Protests and demonstrations in Iran have been ongoing for the last week in what have been the largest protests the country has seen since the 2009 presidential elections.
At least twenty people are dead, nine alone yesterday, in what began on Thursday, December 28th, with protests in Mashhad. Mashhad is Iran’s second-largest city, and a holy site for Shiite Muslims. The protests seem to have begun with the working class’s frustrations about the faltering economy, but have since exploded into demonstrations and rallies against the national Islamic leadership. Iran has been governed by a religiously conservative Islamic government since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The anti-government protests began in the cities, but are now also spreading to more rural areas, where the government’s ability to deploy security forces is less effective. The latest reported casualties are from towns surrounding the city of Isfahan, which lies 275 miles south of Tehran. An attack on a police station in Qahdarijan left six dead. An 11-year-old boy and a 20-year-old man were both killed in the town of Khomeinishahr, while a member of the Revolutionary Guard Corps was killed in the town of Najafabad. These casualties were all reported by Iran’s state media.
One news agency has reported that as many as 450 people have been arrested since Saturday, when the protests that had begun on Thursday began spreading to other cities and towns, and became more unruly. The head of Tehran’s court system, Mousa Ghazanfarabadi, has reportedly warned that protesters could face the death penalty when they come to trial. He was quoted as saying, “Obviously one of their charges can be Moharebeh,” which means “waging war against God”. Moharebeh is a capital offense in Iran.
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has only responded by making comments on his official website, which he finally did yesterday. Among his comments, Khamenei said, “In recent days, enemies of Iran used different tools including cash, weapons, politics and intelligence apparatus to create troubles for the Islamic Republic.” He has otherwise given no formal address regarding the protests. Other top Iranian officials are calling for more aggressive responses by security forces.
As of right now it is difficult to see how this will play out. The 2009 protests attracted millions of supporters, but they were primarily concentrated in the capital city of Tehran. The current protests are more diffuse throughout Iran, and also attracting fewer people. The 2009 protests had clear leaders and clear purpose, while the current protests are not united behind a single leader or a single goal. In 2009 the protests surrounded the results of the presidential election, while the current protests are primarily the result of the working class’s discontent with the government and the economy.
The only thing that is clear right now is that the protests are not going to be stopping any time soon. Whether foreign countries, including the U.S., will get involved in an effort to support the protesters and undermine the Islamic regime is unknown. The Iranian government’s ability to suppress the rebellion, and what methods they would use to do so, is also not yet known. Whatever the outcome, the short-term future for Iran’s people likely involves a lot more strife.