The port of Bandar Abbas is one of Iran’s major shipping hubs, as well as a big naval base in the Straits of Hormuz, and the site of a big refinery. It is now in chaos. Thousands of trucks, many of them loaded with imported foodstuffs, commercial goods of all description, and even oil products, have blocked the city’s roads, effectively ending all movement in and around the port. The drivers simply shut down their rigs, took the coils out of the engines, and walked away. On the water, there’s a similar shutdown of the hundreds of small boats and ferries that usually carry thousands of people each day to the nearby islands as well as to Dubai. They have clogged the harbor, and nothing is moving.
This is the result of the Iranian regime’s cancellation of energy subsidies, proudly announced by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday. One of the subsidies was on diesel fuel, which has now become eight or nine times as expensive as it used to be, and the drivers can’t survive the cost, nor can the ferry companies. So they went on strike.
It is hard to get details and there are of course many rumors. It seems certain that the regime dispatched some ten thousand Revolutionary Guards to “establish order,” but it’s the wrong remedy. Even the toughest of them can’t convince a truck to start itself, or a ferry to get out of the way. The Deputy Minister of Transportation arrived late this afternoon and met with the leaders of the drivers and ferry pilots, offering to let them raise their prices, although not nearly enough to compensate for the blow of the canceled subsidies. Government officials were overheard arguing with the Guards, who seemed sympathetic to the workers. Not a good sign for the regime.
As of Tuesday night, nobody had a clear picture of what was likely to happen on Wednesday. There has been very little press coverage so far (although the Washington Post‘s man in Tehran wrote about strikes in several cities), but all day Tuesday Bandar Abbas was full of Iranian journalists, and there will probably be more reporting in the morning. If the Wapo is right, the regime may be facing a national challenge from workers, and there doesn’t seem to be a good solution for Supreme Leader Khamenei and his henchmen. If they back off the cancellation of the subsidies, this will encourage all sorts of people to challenge the regime. If they try to wheel and deal, offering economic goodies to the transport workers to get them back to work, they will have shown serious weakness, and, again, others will challenge them. Apparently the government reps in Bandar Abbas threatened severe consequences (ranging from arrests to contract cancellations) if things had not returned to normal by midday Wednesday. We’ll see. So far as I can tell, this is not the first stage of a rebellion organized by the Green Movement. It seems to be a spontaneous protest from people who see that their regime is dragging them into ruin. But spontaneous protests sometimes gather momentum, and there is hardly an Iranian without deep grievances against the regime.
What we already see is confirmation of what I have been saying for some years: the Iranian people do not like their regime, and they are prepared to confront it. The chaos in Bandar Abbas is a self-inflicted wound masterminded by the fanatical buffoons who rule the Islamic Republic. Sooner or later, this sort of thing will spread, and the hollowness of the regime will be exposed to everyone.
Maybe even the feckless Western leaders will see it and support the Iranian people.