Rare Anti-Government Protest Erupt In Iran; NYT Trump Aide May have Triggered FBI Probe; Louvre Abu Dhabi. Aired 10-11a ET - Part 1
Robyn Kriel, Fred Pleitgen, Phil Black, Becky Anderson
Jan. 01, 2018
<Show: CONNECT THE WORLD>
<Date: December 31, 2018>
<Head: Rare Anti-Government Protest Erupt In Iran; NYT Trump Aide May have
Triggered FBI Probe; Louvre Abu Dhabi. Aired 10-11a ET - Part 1>
<Sect: News; International>
<Byline: Robyn Kriel, Fred Pleitgen, Phil Black, Becky Anderson>
<Guest: Adnan Tabatabai, Vali Nasr, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed, Jean Nouvel>
<High: A number of protests are erupting in about nine cities across a
large spread of the north for three straight days in Iran. President Donald
Trump takes to Twitter and said that the USA is watching very closely for
human rights violation in the wake of the protest in Iran. Economics is one
of the major factors for the series of protest happening in Iran. Two
people were killed amid anti-government demonstrations in Iran. Sheikh
Abdullah Bin Zayed was very proud that he is the one to raise a big project
like the Louvre Abu Dhabi which enhance government and its people. Louvre
Abu Dhabi will have an extensive permanent collection from all over the
<Spec: Iran; Economy; Donald Trump; Street Protest; Hassan Rouhani, White
House; Trump; Louvre Abu Dhabi; Jean Nouvel >
[10:00:00] ROBYN KRIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello and welcome to CONNECT THE WORLD, I'm Robyn Kriel in Atlanta. We begin with briefing you on something you'll have heard a lot about the demonstrations in Iran. You won't have heard the full story, though, not yet. So here it is. So far we know that two people have been killed, dozens more rounded up and held by police, and it's all from this. A number of protests erupting in about nine cities across a large spread of the north for three straight days. But as wide as they are, they're not necessarily that deep. There's no one visibly leading them. They just seem to have sprung up. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but we're talking about numbers in the thousands here in a country that some 80 million called home.
So just what is it all about? Like in many other countries, one thing really, money. Despite holding some of the world's largest oil and gas deposits, Iran's economy is pretty flat. A lot of everyday Iranians, especially those in the smaller cities, are struggling to get by and many young people can't land good jobs. Topping that off, corruption is almost everywhere you look from top to bottom, a daily reality that costs them money. So those are the reasons. Let's now take a listen to the streets.
Death to the dictator, you're hearing. We cannot verify this video, but these scenes heralded by many as an unprecedented attack on the Supreme Leader, the ultimate power in Iranian politics aren't really. Firstly it's widely understood in Iran as an attack on the whole system, not only the man. People want change, but not necessarily destruction. And while attacking the Ayatollah is rare, this is far from the first time that it's happened.
For some context, let's bring in CNN's Fred Pleitgen. Now, Fred has spent a lot of time in Iran reporting for us and is now in Moscow, which is a close ally of Tehran. Fred, two killed, dozens detained, give us the latest you're hearing.
FRED PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems as though of late we're hearing Robyn, that it is still very tense on the streets of Tehran and other places as well with a lot of security forces that have been deployed. Now, there hasn't been any school today on the face of it, so the authorities there are saying that's because of very high smog levels but there are some obviously who believe that that might also be the reason to keep people off the streets and calm the situation down somewhat. This is of course day four into these protests and I think that you're absolutely right. It is something that is pretty much unprecedented in Iran over the past couple years. You had those big protests in 2009 but the ones that we're seeing now are very different, and I think that's for two reasons. Each and every one of the protests that we're seeing now is smaller than the ones that we on 2009 but they are far more widespread throughout the country. So that does seem to indicate that there is some discontent not just among the population in places like Tehran, but in smaller towns and villages as well. The other big thing, this is probably even more important, is that they don't seem to be directed against one or the other political faction in Iran. It's not the hardliners versus the moderates. It seems to be directed at the entire power structure. There are some who are chanting against Iran's supreme leader which is almost unheard of, taking down posters. There was others who are chanting against President Hassan Rouhani. So it seems as though the entire power structure in Iran has a big problem on its hands and there are some ministers who have come out and said look, we want to fight against inflation, especially, we want to address some of these but then there's also others who are coming down and saying they're going to clamp down hard if there are any protests that take place. And of course, it is dark now in Tehran. That's usually around the time that new protests tend to kick off Robyn.
