As protests continued to roil Iran over the weekend, the government has reportedly opened fire on anti-government protesters and shut down popular social media platforms in the country.
Why are the Iranians protesting?
The protests, which have now reached their third day, center on a number of economic and social issues that have festered in Iran for years. One source of frustration has been economic stagnation in the country, which Iranian citizens expected to improve with the lifting of economic sanctions as part of the 2015 deal struck with the Obama administration.
While the nuclear deal lifted sanctions on some areas of the Iranian economy, many Iranian companies and industries are still subject to an international blacklist. Additionally, the Trump administration placed new sanctions on Iran this summer after a rocket launch this July.
These sanctions, combined with endemic government corruption, have caused rising unemployment and inflation in Iran while most of the rest of the world has enjoyed a relatively bullish economy in 2017.
Iranians are also protesting a number of social issues, including a law that has been in place since the 1979 making the wearing of a hijab mandatory for women. An iconic video of an Iranian woman defiantly waving a flag with her face uncovered has come to symbolize the whole protest movement.
In response to the protests, police in Tehran announced this weekend that they would no longer enforce the compulsory hijab law.
Who are the Iranians protesting?
The target of the protests is just as significant as the fact of the protests themselves. While the current protests are not as widespread as the protests during the 2009 Green Movement, they are possibly more significant because they are the first widespread protests directed at Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei since the revolution. The 2009 Green Movement protests were directed at lower level government officials.
In the current protests, many protesters have intentionally defaced posters of Khamenei and shouted “death to Khamenei” in full public view — actions that would have been unthinkable in the 2009 Green Movement.
How has the government responded?
Other than the announcement that the compulsory hijab would not be enforced in Tehran, the government’s response has mostly been to increase oppression.
Over the weekend, the government shut off access to popular social media platforms Instagram and Telegram, which protesters were using to disseminate footage and pictures of their movement in a country where there is no such thing as a free press.
As the protests escalated over the weekend, the government has also responded with increased brutality. Multiple media outlets have reported that Iranian police appear to have opened fire on a group of protesters in the city of Dorud, apparently killing at least two protesters. While the government has not confirmed these deaths, multiple social media images appeared to show multiple bodies being carried away from the confrontation with police.
The protests themselves have also grown more violent, as protesters set fire to government offices in the city of Ahvaz and stormed the local governor’s compound in the city of Arak.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly tweeted in support of the protesters, and warned the Iranian government that “the world is watching” for possible human rights abuses.