It has been almost one month since the last protests flared up throughout Iran—it seems they are never ending. The protests hit Isfahan, Shiraz, Karaj, Eshtehard, Qarchak, Arak, Mashhad, Qahderijan, Najaf, and Shahin Shahr, and reached Tehran. On social media, footage showed protesters and military forces clashing. Security was heightened considerably across the country; the police blocked off multiple streets in Karaj’s Gohardasht district and detained those involved in the clashes. No information is available about their names and the place of arrest except of what Jila Baniyaghoob, a women’s rights advocate, tweeted. She said that 50 girls were detained in the Varamin’s Qarchak Prison.
These protests, erupted shortly after the unprecedented wide-scale protests in 2017, adding salt to the injury. The protests expressed anger over the high riyal-dollar exchange rate; the new U.S. sanctions; growing concerns about commodity shortages; and the daily news about corruption. The slogans mounted beyond calls for economic reform, they were not only against the government but also against the whole regime.
To whom they listen?
The protester attacked Eshtehard’s hawza (religious seminary) to show that their anger is beyond the severe economic situation. “Some protesters attacked Eshtehard’s hawza Friday evening, but no considerable damage was made as the necessary actions had been taken,” said the Head of Eshtehard’s hawza, Ali Hindyani.
A few variant political parties and streams were trying to find ways to ride the wave of the unrest, making it more complicated and multi-pronged. Some of them claim that they are only directing the protests while they are the real inciters — such as Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Mashhad Friday prayer leader. On the other hand, some social media users, who call themselves “the ones who will overthrow” the Iranian Republic, claim that their calls for wide-scale protests on social media triggered the recent unrest, and that they shared footage of their protests on social media.
“With a government like this and an idle parliament, people must hit the streets to protest […] the government and the parliament have not done what they had to do. They shouldn’t have stood still doing nothing. How is it overnight they woke up and found the price of drinking water had doubled?” said Ahmad Alamolhoda.
Later he said that the protests must not follow the desires of “Western proxies,” and direct the people to stand up against the regime. That made a group of his followers; hawza students and clerics stage a sit-in protest in front of the Reza Mosque against the government and parliament and raised slogans claiming that the high prices were just a pretext for Rouhani government to negotiate with the United States. The cried-out slogans against the parliament, “The parliament is lazy and inactive.”
The Tehran Friday prayer leader Kazem Siddiqi highlighted that the covert government corruption, now, is “treason in wartime” and shall be subject to military punishment.
In response to the protests, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted, “We are deeply concerned about the reports of the Iranian regimes’ violence against unarmed citizens…”
In a string of tweets, the son of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi supported the protest saying “This is the best chapter in Iran’s liberation history which will set our country free from the grip of misleading groups.”
The Duplicity of Iran’s Interior Ministry
The Minister of Interior tried to undermine the protests saying “One of the enemy’s strategies with Iran is to stir the pot of society. They [enemies] think this will affect Iran; gathering 50-200 people at one place would destabilize domestic conditions.” His remark contradicts with the fact that the regime is facing difficulties in addressing protests.
The reformists, whose prominent figures faced harsh criticism over the December-2017 protests preferred to keep silent. A few of them recognized the people’s right to cry out against corruption. The reformists seek to negotiate with the regime’s top leaders, therefore; they avoided showing support to those who oppose the government or are involved in assemblies inciting violence. They plan to make gradual changes away from violence. Yet they are concerned about declining grassroot support.
Though it is difficult to pinpoint the inciters and powers stirring the protests, the public frustration is quite apparent. Representatives of all social streams hit the streets, expressing frustration. They are creating a power that could ignite the spark of protests, Alamolhoda implicitly pointed to, however; no guarantees that this spark could burn down the whole regime.
Translated material: Zaytoon site