Protesters continued to denounce Iran’s clerical regime on Sunday, even as government officials promised to crack down on dissidents with an “iron fist” if the unrest does not stop.
Tens of thousands of Iranians have taken to streets across the country to protest the ruling clerical elite and its foreign and domestic policies over the past four days. It is the largest mass demonstration against the regime since 2009, when then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won re-election in a widely disputed election.
The Iranian government warned protesters on Sunday they would face reprisal for the unauthorized demonstrations.
“Those who damage public property, violate law and order and create unrest are responsible for their actions and should pay the price,” Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said, according to a Reuters translation of state media.
What began Thursday as scattered protests over Iran’s faltering economy quickly morphed into a countrywide uprising against the regime’s endemic corruption and foreign interventions, which many Iranians see as the root causes of the country’s economic malaise. Demonstrators have called on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down and even shouted “Long live Reza Shah,” referring to the king who ruled Iran from 1925 to 1941 and was overthrown in the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
The demands break a political taboo in Iran, indicating a level of discontent that represents the single biggest political challenge to the regime since the revolution, which created the Islamic Republic.
Unlike the 2009 unrest, the protests over the weekend appear entirely spontaneous and without direction from opposition leaders. They have also extended far beyond Tehran, Iran’s capital and cultural center of gravity, to smaller, more conservative cities throughout the country, suggesting widespread dissatisfaction with the regime.
Iran has a dual system of republican and clerical rule, but the supreme leader rules for life and is the head of armed forces. The arrangement gives Ayatollah Khamenei more power over foreign and economic policy than Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s current elected president.
Rouhani came into office promising to expand rights to freedom of expression and assembly. He also said the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which is thus far his main achievement, would lead to better economic conditions as international sanctions were lifted as part of the agreement.
Those economic improvements have failed to materialize, with corrupt and incompetent clerical hardliners mismanaging critical economic sectors such as imports and energy. Joblessness is rampant — the unemployment rate in 2017 was over 12 percent — and prices for basic staples like eggs and poultry have soared in recent months.
Anger over the sputtering economy sparked this weekend’s protests, however, political grievances have sustained the resistance through an increasingly harsh response by the regime. Demonstrators called for an end to clerical rule on Friday and Saturday and demanded the government roll back its costly intervention in Syria.
“Leave Syria alone, give a thought to us,” protesters chanted, according to BuzzFeed News correspondent Borzou Daragahi.
The Trump’s administration has issued several statements affirming support for the protesters and calling for reform. The State Department had harsh words for the Iranian regime on Friday, saying it has turned Iran into and “economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos.”
President Donald Trump himself has tweeted three times about the unrest. He said on Sunday Washington would “closely” monitor the human rights situation in Iran.
“Big protests in Iran. The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism,” Trump said on Twitter. “Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!”