Protest in Iran

Protest in Iran

No one knows what Iranians really think of their government. Outsiders aren't allowed to ask them, and they're not allowed to say. But Iran's supreme leader, its security forces, and all who support them have a common problem: No Iranian under the age of 45 is old enough to remember the 1979 Islamic Revolution that gives them their mandate to rule.

That reality has come into focus again in recent days. On January 3, US forces assassinated Qassim Suleimani, a popular and powerful Iranian general. The killing was a response to an attack by Iran-backed militias in Iraq that killed an American contractor, and to attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad on December 29 and December 31.


On the night that Iran fired missiles at Americans inside Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Suleimani, Iran's air defenses mistakenly shot down a Boeing 737 passenger plane near Tehran's main airport. This error killed 176 people, 82 of them Iranians.

When the US and Canadian governments reported evidence of this mistake, Iranian officials accused them of lying. When they then admitted three days later that Iran's military had "accidentally" shot down the plane, large protests erupted in Tehran and other Iranian cities.

The demonstrators demanded accountability from their government, despite the presence of large numbers of fully armed riot police, security forces patrolling the streets on motorcycles, and an awareness that plainclothes police were moving among the crowd.

They also knew that Iran's security forces are willing to kill protesters. Just two months ago, security forces responded to demonstrations against a government hike in fuel prices by killing some 1,500 people. There is some evidence that police have fired live ammunition at protesters again this week.

Iran's government has also tried to stifle dissent by controlling the flow of information its citizens receive. State media reported that missiles fired following Suleimani's death had killed 80 Americans. In reality, there's no evidence of a single US casualty.

But state officials know the public is less likely to believe these claims when they're forced to admit the US and Canada were right that Iran had shot down that passenger plane. That's why Iranian officials reportedly shut down segments of Iran's internet last week— and why these shutdowns may become more common.

There's no sign that Iran is on the verge of a new revolution. Yes, US sanctions are again strangling Iran's economy with no sign of relief in sight. But protests in Iran are common, and security forces can probably keep them in check for the foreseeable future. The millions of Iranians who turned out across the country to mourn Suleimani also remind us that national pride and fear that the nation is under attack can temporarily bolster unity in Iran, just as in other countries.

Yet, all Iran's protests—whether targeted at corruption, a spiralling economy, suppression of personal freedoms, or at an unaccountable government that spends too much on foreign interventions and not enough at home—may begin to matter, particularly as it becomes harder to ask the public to endure hardships in the name of a revolution that fewer and fewer citizens are old enough to remember.

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Iran has vowed to avenge Sunday's attack on its Natanz nuclear facility. Tehran blames Israel, which — as in the past — has neither confirmed nor denied it was responsible. And all this happens just days after indirect talks on US plans to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed in Vienna. What the Iranians do now will determine the immediate future of those negotiations, a Biden administration priority.

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How will the pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine affect the overall pandemic fight in the United States?

Yeah. Right at it, right? Well, we heard that the FDA has suspended vaccines from J&J because of blood clots. They found six in seven million cases. It's kind of like the suspension of AstraZeneca in Europe. It's likely only going to last for a few days. It's a very small percentage of the total number of vaccines that are being jabbed right now into the arms of Americans. It's not going to really slow America's ability to get everyone vaccinated, but it is going to create more vaccine hesitancy. People at the margins will say, "Is this safe? They said it was fine. Now they're saying it's not okay." I understand why there's enormous caution on the part of the FDA, but I wish, wish, wish the communications had been a little softer around all of this. Also will be a problem in terms of export, as J&J is going to be a piece of that. And again, others around the world will say, "Well, if I don't get Moderna, if I don't get Pfizer, I'm not sure I want to take it at all." So all of this is negative news, though I would still say the United States this year is looking really, really good among major economies in dealing with pandemic.

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In recent weeks, both Pfizer and Moderna have announced early phases of vaccine trials in children, and Johnson & Johnson also plans to start soon. If you know a kid who wants to learn about vaccines, how they work, why we need them, this story is just what the doctor ordered.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Welcome to your week and I've got your Quick Take and thought I would talk a little bit about where we are with Iran. One of the Biden administration's promises upon election was to get the Americans back into the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal. As of last week, negotiations are formally restarted, and pretty quickly, in Vienna, they're not direct. The Americans and Iranians are both there, but they're being intermediated by the Europeans because they're not yet ready to show that they can talk directly to each other. That's Iran being cautious in the run-up to their presidential election coming this summer. But the movement is there. So far the talk has largely been about sequencing the Iranian government, saying that all of the sanctions need to be removed before they're willing to go back into the deal, because the Americans after all, unilaterally withdrew from a deal that the Iranians were indeed adhering to, and the inspections did confirm that.

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Ukraine is once again in a tough spot.

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Andean aftermath: Two big weekend elections in South America produced two stunning results. In Ecuador's presidential runoff, the center-right former banker Guillermo Lasso upset early frontrunner Andrés Arauz, a leftist handpicked by former president Rafael Correa. Lasso will take power amid the social and economic devastation of the pandemic and will have to reckon with the rising political power of Ecuador's indigenous population: the Pachakutik party, which focuses on environmental issues and indigenous rights, is now the second-largest party in parliament. Meanwhile, in a big surprise next door in Perú, far-left union leader Pedro Castillo tallied up the most votes in the first round of that country's highly fragmented presidential election. As of Monday evening it's not clear whom he'll face in the June runoff, but three figures are in the running as votes are counted: prominent neoliberal economist Hernando De Soto, rightwing businessman Rafael López Aliaga, and conservative Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's imprisoned former strongman. Meanwhile, in the congressional ballot, at least 10 parties reached the threshold to win seats, but there is no clear majority or obvious coalition in sight.

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