Anti-government protests that began Thursday in northeast Iran spread on Friday, as police made arrests in an attempt to disperse the crowds. The demonstrations, which have been taking place largely in cities and towns outside of Tehran, began over government economic policies, notably rising food prices, but have grown to include broader grievances, including corruption and Iranian involvement in Syria and Iraq. The BBC reports “large numbers reportedly turned out in Rasht, in the north, and Kermanshah, in the west, with smaller protests in Isfahan, Hamadan…[and] in Qom, a holy city home to powerful clerics.”
The scope of the protests is not immediately clear, but videos on social media show sizeable crowds in at least a handful of cities across the country. According to Reuters the videos, if verified, “would be the largest wave of protests in Iran since 2009.” Iranians are deeply dissatisfied with the economic situation in the country, which has not made the widespread gains promised by President Hassan Rouhani following the 2015 nuclear deal. The lack of progress prompted opposition from more hard-line factions in the country, as well as disillusioned supporters. There are indications the hardliners in the country instigated the protests Thursday, targeting the pro-reform Rouhani government, which then spread in size and scope.
“More than 50 people were arrested in Iran’s holy city of Mashhad, following anti-government protests over the economy and rising food prices, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Friday,” according to Bloomberg. “Videos purporting to be of the protests in Iran’s second-largest city circulated widely on social media platforms including Twitter and Telegram, and showed protesters chanting against President Hassan Rouhani and calling for ‘the economically corrupt’ to be executed.”
“The semi-official Fars news agency reported that officials said around 300 protesters gathered in the western city of Kermanshah,” the Associated Press reports. “Fars reported that protesters in Kermanshah chanted anti-government slogans such as ‘never mind Palestine, think about us,’ ‘death or freedom’ and ‘political prisoners should be freed.’
“The demonstrations have taken the Iranian authorities by surprise. Impromptu anti-government demonstrations are rare in a country where the Revolutionary Guard and numerous intelligence agencies have a strong grip on the population,” BBC Persian correspondent Kasra Naji reports. “Predictably they are blaming anti-revolutionary elements and foreign agents. But the protests clearly stem from seething discontent in Iran, mainly because of the worsening economic conditions faced by ordinary Iranians.”