Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. World
2 January 2018

What’s going on in Iran? Everything we know about the protests so far

Donald Trump has tweeted it’s “TIME FOR CHANGE”.

By Julia Rampen

If you’ve just emerged blinking from your New Year’s Eve stupor to find this morning’s papers awash with headlines about Iranians taking to the streets, you may be questioning exactly what’s happening. Here’s what we know about the protests in Iran so far:

What’s going on?

The biggest mass demonstrations in Iran since 2009. The protests have taken place in different towns and cities, and 22 people are believed to have been killed.

Is this the Iranian Spring?

According to protestors: yes. Supporters such as Maryam Rajavi, of the dissident National Council of Resistance of Iran, describe a popular, peaceful uprising, which demands freedom and the overthrow of the theocracy.  

But the full story is more complicated. Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani is viewed as a moderate in relative terms, and his allies say the protests were initiated by hardline conservatives – although they have since spiralled out of control. 

One thing this protest does have in common with the Arab Spring of 2011, which toppled several Middle Eastern regimes, is its basis in economic concerns. The Arab Spring began when a Tunisian man trying to sell fruit had his wares confiscated, and subsequently set himself alight in protest. In Iran, the protestors have complained about rising prices. Another common factor is the reported young age of the demonstrators. 

Is this like the Green Movement protests?

In 2009, after conservative populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected as president, protestors disputing the election result poured into the streets. On one occasion, up to three million supporters of the moderate candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, gathered in Tehran. The protests became known as the Green Movement. 

When Rouhani, a reformist, was elected, however, many saw it, wrongly or rightly, as a victory for the Green Movement.

The latest protestors, though, seem to be critical of both the religious establishment and Rouhani. They also seem to be made up predominantly of working-class Iranians, while the Green Movement was associated with the urban middle class. 

What are protestors demanding now?

As well as protesting the state of the economy, the demonstrators are reportedly criticising the government for focusing too much on foreign affairs and neglecting domestic ones. 

How has the government reacted?

The Rouhani administration has veered between calling demonstrators “rioters” to admitting that there are real economic problems

On the streets, riot police are out in force. The dead are reported to include an 11-year-old boy and a policeman, but information remains patchy.  

What about the rest of the world?

The US president, Donald Trump, was quick to pronounce on the protests, declaring: “Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration. The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!”

On this side of the pond, the Foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who is in his own Iranian pickle, took a more subdued line: “We regret the loss of life that has occurred in the protests in Iran, and call on all concerned to refrain from violence and for international obligations on human rights to be observed.”