Protests across Iran entered their sixth day Tuesday, with at least 21 killed so far in the uprising against economic conditions — nine in violence Monday night, including a child.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke out on the protests for the first time Tuesday, blaming the regime’s international “enemies” for challenging the “progress of the Iranian nation.”
Why are they demonstrating?
The uprising started in the city of Mashhad Thursday in protest at stagnant economic conditions, which have not improved despite the lifting of sanctions in 2015 in exchange for the regime scaling back its nuclear ambitions.
Iran last suffered mass protests in 2009, the so-called Green Movement. Those demonstrations were birthed in Tehran in opposition to the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The current dissent originated in Iran’s rural areas, with young people particularly aggrieved by rising food and fuel prices and an economy hampered by corruption.
Unemployment remains stuck at around 12 percent, with youth unemployment estimated to be considerably higher.
As the demonstrations spread, they took on a political dimension — an outcry against the repression of Iran’s political elite, including President Rouhani and Khamenei.
But didn’t Rouhani just win an election?
The president was re-elected in May and has recently set about relaxing some social rules enforced by Islamic doctrine. However, the concessions have proved insufficient to many modern Iranians who are tired of a weak economy and the unimpeachable power of Iran’s clerics.
What has been the reaction in Tehran?
So far the government has not initiated the widespread crackdown that ended the Green Movement. Rouhani even defended the protesters Sunday, saying: “People are absolutely free to criticize the government and protest.”
Yet security has tightened with each passing day. Internet outages have been reported and the government blocked some social media apps used to spread news about the protests.
Videos posted on social media over the weekend suggest riot police are becoming more aggressive, while Brig. Gen. Esmaeil Kowsari, deputy chief of the main Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp, warned Monday “this business will be finished” should it continue.
And the reaction around the world?
President Trump has been vocal in his support for the protesters, tweeting Tuesday, “The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime,” adding that the U.S. “is watching.”
Russia dismissed the protests an “internal affair” that requires no interference, while British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called for "meaningful debate about the legitimate and important issues the protesters are raising."
Turkey said they were concerned about escalation, while the European Union said it was monitoring events.