Here’s why people in Iran are protesting, and what’s likely to happen next


The protests currently taking place in Iran are some of the biggest seen there for almost a decade, and even more widespread than the pro-reform demonstrations of 2009 that erupted after the re-election of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Since Thursday tens of thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets across the country, venting their anger at government policies and corruption, economic conditions, rising food prices and unemployment.

But history shows they are unlikely to succeed in bringing any real change, far less toppling the Islamic regime in Tehran.

Just as Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia crushed the protests nine years ago, a similar brutal backlash is likely this time, the longer the protests continue.

Who are the protesters?

As in 2009, the protesters this time appear to be mostly young.

Official figures show 90 per cent of those arrested so far are under 25 — the group most likely to be affected by unemployment and economic hardship.

Many protests are in far-flung towns that are rural and relatively poor, suggesting working class Iranians make up the bulk of Wednesday’s unrest.

Nine years ago it was more middle class Iranians who were taking to the streets in the capital Tehran and urban centres.

Why are the protesters angry?

The protests erupted on Thursday, initially over a sudden increase in the price of foods such as eggs.

In recent weeks egg and poultry prices have soared around 40 per cent, partly because millions of chickens had to be destroyed because of a regional outbreak of bird flu.

It was the final straw for many Iranians who have lived under crippling international sanctions for years, and very quickly they turned their anger on Iran’s leaders, including President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Although President Rouhani is seen as a moderate, since 2013 he has wound back state subsidies for fuel, energy and basic staples, and cut cash payments to Iranian households — overturning a populist policy introduced by his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The latest measures will effectively raise the price of fuel in next year’s budget by 50 per cent.

A group of protesters faces off against armoured police.

There is also deep frustration at continuing unemployment and inflation.

Many Iranians had hoped the easing of international sanctions in 2016, after Tehran signed a nuclear deal with Western powers, would give the economy a powerful boost and create desperately needed jobs.

They believed the resumption of oil sales on the international market would deliver an economic boom.

But despite some economic growth, the benefits of foreign revenue have failed to trickle down to the young and poor.

Unemployment has reached nearly 29 per cent this year. In some areas it is above 45 per cent.

Inflation — though falling — is still running around 10 per cent.

On top of that many international sanctions are still in place, as the US and other Western powers maintain pressure on Iran to end its nuclear program and end its state sponsorship of terrorist or extremist groups including Hezbollah and other Shiite militias.

At the same time the Iranian regime is boosting funding to Islamic clerics and pro-government religious institutions.

That has led to accusations of government corruption and outright calls for the death of President Rouhani and Ayatollah Ali Khamanei.

Many Iranians want their government to do more to create jobs and boost the domestic economy, and withdraw its military support and funding for foreign conflicts, namely the civil wars in Syria and Yemen.

Protesters have been chanting the name Reza Shah, who was the Shah of Iran from 1925 to 1941 and the father of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Shah who was overthrown in the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Reza Shah admired Turkey’s Ataturk and set Iran on a similar path of Westernisation and secularisation. In chanting his name, the protesters are emphasising that they do not want an Islamic Republic.

How widespread are the protests?

The protests began at Mashhad — Iran’s second biggest city, in the country’s northeast — but quickly spread across the country, including the capital Tehran where at least 450 people have been arrested.

In central Iran, nine people were killed in Isfahan province — six of them in an attack on a police station at Qahderijan.

Four mosques were burnt down at Savad Kuh.

At Najafabad protesters opened fire on police, killing one and wounding three.

Two protesters were shot dead at Izeh in Iran’s southwest.


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