While the government is not threatened, more demonstrators have been expressing anger on the streets, and they are not complaining about America.
TEHRAN, Iran — Across Iran’s heartland, from the sweltering heat of its southern cities to the bustling capital, Tehran, protesters have taken to the streets with increasing intensity in recent months, much to the satisfaction of the Trump administration, which is hoping the civil unrest will put pressure on Iranian leaders.
Some demonstrations — about the weak economy, strict Islamic rules, water shortages, religious disputes, local grievances — have turned deadly. The protesters have shouted harsh slogans against clerical leaders and their policies. The events are broadly shared on social media and on the dozens of Persian-language satellite channels beaming into the Islamic republic.
On Thursday, protests were held in the cities of Arak, Isfahan, Karaj and Shiraz. People — in numbers ranging in the hundreds, perhaps more — took to the streets, chanting slogans like “death to high prices,” but also criticizing top officials. A smaller protest was held in Tehran, where some people were arrested, according to videos taken at the scene.
In the city of Eshtehard, west of the capital, protesters attacked a religious school Thursday, forcing 500 clerics in training to flee, the semiofficial Tasnim news agency reported.
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Truck drivers who went on strike in May for higher wages restarted their strike last week. The strike has affected fuel deliveries, leaving some gasoline stations empty in parts of the country, including Caspian Sea areas north of Tehran.
Iran’s currency, the rial, has lost nearly 80 percent of its value compared with a year ago. It’s been weakened at least in part because the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the nuclear agreement in May and restored U.S. economic sanctions. The first batch of those restored sanctions is set to take effect Monday.
President Hassan Rouhani of Iran supported the nuclear agreement. He is under fire from hard-liners and from the Iranians who voted for him — the vast middle class. Both groups say his economic policies have failed.
The demonstrations began in January, when in more than 80 cities, including Tehran, people took to the streets with economic demands and calls for more freedoms. In total, 25 people were killed and more than 4,000 were arrested.
The protests in the ensuing months have been relatively isolated, sporadic, scattered and smaller than the anti-government demonstrations in 2009, when millions took to the streets. But they reflect a common theme of rising dissatisfaction, many say.
Activists critical of the government concede the demonstrations do not threaten Iran’s leadership. Security forces, mindful of the 2009 upheavals, are much better equipped to crush any organized anti-government demonstrations. The protesters share neither unifying leadership nor clear agenda.
While many members of the large middle class are unhappy, they mostly watch from the sidelines, averse to uncertainty.
“There is no vision, no leadership, and the protests will not lead to any chain reaction across the country, at this point,” said Bahman Amoei, a political activist who has spent several stints in jail for his activities.
However, for the country of 80 million, long one of the calmest in the Middle East, the growing list of demonstrations and strikes is remarkable.
In July, brokers of Tehran’s vast bazaar marched across the city protesting high prices and clashing with security forces near the Parliament building. Protesters in the southern border city of Khorramshahr clashed with security forces for days over water shortages. Defying risk of arrest, women have protested the compulsory Islamic headscarf.
In February, deadly clashes erupted between members of a religious minority and security forces. In March, protests over water shortages spread to Isfahan, Iran’s third-largest city.
There also have been strikes, most notably in the Kurdish regions, where bazaars closed in April to protest restrictions on border trade. Truckers went on strike the following month. In the city of Kazeroun, two people were killed in clashes over plans to redraw its borders.
Videos show that some protesters have gone well beyond strictly economic grievances to challenge Iran’s foreign policy. Secular protest slogans aimed at Iran’s leadership also criticize its support for Syria and groups in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon. Often protesters evoke the name of Reza Shah, an authoritarian who industrialized Iran at the beginning of the century, with a very firm hand. In Khorramshahr, videos showed protesters shouting: “You have plundered us in the name of religion.”
The protests have compounded the increasingly dire predicament that Iran’s leaders face as they prepare to deal with the restored U.S. sanctions. Foreign investors are leaving the country. The Iranian government, anticipating less oil income, has tightened the use of foreign currency. That move has accelerated the decline in the rial, driving anger that seems more aimed at Iran’s leaders than at the United States.
Hard-liners have consistently played down the protests. “Around a hundred people take to the streets in cities populated by 5 million people,” said Hamidreza Taraghi, a political analyst. He accused Iran’s enemies, most notably the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel, of helping foreign-based opposition groups. “Foreign powers are seeking to seize upon our economical problems and create unrest.”
At Tehran’s grand bazaar, things were back to normal after the protests and strike last month. In the gold-trading area, one merchant, Mostafa Arabzadeh, acknowledged he had also closed his shop. “To protect my valuables,” he said.
Arabzadeh said he disliked the protesters and felt they were playing into the hands of Iran’s enemies.
“People that are angry forget we have one thing the rest of the region doesn’t have: peace and stability,” he said, adding, “We should cherish that.”