Iranian women gather during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to walk out of a 2015 nuclear deal, in Tehran, Iran, May 11, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/TASNIM NEWS AGENCY)
Iran’s regime is struggling to restore calm in the capital, after three days of protests rocked central and symbolic areas, including the Bazaar and near the parliament. The protests have focused on the economic crisis in Iran and the feeling that the leadership is disconnected from the concerns of average Iranians.
The protests come after six months of unrest in Iran that began in December 2017 and have included sporadic protests about a variety of issues, from the economy to women’s rights and foreign policy.
As the initial protesters were gathering on Sunday, Iran’s leadership put on a positive face. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi predicted that European states would put forward economic support against US sanctions within ten days and help preserve the Iran Deal (officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action).
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif boasted, “We are all in one ship in Iran: principalists, reformists, non-partisans and opponents of the Islamic Republic.”
But by mid-day Abas Aslani, a journalist and visiting scholar at the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies, said that Iranians were criticizing President Hassan Rouhani for traveling to the Tochal resort “while Iranian currency is depreciating day by day.” Even as the government was banning 1,339 imports, he was accused of wearing US brands.
On Sunday afternoon, some protesters were chanting slogans in the historic Bazaar in Tehran while others gathered at parliament. Zarif accused foreign media, including Reuters, of spreading “false” stories about the Iranian economy. The protesters targeted Iranian involvement in Syria.
By Monday, the police in Tehran had taken control of the Bazaar and many shops remained closed. Clashes also erupted with protesters near parliament. But social media showed continuing support for the demonstrations.
One showed a truck emptying bricks for the crowds to use, apparently against the police. Despite the protests, Iranians paused Monday to cheer their team playing against Portugal. Even though its World Cup hopes came to an end that day, it was a momentary distraction from the bleak economic woes in the country.
On Tuesday, Rouhani blamed foreign enemies, with the regime portraying the recent protests as part of an “economic war” being waged against the country. Rouhani had made similar comments in January and March against unrest in Iran, claiming that it is always the result of a foreign conspiracy with the US at its head.
A senior US official said on Tuesday that countries buying oil from Iran should prepare to halt all imports
of it starting in November or face punishment.
Despite the protests, the Iranian regime continued to stress its regional accomplishments. Ali Akbar Velayati, advisor to Ayatollah Ali Khameini, claimed in a speech to Iraqi intellectuals in Tehran on Tuesday that Iran and Iraq would continue to stand up to America, the “common enemy of both the Iranian and Iraqi nations.”
Meanwhile, Khameini’s military advisor Yahya Rahim Safavi said on Sunday that “our capabilities will reach the Mediterranean shores.”
The emphasis on rebuilding Iraq and fighting far away conflicts among Khameini’s inner circle seems to have fueled the protesters, who shouted slogans against involvement throughout the region, wondering why Tehran was wasting money
on Iraqis, Syrians, Palestinians, Lebanese and others while ignoring locals.
The demonstrations in Tehran capped six months of unrest that began in December. According to columnist Amir Taheri, the parliament’s security committee was holding a session to examine the recent protests.
Reuters contributed to this report.•
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