In the largest protests to grip Iran since the 2009 "Green Movement" demonstrations, tensions continue to escalate as anti-government demonstrators have taken to the streets of Tehran to call for the unelected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani to step down. Activists in Iran began to protest corruption and the rising cost of living in Iran on Thursday. Since then, the demonstrations have begun spreading to other major cities.
The protests began in the northeastern city of Mashhad. Police arrived in riot gear in some cities and 52 people were reportedly arrested, according to The BBC. The protests are the biggest display of dissent since the rallies in 2009, which disputed Iran's presidential election results. Overall, officials have said that nearly 100 demonstrators have rallied in some places while thousands of people have gathered in others. Though the protests may seem small, they're a pretty big deal, considering the fact that the country's leaders have warned against public demonstrations.
Several dozen students at the University of Tehran then began protesting at the gates on campus, shouting "death to the dictator" in reference to Khamenei on Thursday. Officials confirmed that 50 people had rallied in the square in the capital but police arrived and told them to leave. The protestors who remained were temporarily detained. Meanwhile, at least two protestors were carried away on Saturday after clashes with the police in Dorud.
A popular chant during the protest has been “No Gaza, No Lebanon, My Life for Iran”, a criticism of Iran's focus on regional conflicts in Syria and Iraq instead of focusing on domestic affairs. People have also been protesting alleged government corruption and the living conditions in the country. Rouhani has made no comments about the protests since the demonstrations began and some political analysts speculate that he might try to use the protests to his advantage by promising to end the alleged corruption during his campaign, according to The Telegraph.
"The country is facing serious challenges with unemployment, high prices, corruption, lack of water, social gap, unbalanced distribution of budget," said Hesamoddin Ashena, Rouhani's cultural advisor. "People have the right for their voice to be heard."
President Trump has even chimed in about the protests in Iran, tweeting on Saturday morning that he applauded the demonstrations. "Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime’s corruption & its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad," he wrote. "Iranian govt should respect their people’s rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching!"
In response, officials in Iran have decried Trump's statements. "The Iranian people see no value in the opportunistic claims by American officials and Mr. Trump,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.
The U.S. State Department has also come out and said that it “strongly condemns” the arrests that were made during the protests. Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement the United States urged “all nations to publicly support the Iranian people and their demands for basic rights and an end to corruption.”
Iran’s leaders have turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos. As President Trump has said, the longest-suffering victims of Iran’s leaders are Iran’s own people.
Since the protests began taking place on Thursday, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli has urged people not to participate because "they will create problems for themselves and other citizens." According to videos posted online, protests were held in nine different cities across the country on Saturday.
Iran officials are blaming the protests on anti-revolutionaries and agents of foreign powers, according to The BBC. The communications minister has also urged people not to "promote violence" on Telegram, a messaging app frequently used by people in Iran.