KRIEL: Fred, you reported from Iran dozens of times, do the protests sparked by poor economy and allegations of corruption, surprise you? Give us a slice of life of what it's like on the ground there?
PLEITGEN: Well, I think they are -- they are quite surprising in the fact that they are happening in so many places. What's not surprising is that there is widespread discontent. And you know, one of the things that you were saying is that a lot of people are struggling to get by, a lot of people feel that the money they have is worth a lot less than it was before. You've seen price spikes in food and also pretty high inflation as well. But I think that there's one element that's even more important, probably, than all of this, and that's the element that you're talking about a population that by and large is very young and very well educated. For many of these people, yes, it's about getting by, but for many of them, it's also about being able to fulfill their entire potential.
[10:05:23] The fact that this country has a lot of engineers, this country has a lot of mathematicians, this country has a lot of people who are trying to start startups and they just don't see the economic framework, and also, quite frankly, the ability to take some of this into the international sphere. They want more foreign direct investment, they want technology transfer, they want to achieve what they feel they can achieve and that's something it seems as though at least for some of the folks in Iran, they don't think that the current power structure is providing that to them. Hassan Rouhani has said that's one of the things that he wanted to do. If you look at his economic plan on the face of it, it does provide for companies who want to invest in Iran, to also bring technology transfer to Iran as well. But that is going very, very slowly and there are some who say after the nuclear agreement in Iran and many other countries, that Hassan Rouhani somewhat oversold maybe the benefits that people were going to reap from it, Robyn?
KRIEL: All right, thank you so much. That's CNN's Fred Pleitgen, live from Moscow. We do appreciate it.
Well, as it stands, U.S. President Donald Trump has tweeted four times about the protests in Iran. Here's his most recent tweet, just a few hours ago. He said, "Big protests in Iran. The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations." It comes a day after Iran's Foreign Ministry claimed that U.S. President was complicit in human rights violations in the Palestinian territories, Yemen and Bahrain. On its Web site, its spokesman also pushed back against U.S. comments and said that the Trump administration was the main source of ill will towards Iran.
As we've mentioned one of the propellers of these protests is the economy. The total average household income in Iran's urban areas is less than $1,000 a month. Now that number is from the country's central bank. Meanwhile, youth unemployment is nearly 27 percent, that's according to the World Bank. Much of the economy is run centrally by the government. It owns hundreds of companies and indirectly controls a lot more.
Let's dig a little deeper for you now. Adnan Tabatabai joins me now live from Dusseldorf via Skype. He is a Political Analyst on Iran Affairs. Adnan, thank you so much. Give us a sense of what exactly is fueling this?
ADNAN TABATABAI, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, CENTER FOR APPLIED RESEARCH IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE ORIENT: I assume that this has a lot to do with accumulated grievances with regards to social economic questions. You already mentioned some economic figures. There is discontent among people and there are political rivals of this government, the government of Hassan Rouhani, who have been provoking some of this to a certain extent. Let's not forget that the government has just handed in its budget for the next Iranian year. So this is a time in -- during which the economy of the country is discussed and this has trickled down on the social level, obviously.
KRIEL: What's different would you say, Adnan, to 2009? Can you compare the two?
TABATABAI: I mean, 2009 it was very obvious that the -- that there was an election, that was an election that sparked a protest. It was about political participation, it was about being recognized as political subjects, whereas this time it has much more to do with economic grievances. You mentioned a couple of those already. So this has much more to do with economic discontent that can, however, at the same time also be addressed through just doing that, though promising to convincingly develop and improve the living conditions of people and I think this would be the only thing that could calm down these protests.
KRIEL: While the discontent with the economy seems to be the common thread binding all of this together, would you say that different factions are still using these protests to score points?
TABATABAI: I assume -- I mean, it's very natural to assume that the opponents of the government of Rouhani's administration are trying to capitalize on this, while at the same time there are obviously also concerns that these protest can, you know, get out of control and be directed at the political system in its entirety. We are seeing some slogans here and there. I wouldn't read too much into them but yet again, I mean, the anger of people can obviously elevate to other things, even if it had just started with economics.
