Protests in Iran: When frustration boils over

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 Midle East, Jan.2.– Incredibly, religious hardliners may have started the protests that have spread across Iran. Preachers in Mashhad, Iran’s second city and a stronghold of the clerical regime, called their followers onto the streets on December 28th to protest against rising prices, most recently of eggs. Many of those who turned out supported Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric, in the presidential election last May. “Death to Rouhani,” they chanted, referring to President Hassan Rouhani, whose liberal economic policies they oppose and whose budget in December called for sweeping subsidy cuts.  

But their cries have been drowned out by a far broader swathe of Iranian malcontents. Even as the hardliners retreated, the protests spread to more than 20 cities, where Iranians of all stripes voiced pent-up anger over a lack of economic and political progress.

The protests have also spread to Tehran, the capital, where hundreds of people have been arrested. After six days the tone of the rallies is changing. Many now call for the downfall of the ruling clerics and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the regime’s praetorian guard, who also dominate much of the economy.

The demonstrations have not been on the same scale as those by the Green Movement, which shook Iran’s clerical establishment in 2009. Hundreds of thousands of protesters came out then, mostly in Tehran, to challenge a disputed presidential election. The latest rallies have attracted only thousands, mostly in towns and small cities. At their root are broad socioeconomic grievances. Unlike in 2009, there is no obvious leadership. That may be why the authorities initially responded with a relatively soft touch ...

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