Making Sense of the Iran Protests

[VOA] Iranian protesters chant slogans at a rally in Tehran, Iran, Dec. 30, 2017. Iranian hard-liners rallied Saturday to support the country's supreme leader and clerically overseen government as spontaneous protests sparked by anger over the country's ailing economy roiled major cities in the Islamic Republic. PHOTO: VOA News/AP

By Shannon Tawoos

WASHINGTON REPORT ON MIDDLE EAST AFFAIRS — On Dec. 28, 2017, protests began in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city and home to the shrine of Imam Reza. Initially aimed at President Hassan Rouhani’s administration, protests quickly spread out of control to smaller cities such as Bandar Abbas, Ahvaz, Shiraz and Rasht. The country-wide protests led to the deaths of 21 people and the arrests of more than 400.

On Jan. 5, 2018, the Brookings Institution hosted a panel discussion on “The Protests in Iran,” moderated by POLITICO columnist Susan Glasser. She described the protests as “remarkable but little understood” developments which “seemed to surprise just about everybody.”

According to Maziar Bahari, founder of, “no one knows who exactly” is protesting, as there have been various slogans being chanted, including some in support of the Pahlavis and some in support of Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, who played a key role in the 1979 Islamic Revolution and was set to be Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s successor prior to a falling out between them. Bahari, whose memoir, Then They Came for Me, (available from the Washington Report’s Middle East Books and More) describes his experience being arrested in Iran during the 2009 Green Movement, added that Iran is experiencing widespread discontent that is “fertile ground for protests.” […]

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