KRIEL: We've already touched on corruption in Iran, but exactly how bad is it? Well, Transparency International ranks the country at 131 out of 176 in terms of how corrupt the government is to be perceived, putting it at the top 74th percentile globally. Adnan, is this a solvable problem for the government? Can they salvage anything at this stage?
10:10:21] TABATABAI: I think the problem in Iran has always been that anti-corruption measures were only adopted selectively, targeted against political opponents. It was never targeted in its entirety or comprehensively which is why corruption is still a problem in the country. But the Rouhani administration has been trying to address these issues, but again, it was quite selective. So unless this becomes or this turns into a comprehensive measure adopted by any administration, this problem will continue to exist.
KRIEL: Reports indicate Adnan that a social messaging application Telegram and Instagram, which so many protesters were using to communicate between each other and the outside world are either blocked out completely or slowed down significantly. Can you give us a sense of why these messaging applications are significant and really a lifeline for some of these protesters?
TABATABAI: Yes. I've also been hearing from people who can be trusted that both social media channels, Telegram and Instagram have been blocked right now, but it has ado been said by officials that this is a temporary block. Unfortunately, we have to say that while social media have their blessing because information can be disseminated in more free manner, there is also the spread of fake news, to use that word, and of dangerous content, which has led to telegram, for example, the CEO of Telegram, shutting down one of the most popular news sites or news channels on Telegram, so the misuse of these social media accounts or social media outlets cannot be dismissed. While at the same time the government is obviously trying to slow down the connectivity of people.
KRIEL: Always a danger when there is a free press vacuum. Thank you so much, Adnan Tabatabai. We do appreciate your time, live for us from Dusseldorf, Germany.
Well, still ahead on CONNECT THE WORLD, more on the story, defiance, and disillusionment as Iran witnesses its biggest protests in almost a decade. We're going to ask where it might be headed. Stay with us for expert analysis in just a moment. Plus, the countdown to 2018 is underway, one time zone at a time. A look at how cities around the world are celebrating the arrival of a new year after this break.
[10:15:00] KRIEL: Welcome back. You're watching CNN and this is CONNECT THE WORLD with me, Robyn Kriel. Our top story in Iran, rising tensions are about to roll into the new year in the form of the country's worst protests in years. This is just a glimpse of some of the anger playing out on the streets. Demonstrators say they're fed up with rising food and gas prices, high unemployment, and corruption. At least two people have been killed and Iran's president is expected to address the country in the coming hours. We also want to point out that some of the remarkable video being shared on social media. You're looking at pictures of a woman who's taken off her headscarf and waving it in the air. CNN cannot independently verify the clip, the fact that it's being shared at all though is important. But now, the government is "restricting the Telegram and Instagram messaging applications that are distributing those videos.
The mood seems at total odds to the optimism that followed the Iran Nuclear Deal of 2015. So what's changed since then as -- and how is the new wave of discontent being viewed by the international community? Let's speak now to Vali Nasr who's the Dean at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He is live for us in Washington, D.C. Vali, thank you for your time. Firstly, just how significant are these protests in your view?
VALI NASR, DEAN, SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: I think they're significant, largely because protests against any government of at any time can become something much larger and a bigger political challenge, but also because the international community is watching and then the Trump administration has thrown a gauntlet against the Iranian government and the sense of embarrassment that the regime faces when its own population criticizes it, makes it much more significant.
KRIEL: With sanctions being -- with the possibility of sanctions being dropped in light of the nuclear deal if it was going to go through, do you believe that Rouhani banked too much on this and that the people were expecting perhaps more to materialize economically?
NASR: I think so. I think what is at play here is that there is enormous amount of economic frustration in Iran. President Rouhani had promised that his reforms internally would bring about economic growth, that hasn't been seen. And he promised the nuclear deal would open up the economy and bring prosperity and people are not seeing that either. His conservative critics would like to blame him personally for the way he negotiated the deal and the way that he has managed the economy for the frustration, but there's a segment of the Iranian public that blames not Rouhani, but the regime itself and the fact that it is isolated internationally and it can do more to play a positive role in the international community and end the isolation. So what we're seeing at play in Iran is that both of these arguments are competing. There are those who want to blame just President Rouhani and there are those who want to blame the entire setup in Iran, but what we really are seeing is economic factors, not political factors. We had -- Iran had a very successful election last year with high participation and that also helped generate expectations that are not being realized.
