The Iranian regime's mismanagement of the fallout from floods that have swept across much of Iran since March 19th has sparked protests in south-western provinces that were most significantly affected.
The floods revealed the extent of the regime's neglect and the country's poor infrastructure, experts told Al-Mashareq, as many Iranians have taken to the streets to protest the lack of aid to distressed areas while Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) remains heavily funded.
The wave of demonstrations is expected to continue and swell with thousands of protestors, they said.
Floods cause immense damage
The floods have killed 78 people and caused more than $2.2 billion in damages in recent weeks, officials said Sunday (April 14th), with warnings still in place for large swathes of the country, AFP reported.
"With the death of five people in the Khuzestan province flood and another person in Ilam province the death toll has now reached 76" since March 19th, according to a statement published online by the coroner's office.
The two south-western provinces are the latest overwhelmed by floods that first hit the north-east of the usually arid country, forcing hundreds of thousands to evacuate from cities and villages.
Officials have again issued flood warnings for the east of Iran with heavy rains that began on Saturday forecasted to continue.
The floods have caused immense damage with homes, roads, infrastructure and agriculture all hit.
"Twenty-five (out of 31) provinces and more than 4,400 villages across the country were affected by the floods," Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli told parliament, according to the official IRNA news agency.
He said the damages amount to between 300 and 350 trillion riyals (between $2.2 and $2.6 billion).
Transport minister Mohammad Eslami meanwhile told lawmakers "725 bridges have been totally destroyed".
"More than 14,000 kilometres of roads have been damaged," he said, according to IRNA.
Anger swells against IRGC
"The wave of anger against the IRGC in Iran is growing, especially now that the extent of neglect that the Iranian people suffer from has come to light," said Iranian writer and political analyst Ali Narimani.
The situation is beginning "to get out of control for the IRGC and its militias and other security agencies, especially in areas with large non-Iranian ethnic communities", he told Al-Mashareq.
"The Iranian regime and the IRGC are trying to impose a news blackout on the wave of protests and demonstrations, particularly as the confrontations between security forces and the masses turned very violent and involved the use of tear gas," he said.
The protestors were also beaten up badly and dozens of them were injured in more than one area, he said.
"The floods, which exposed the extent of the marginalisation and neglect the people suffer from, drove thousands of Iranians to ask for their rights," Narimani said.
They are demanding that funds be allocated for the improvement of their areas "instead of the money being spent on groups affiliated with the IRGC", Narimani said.
Iranians have also taken to social media to protest the deployment of Iraqi militias to flood-hit western provinces, local media reported.
A convoy of 50 vehicles has carried Iraqi al-Nujaba and other Iran-backed militias into Ilam and Khuzestan provinces, IRGC-linked Tasnim news agency reported Sunday (April 14th).
IRGC commander in Ilam Jamal Shakarami said a large convoy of Iraqi militias has arrived in the province.
A convoy of al-Nujaba forces also has arrived in Dehloran in Khuzestan province, he said.
Protests denounce government negligence
The recent floods exposed the neglect that the Iranian people have suffered from for decades, since the IRGC has come to power, said Al-Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies researcher Fathi al-Sayed, who specialises in Iranian affairs.
Despite the existence of a government in Iran, "actual power is in the hands of the IRGC and its officers", he told Al-Mashareq.
This is why the IRGC is able to "secure funding for its external activities and support its internal military projects related to nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles", he said.
"The Iranian economy is supposed to be one of the strongest economies in the region," he said, "but the IRGC’s foreign policy has weakened it and squandered public funds."
Protests denouncing the IRGC and government’s performance "are picking up steam and taking place in dozens of Iranian cities", said Hussein Shayan, a youth from Tehran who holds a bachelor's degree in economics.
The largest demonstrations are taking place in the Ahwaz region in Khuzestan, he told Al-Mashareq, particularly in the cities of Ahwaz, Kot-Abdullah and Abadan.
These areas, which boast an ethnic Arab majority, were the hardest hit by the floods, he said.
"The demonstrations are often spontaneous, especially when government officials try to make an appearance in affected areas," said Shayan.
These visits often lead to confrontations with residents who hurl angry accusations at the officials for "spending public funds on the IRGC’s external projects and its affiliated militias in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen", he said.
The floods have led to the formation of new and significant grassroots movements "that never existed before", he said, adding that these groups are co-ordinating efforts to cope with the floods as well as to hold demonstrations.
"The sense of injustice is widespread and will spur more demonstrations until the situation is corrected and the IRGC stops spending public funds abroad," said Shayan.