Some 13 people were reported killed on Sunday in the worst wave of unrest since crowds took to the streets in 2009 to condemn the re-election of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In total at least 25 people have been killed since the anti government protests broke out five days ago.
The nationwide protests have drawn in tens of thousands of people and represent the boldest challenge to Iran’s leadership since pro-reform unrest in 2009.
The unrest erupted in the second city of Mashhad against price rises but it swiftly spread and turned into political rallies.
Anger was soon directed at the clerical leadership in power since the 1979 revolution, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority in Iran’s cumbersome system of dual clerical and republican rule.
Some called on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down and chanted against a government they described as thieves.
The demonstrations, initially focussed on economic hardships and alleged corruption, turned into political rallies.
Some protesters also vented their rage over high unemployment and savings that were lost after investments in unlicensed credit and financial institutions turned sour.
Demonstrators say they are angry over corruption and economic hardship in a country where youth unemployment reached 28.8 percent last year.
Iranians across the country want higher wages and an end to alleged graft. Many also question the wisdom of Iran’s foreign policy in the Middle East, where it has intervened in Syria and Iraq in a battle for influence with rival Saudi Arabia.
The country’s financial support for Palestinians and the Lebanese Shi‘ite group Hezbollah also angered Iranians, who want their government to focus on domestic economic problems instead.
The wide spectrum of slogans showed that the wave of demonstrations cover a range of social classes who have different demands. Unlike the unrest in 2009, the latest protests appear to be more spontaneous without a clear leader.
This may be a more dangerous scenario for authorities, because it means they cannot round up the figureheads, a solution that was employed in 2009.
The Iranian state has a powerful security apparatus it can call upon to crush the protests but so far it has refrained from despatching the elite Revolutionary Guards, the Basij militia, and plain-clothed security forces who crushed the 2009 uprising and killed dozens of protesters.
Protests continued overnight even though President Hassan Rouhani appealed for calm. In remarks carried on state TV, he said Iranians had the right to criticize authorities but also warned of a crackdown.
If the Iranian government will implement a full crackdown all across Iran on the protesters, this could lead to a further escalation, and even to an armed struggle, and possibly into a civil war between the pro and anti government camps.
After all this was how the Syrian civil war broke out.