KRIEL: Vali, in addition to the U.S. President and Vice President speaking out against those protests, we are now hearing from Hillary Clinton, Paul Ryan and at least four U.S. Senators who have tweeted in support of Iran's protesters, one of them was John McCain. Let's take a look at what he said. He said, for too long the Iranian people have been oppressed by their government which cares more about sowing instability abroad than its own citizens. The U.S. stands with the brave protesters who yearn for freedom, peace, and end to corruption in Iran. Vali, do you think that support of this kind will work in favor of the protesters or against them?
NASR: It will not help them, largely because the United States is not in a position to actually help them. In other words, it cannot play a role on the streets, it has no connection with the Iranian government to call somebody in Tehran and ask them for restraint. So all that they will do in a sense is give the government and the security forces the argument that these protests are not genuine. They are being led by outsiders and that they must be bad for Iran if they are being supported by President Trump who has shown that he has no goodwill towards the country, the nuclear deal, has been denying Iranians Visas. It's the same kind of argument we've seen play out in Russia, where internal dissent is blamed on foreign agents and particularly President Trump whose speech at the United Nations offended average Iranians in many ways. His support for the protests actually tarnishes the broader -- the broader legitimacy.
[10:20:44] KRIEL: I want to remind our viewers very quickly about some of the factors behind these protests. The outbreak reflects growing discontent over a surge in prices, in basic food supplies such as eggs and poultry, frustration over reports after a report of widespread corruption, for some, it's anger over the costly involvement in regional conflicts, such as in Syria and Iraq. And finally, disappointment that the Iran Nuclear Deal championed by the Rouhani government, has yet to bring about the benefits that the government said it would bring, even after some major sanctions were, indeed lifted. Now on those points Vali, what room for maneuver do you believe does Rouhani have now? Practically speaking, what can the government do to ease the situation for its ordinary citizens?
NASR: Well, he can actually make promises that could send at least a portion of the protesters home and that his government may have to find ways very quickly to say let's say bring down the price of eggs or price of gas and reduce tensions. But I think what these protests have really revealed to Iran's political leadership is that economic frustrations in Iran are real and they have to do something drastic to ease economic tensions in Iran. But even if they're successful at quelling this protest, there's going to be another one in three months and another one three months after that and those might be bigger and more problematic. So they have to treat this as a warning shot. They can deal with it short run, but they have to come up with a longer run plan.
KRIEL: Hopefully as peacefully as possible. Thank you so much, Vali Nasr, we do appreciate your time, live for us from Washington.
With 2018 rolling in around the world, it's time to take stock of the year that was. The U.N. Secretary-General has just issued a red alert. That's after the year in which he says the world has gone in reverse with deepening conflicts, rising anxieties about nuclear war. CNN's Phil Black takes us through the turbulent 2017.
PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL FREELANCE REPORTER: Terrorism, conflict, natural disasters, 2017 was a turbulent year. Dominated by politics, it saw a U.S. president unlike any we've seen before.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Donald John Trump.
BLACK: Donald Trump became known for his controversies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This controversial travel ban.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Calling the Russia investigation a witch hunt.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blaming both sides for the violence in Charlottesville.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Another controversial tweet --
BLACK: Name calling.
They call her Pocahontas.
BLACK: And internal battles.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sean Spicer is stepping down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is out.
BLACK: But through all the chaos, he reshaped the White House and the world's perception of America. Across the Pacific, North Korea stepped up its rhetoric and its nuclear missile testing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: North Korea claims it successfully launched an intercontinental ballistic missile.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- claims it's tested a Hydrogen Bomb.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is begging for war.
BLACK: In Iraq and Syria, ISIS was driven from key cities and villages.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mosul finally liberated from ISIS.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Raqqa fully liberated.
BLACK: And a slew of terror attacks hit at the heart of cities around the world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- upstairs and there's these gunshots going everywhere.
BLACK: The U.K. is top of the highest number of attacks since IRA bombings in 1992. And New York City experienced its deadliest terror event since 9/11. Myanmar and Yemen saw some of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in decades.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yemen is on the brink of collapse.
BLACK: Sarin gas used against the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun.
TRUMP: That crosses many lines beyond the red line.
BLACK: America reacted launching its first military strike against the Syrian regime since the Civil War began. Back at home, the U.S. suffered some of the deadliest mass shootings in its modern history.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody was panicking. Of course, girls screaming, people fainting on the ground.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He just opens the door and you just keep hearing the gunshots.
