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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Revival of Uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa: Iraq, Iran

Guide supporting the conference event of the same name - February 6, 2020

Iraq and Iran

Flag of Iraq

Flag of Iran

Iraq's Protests in Context


Bassam Yousif, Professor of Economics, Indiana State University, Terre Haute, Indiana


It is important to analyze the current protests in Iraq in the context of Iraq’s prolonged institutional decline. Multiple wars, sanctions, occupation, civil war, and regional conflagration (with ISIS) over the last 30 years have led to stagnant living conditions, and development indicators, unfavorable job prospects, corruption in government, and sectarian politics. Recovery from wars and sanctions has been very slow, hampered by policy errors, damaged institutions (especially state structures), and conflict. Hence the protestors’ demands. The prospects of realizing the protests’ demands remain bleak. Some of what they seek is unrealizable, as limited institutional (including state) capacity is likely to persist in the short to medium term.  However, the protests also provide political impetus to construct a new social contract, based on a more equitable distribution of oil revenues and a rejection of sectarianism.


Bassam Yousif, “Iraq’s Stunted Growth: Human And Economic Development in Perspective” Contemporary Arab Affairs, 2016.

Arwa Ibrahim, “Muhasasa, the Political System Reviled by Iraqi Protesters: Demonstrators Demand Removal of Quota-Based Political System, Introduced in Iraq After the US-Led Invasion in 2003,” www.aljazeera.comDecember 4, 2019.

External Pressure, Domestic Policies, and Public Protest in Iran


Hadi Salehi Esfahani, CSAMES Director and Professor of Economics and Business Administration, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


The Islamic Republic of Iran is facing serious domestic and foreign challenges. Over the past decade, the economy has been stagnant or declining, unemployment has remained stubbornly high, rampant corruption has become increasingly evident, and constraints on personal freedom have continued. Meanwhile, external conflicts have intensified and the imposition of severe sanctions on Iran since 2018 under the Maximum Pressure policy of the US government has significantly added to the hardship of the population. In this context, public protests seem to have grown in frequency and intensity. In this talk, we examine the nature of these protests, their connections with domestic policies and foreign factors, and possible consequences.


Amin Saikal, Iran Rising: The Survival and Future of the Islamic Republic, Princeton University Press, 2019.

Narges Bajoghli, Iran Reframed: Anxieties of Power in the Islamic Republic, Stanford University Press, 2019.

Reality Check team, BBC News, “Iran protests: Who are the opposition in the country?” January 16, 2020. 

Yasmeen Serhan, “The Endorsement Iran’s Protesters Didn’t Want: For Autocratic Regimes, Foreign Sympathy for Demonstrations Is Akin to Intervention.” The Atlantic, January 15, 2020.