work-from-home provided and the adaptability of the companies after the Coronavirus pandemic are helping them to deal more smoothly with the implications of the protests.
While the Iranian regime is also facing a civil protest, its implications are far more severe than those of the French. The French protests raised concerns over the security of the people involved in protesting over the government’s retirement policy, while the Iranian protests raised concerns over the population’s security, since the Islamic Regime is at stake. From the same standpoint, the French protests argued against a decision, while the manifestations in Iran raged against an entire system, or even a philosophical understanding of the world, the Islamic one. The dependency of Iran on its oil industry also features as a threat against the country since some workers of the state-owned petroleum facilities joined the protests against the regime. The threat to the oil production may result in loss of revenue, a recession and a lower economic growth of the country. More sanctions were also imposed by the US following Mahsa Amini’s death.
The constructive nature of conflicts. Predictions regarding France and Iran
Peace and harmony imply the absence of conflict, being the negation of it. However, those concepts are very dynamic and can’t be explained just by the negation of another concept. But it is important to understand that peace needs conflict to firstly erupt, unfold and cease to exist. The idea of a perfect peace or pure cooperation presents itself as an ideological madness, conflict and harmony contributing, might I say, almost evenly to the advance of the humankind. This view on conflicts provides us a better understanding of them, our need for them and how the timing of such a conflict might lead to a better future, even if we would prefer eternal peace if we could choose between the two of them.
Iranians managed to turn the state away from the idea of Morality Police, the French made the state officials propose different ways of implementing the retirement policy. Each lesson might also come with another struggle within it, the understanding of this idea being central to the development and advance of our societies.
The Iranian and French conflicts are still alive, at least the conditions that led to their appearance. The Islamic Republic is still the driving force of Iran, Emmanuel Macron is still the President of France, and the dress code and retirement policy are still present in the lives of Iranians and French. France might see itself without the retirement policy and with the same retirement age as before without a much bigger clash between the state forces and the population, while the Iranians are unlikely to see the hijab and other Islamic rules enforced by the state lifted.
These manifestations, while they take a different approach to change, remain as standpoints the mind of the state officials of both countries. Iranians seem to protest more and more against the regime, while the French population seems to maintain its popular revolutionary character. Even if one manifestation shouts for change and the other for the negation of change, both were changing the narrative in France and Iran while they took place. Following the yellow vests protests in France and the almost yearly manifestations against the regime in Iran, the French and Persian citizens seem more natural in the position of manifestant. The Islamic Republic of Iran might not live to see more protests since their countrymen are raging more and more against the regime and are influenced by the progressive way of life that Iran is condemning since 1979.
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Photo source: Wikimedia Commons.