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Iran - Protest 2018

Unrest spread to more than 80 cities and rural towns in late December 2017 as thousands of young and working class Iranians voiced anger at corruption, unemployment, and a deepening gap between rich and poor in the biggest anti-government demonstrations since 2009. About 1,000 people are estimated to have been arrested during the demonstrations. The government suspended access to the messaging app Telegram, which was being used to publicise the protests. Twitter and Facebook were already banned.

Expectations were raised around the 2015 nuclear deal, and it didn’t produce the anticipated peace dividends. A protest movement, Iran's largest since a disputed election sent millions into the streets in 2009, spread across Iran in December 2017 and early January 2018, resulting in the death of at least 25 and arrest of over 3,700 people. Anti-government demonstrations in Iran initially broke out against the weak economy and a rise in food prices, but they also drew opponents of the country's religious establishment. The demonstrations started out of economic grievances, but quickly , spread to more than 80 Iranian cities and towns, and transformed into dissent against Iran's political and religious elite.

Khamenei was singled out by antigovernment protesters across Iran who have chanted slogans like "Down with the dictator" and "Khamenei, time to step down," and were disillusioned with economic hardship and the lack of political and social freedoms. Some Iranians envisaged rising prosperity two years after an international deal traded sanctions relief for checks on Tehran's nuclear program, and Rohani campaigned for election in 2013 and reelection last year pledging mild reforms and more jobs.

Protests were unleashed in more than 90 cities and towns after a 28 December 2017 demonstration in Mashhad, the country's second-largest city, over rising prices and other grievances. The demonstrations tapered off amid a pushback by authorities that included harsh warnings and a conspicuous show of force by security troops, the blocking of Internet access and social media, and reports of three deaths in custody and thousands of arrests.

December 30, was the national day of "Alliance with the Supreme Leader". Instead, the day turned into one of burning the flag of the Islamic republic and tearing photos of Ayatollah Khamenei. Much anger was expressed at the clerical establishment, its repressive measures at home and its political and financial focus on Syria, Iraq and Palestine, rather than on the needs of the Iranians.

The surprise came when the protests spread to some 70 more remote towns and provincial cities where police stations and security forces were directly targeted. The slogans became overtly anti-establishment: "Death to the Khamenei," "Down with the dictator," "Have shame, you mullah," "I don't want an Islamic republic," and "O Shah, rest in peace," or "Let go of Palestine, not Gaza, not Lebanon, I'd give my life [only] for Iran". This was the third time Ayatollah Khamenei was hearing the call for his downfall and it was stronger than 2009 and 2013.

Thousands of Iranians took to the streets in support of the government for four straight dayd chanting "death" to foreign nations accused of instigating deadly unrest that began last month. State television showed pro-government rallies in cities including Amol, Semnan, and Shadegan with supporters waving Iranian flags and chanting "Death to America", "Death to Israel", and "Death to Britain". State TV described the rallies as a "response to rioters and supporters of the riots".

Iran's chief prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri accused the American CIA, Israel's Mossad spy agency, and Saudi Arabia of orchestrating the anti-government demonstrations that led to the deaths of 22 people, along with hundreds of arrests. Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said that the people and security forces had ended the unrest, which it said was fomented by Iran's foreign enemies. Iranian officials continued to block many social-media networks and other sources of information, including Western radio and television. The geographical scope of these protests were unprecedented in Iran's recent history.

The demonstrations that took Iran and the world by surprise remain undefined, leaderless and unprecedented in the mix of messages and geographical locations. Yet they are extremely significant, as they portray the depth of anger at the lack of economic and political progress in the Islamic republic.

There was a flare up of protests over economic concerns throughout the country. Vendors in Tehran’s central market staged a series of protests in June 2018. They were upset about the rial’s collapse, which was havoc for businesses as the price of imports rises. Demonstrations over the rising prices of everyday goods and the free-falling value of the Iranian rial, the national currency, broke out in Tehran on 24 June 2018. Since then shopkeepers went on strike, traders massed outside parliament, and protesters clashed with riot police as the demonstrations expanded to other cities.

Protests erupted around the southern city of Khorramshahr over a shortage of clean water. The problem had been exacerbated in the summer when temperatures in the southern region can reach up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius). The protests were initially peaceful but became violent when police and protesters clashed, resulting in at least one death. Protesters in Tehran shouted surprising slogans as they decried the country’s economic malaise. Videos posted to social media showed them chanting: “Death to Palestine,” “No to Gaza, no to Lebanon,” and “Leave Syria and think of us.” Others chanted “We don’t want the ayatollahs.”

Anti-government protests by Iranians fed up with their nation's economic woes spread to 10 major cities on 02 August 2018, posing the biggest challenge to Iran's Islamist rulers since January's nationwide demonstrations. One reason the protests were not happening in more cities was a strong security presence in many places. The security forces in some areas used social media to find out where protests were being planned and then deployed to those locations ahead of time as a way of deterring demonstrators from showing up.

In a sign of Iranians' frustrations intensifying, the early August 2018 protesters chanted slogans explicitly calling for an end to the rule of Iran's Islamist clerics, who took power in a 1979 revolution. A large crowd in the southwestern city of Ahvaz chanted: "Our enemy is here; they (Iran's leaders) lie when they say it is America." The IRNA news agency reported scattered protests in several cities and said police dispersed them early in the evening.

The demonstrators were, apparently, mostly lower and working class folks, along with university students. They are reacting against high unemployment and inflation; a sense of having no economic future. The demonstrations, at least in part, reflected an internal conflict between factions within the government. For instance, there is disagreement over the government’s investment in helping the Assad regime in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. This cost a lot of money that some groups feel should be spent at home. Most Iranians were willing to support their theocratic regime as long as it can fulfill moderate economic expectations and avoid widespread corruption. At present there is some doubt that the government is doing so, and popular support may be slipping.

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Page last modified: 17-11-2019 19:14:41 ZULU