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December 31, 2017 7:41 pm

Protests in Iran Highlight Mass Rejection of Islamic Republic, Democracy Advocates Say

avatar by Ben Cohen

Protestors gather near the University of Tehran. Photo: social media via Reuters.

As a fourth day of protests in Iran came to a close on Sunday with reports of hundreds of arrests, Iranian opposition activists took to social media to point out that the unrest has been motivated by more than the economic hardships currently being visited upon the country’s citizens.

The notion that the protests were focused solely on economic discontent amounts to a “false theory the regime’s echo chamber has been circulating since the beginning,” Saeed Ghasseminejad – Iran Research Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) think-tank – told The Algemeiner.

“If we focus on the slogans we hear and in the videos of the protests that are being circulated, we see a trend,” Ghasseminejad argued. “The protestors are angry about corruption and inequality, and they  despise Islamism, the Islamic Republic and the clerics.”

Among the protestors chants identified by Ghasseminejad as challenging the Tehran regime itself were “Reformists, Hardliners, it is game over now,” “Death to the Islamic Republic” and “Shame on you, mullahs.” He also noted that some protestors had even expressed sympathy with the Pahlavi dynasty who ruled Iran before the Islamist seizure of power in 1979.

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The protests also underlined that Iranians “are fed up with the regime’s foreign policy especially its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria,” Ghasseminejad said.

Ghasseminejad slammed what he called the “abysmal western media coverage” of the latest protests. “Most of those who cover Iran in the western media are either sympathetic to the regime or staunch supporters of former president Obama’s Iran policy,” he said.

The support expressed by US President Donald Trump and several other leading American figures was “fast and appropriate,” Ghasseminejad continued. But, he said, none of that had been backed by actions yet.

“People like me have been saying that another wave of protests will happen, and the US should be prepared for it, but the US is not prepared,” Ghasseminejad asserted. “President Trump has been right on Iran from the beginning, but the bureaucracy which should transform his words into policy and then into action has not been effective for various reasons.”

In his first national address on Sunday night since the protests began, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani denounced Trump as a “man who is against the Iranian nation to his core and has no right to sympathize with Iranians.”

“People are absolutely free to criticize the government and protest but their protests should be in such a way as to improve the situation in the country and their life,” Rouhani said, adding, “criticism is different from violence and damaging public properties.”

On Sunday, the Iranian authorities launched strict restrictions on internet access, including a shutdown of a number of messaging apps.

On Twitter, several Iran experts and democracy advocates emphasized that the protests are ultimately directed at the regime itself. Some favorably contrasted the American response to the protests with the virtual silence from the European Union’s leading capitals so far.

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