Protests in Iran have largely faded from Western news reporting, but not from the country’s streets, with more than 400 in April alone. Last week in the southern city of Kazeroon, police opened fire on demonstrators, reportedly leaving at least three people dead and dozens injured. Authorities arrested more than 100 others.
Rallies have occurred sporadically in Kazeroon since the summer of 2017 in response to a government plan to divide the city by merging parts of it into a new town. Residents fear the separation will unfairly apportion key water resources and leave Kazeroon’s historic sites in the control of the newly formed municipality.
However, like the other demonstrations that began to consume Iran in December 2017, the Kazeroon turmoil also reflects longstanding discontent with Tehran’s repression, foreign adventurism, and economic and environmental mismanagement.
In fact, slogans chanted during the rallies featured familiar refrains from the nationwide protests of the previous months, including “State radio and television and should be ashamed,” “The government supports Gazans but betrays Kazeroon,” and “Our enemy is here, not in the U.S.”
These developments suggest that Iran’s uprising constitutes not a temporary phenomenon, but a sustained mass movement that poses a potential threat to the regime’s survival. To date, hundreds of demonstrations have unfolded in each month of 2018.
In the first three weeks of May, scores of protests over Iran’s poor economy have occurred in more than two dozen cities. On May 10, teachers and academics in at least 30 cities waged coordinated protests highlighting their poor wages as well as ethnic, religious, and gender discrimination in the nation’s schools.
On May 6, protestors disrupted a speech by President Hassan Rouhani in the city of Sabzevar by reciting slogans accentuating his broken campaign pledges and the nationwide dearth of jobs. Even minor transportation inconveniences have prompted protests: On May 16, the malfunction of a Tehran subway car spurred passengers to chant, “death to the dictator.”
Meanwhile, Iran has doubled down on the systemic repression that fuels the crisis. In late April, the regime directed internet providers to block access to Telegram, a messaging app used by some 40 million Iranians, in an effort to prevent them from spreading word about the escalating protests.
But the move does not seem to have dampened Iranians’ willingness to demonstrate. “The social gap is about to explode,” said Alireza Saghafi-Khorasani, the secretary of a labor rights group in Iran. “There is no economic plan.”
Both the White House and Congress should draw attention to the waves of protests shaking Iran, and encourage U.S. allies to follow suit. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo led the way on Monday in an address articulating the Trump administration’s new Iran strategy, reminding his audience that Iran’s people “cry out for a simple life with jobs and opportunity and with liberty,” only to face violent repression.
Tzvi Kahn is a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @TzviKahn.
Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.