BLACK: Across the globe, separatist movements pushed independence. New leaders were elected.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: France's youngest president.
BLACK: Some gained more power than ever.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has made a big shift in Turkish politics.
BLACK: And others exited after ruling for decades. 2017 also experienced a mind-bending litany of natural disasters.
[10:25:05] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wind was unbelievable.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is my neighborhood in flames.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel so panicked.
BLACK: And urban fire raged through a London building bringing death and destruction.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can hear people screaming, help me, my baby, help me.
BLACK: Yet, amidst the chaos people spoke up against sexual harassment.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Women coming out in the millions with the #MeToo.
BLACK: A CNN report exposed slave auctions in Libya sparking outrage around the world and prompting investigations. Away from the darkness, there were some light. Astronomers found new planets, Australia voted yes to same-sex marriage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Allow for equality, for respect.
BLACK: And epic mix up at the Oscars went viral.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: La La Land was announced as the best picture winner but it wasn't.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Moonlight was the actual winner.
BLACK: A royal wedding was confirmed.
MEGHAN MARKLE, AMERICAN ACTRESS: It's so sweet and natural and very romantic.
BLACK: And America got to see its first nationwide solar eclipse in 99 years.
KRIEL: In our final parting shots of 2017, we're ushering in a brand new year. 2018 has already arrived in parts of Asia and the Pacific. Here in Seoul, South Korea, people celebrated in grand style and in a few short minutes, North Korea will do the same. And Sydney hosted its annual fireworks spectacular as midnight struck. It takes a total of 26 hours for the whole world to enter in the new year so be sure to keep it right here on CNN throughout the day where we will be bringing you festivities from around the globe as people ring in 2018.
Well, I'm Robyn Kriel. That was CONNECT THE WORLD. Thank you so much for watching.
[10:30:24] KRIEL: Hello, I'm Robyn Kriel, this is "CNN NEWS NOW". Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, is expected to address his nation in the coming hours amid a rare way of anti-government protests. At least two people were killed on Saturday in one of the demonstrations spreading through the nation. Iran's government is warning that protesters will, quote, pay the price.
The White House is not commenting on a report that a former Trump campaign aide may have inadvertently prompted the investigation into Russian election meddling. The New York Times, reports that George Papadopoulos told a diplomat that the Kremlin had damaging e-mails relating to Hillary Clinton, and that may have attracted the FBI's attention.
Countries across the Pacific are already ringing in the New Year. People in North in Korea are welcoming in the New Year right now. South Korea began celebrating about 30 minutes ago. It takes a total of 26 hours for the entire world to enter the New Year.
That's your "CNN NEWS NOW". Up next, CONNECT THE WORLD special look at a Middle East art treasure, the new Louvre Abu Dhabi. You're watching CNN, the world's news leader.
It's taken ten years, more than 10,000 tons of steel and hundreds of millions of dollars. All leading up to this moment, the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, November 2017. A landmark event marking the beginning of a new chapter, not only for the Louvre but also Abu Dhabi as a cultural hub.
Just weeks after the first visitors roamed the galleries under the dome, I caught up with the UAE's top diplomat, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, to find out how the new museum cements the country's growing influence in the world.
SHEIKH ABDULLAH BIN ZAYED, MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: I think the opening of this museum has been a very bad day for troops. Luckily enough for many of us, it's been a wonderful day.
BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: It was envisioned as I understand it by the then President Jacques Chirac, as means to fight extremism with art after what was then, September the 11th and the attacks. Given that the museum has opened at a time of significant regional instability, is that original vision even more important than ever?
BIN ZAYED: Unless we are really ready in this part of the world in addressing extremists, their ideology, their hate, and making sculptures like the Louvre, this museum is not very different than the UAE. I'm blessed to be to be raised in a country which have been tolerant, had been open, had been modern. But also which has managed to give the people of this region, give the countries and leaders of this region, some hope and a different path forward listening to President Macron, describing what kind of a soft instrument our relationship with France could create and reach in terms of a positive (INAUDIBLE) effect.
I think it made me very proud, you would look at our relationship with France historically and it was about political or military cooperation or investments. This is a project that to going to go on for at least one more generation, and it will touch all Emiratis. These are kind of projects that not only would enhance a government to government relationship, but a people to people relationship which I think is always far more important.