Friday marked a turning point in the ongoing protests of the farmers of Isfahan. The demonstrations, which have been ongoing at the dried basin of the Zayandeh Rud river, have been garnering support from people of all walks of life. On Friday, thousands of protesters joined the farmers in their cries for justice and basic rights. Zayandeh Rud, which is the largest river in central Iran, has become a rallying point for people who are fed up with more than four decades of tyranny and corruption under the rule of the mullahs.
Friday’s demonstration was so crowded that the regime’s state-run media, which usually censors news of protests, admitted that more than 30,000 people of Isfahan province had gathered at Zayandeh Rud. The locals were reporting that the crowd gathered at the location was much larger than the figures the regime was reporting. The protesters were chanting, “The people of Isfahan will rather die than give in to disgrace,” “Where is our Zayandeh Rud,” “Zayandeh Rud is our undeniable right,” “We will not go home until we get our water back,” and “If we don’t get access to water, we will rebel.” According to local reports, the regime cut off access to mobile internet in the region to prevent news of the protests from spreading.
The large gathering caused fear among regime officials. At one point, Isfahan’s local television reported that Mohammad Mokhber, the first vice-president of Ebrahim Raisi, “will speak live to the people in an hour.” But the hour stretched into two, three, and several more, which was indicative of the state of fear and confusion among regime officials.
When Mokhber finally appeared on television, he said, “I have told the energy and agriculture ministers to manage this issue as soon as possible so that we can put these difficult times behind us.” He did not discuss any concrete steps that the government planned to take.
Ironically, the energy minister, who spoke publicly shortly after Mokhber, said, “I am sorry for the farmers, but we are not in a position to provide their water needs.”
The reality is that the regime’s corrupt and destructive policies have taken their toll on every aspect of Iran’s economy. The unbridled looting and taxing of the country’s resources and infrastructure have brought the country’s agriculture industry to a point that it can no longer address the problems of Isfahan’s farmers.
According to subject matter experts on Isfahan’s water resources, 86 percent of the water store behind the Zayandeh Rud dam is empty, and if the remaining 14 percent is released, it will provide no more than a few days’ worth of water for the river.
Why has Zayandeh Rud dried? The regime has stolen the farmers’ irrigation water and channeled it to industrial projects run by the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), including foundries, military complexes, and agricultural facilities owned by the regime.
According to the orders of the Supreme Water Council and the Council of Coordination for Zayandeh Rud, 74.3 percent of the waters of Zayandeh Rud was to be allocated to farmers and 25.7 percent to the energy ministry and government projects. But in practice, a ruling minority have seized full control of the river’s capacity, leaving a large population of farmers without any means to irrigate their lands.
Farming is among the key economic activities of Isfahan, and with irrigation water becoming scarcer, the livelihoods of millions of people in the province are endangered.
And Isfahan is not alone in its plight. Other provinces are faced with a similar situation, caused by the regime. The regime is terrified of the situation, knowing that any moment, the protests in Isfahan or other provinces such as Khuzestan, Khorasan, Azarbaijan, Sistan and Baluchestan, and Tehran can turn into anti-regime uprisings.
The ongoing protests in Isfahan reflect the general sentiment of Iran’s population. Two years ago, nationwide protests pushed the regime to the verge of collapse. People in nearly 200 cities across Iran called for regime change.
Only through brutal suppression did the regime manage to prevent its downfall. But in two years, it has failed to address any of the economic problems that triggered the protests in the first place. Today, inflation, poverty, unemployment, and other economic problems have brought Iran’s population is on the verge of another explosive uprising. And the powder-keg society is just waiting for a spark.