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These Iran Protests Could Be a Very Big Deal

President Rouhani calls for calm demonstrations, rebuffs Trump
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 31, 2017 2:26 PM CST

(Newser) – They may have started small, but the protests engulfing Iran for a fourth day are an "audacious" challenge to four decades of clerical leadership, in the words of Reuters. President Hassan Rouhani sought to calm things Sunday by defending Iranians' right to protest but condemning any resulting violence. “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,” he said. “Criticism is different from violence and damaging public properties.” Background and developments:

  • What protesters want: To put it succinctly, "regime change," per the Wall Street Journal. These protests were small and scattered and largely focused on economic issues in September. That changed this week when news of a large protest in Mashhad spread on social media and spontaneous demonstrations broke out elsewhere. Protesters have moved beyond issues such as rampant inflation to vent over larger matters such as political oppression.

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  • Backfired? An explainer at BuzzFeed notes that some analysts think hardliners encouraged the original economic protests in a bid to embarrass Rouhani. But if so, that strategy has backfired now that the protests have expanded to larger issues. Protesters not only want the current regime gone, they're calling for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down.
  • A different feel: These protests are different than those that broke out after the 2009 Iranian elections, writes Trita Parsi at CNN. For one thing, the demonstrations are not being driven by the usual reformists. "Their uncompromisingly anti-regime slogans suggest they may belong to the segment of the population who tends not to vote, doesn't believe the system can be reformed and either never subscribed to or has lost hope in the idea of gradual change," writes Parsi. "Add to that those who have joined the protests out of a sense of economic desperation and humiliation." All of the above makes the outcome hard to predict.
  • Trump: He has been supporting the protests. "The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism," he tweeted Sunday. "Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!" Sen. Lindsey Graham, meanwhile, implored Trump to do more than tweet. "You have to lay out a plan," he said on Face the Nation, per the Washington Post. “We’ve got a chance here to deliver some fatal blows to really bad actors in 2018, but if we blink, God help us all.”

  • Rebuff to Trump: Rouhani shot back at Trump: “This man in America who is sympathizing today with our people has forgotten that he called the Iranian nation terrorists a few months ago. This man who is against the Iranian nation to his core has no right to sympathize with Iranians."
  • Lousy coverage? A critique at Tablet makes the case that American journalists are grossly underplaying a potentially history-making series of events. Why? "The short answer is that the American media is incapable of covering the story, because its resources and available story-lines for Iran reporting and expertise were shaped by two powerful official forces—the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Obama White House," writes Lee Smith. "Without government minders providing them with story-lines and experts, American reporters are simply lost—and it shows." Essentially, only "regime-friendly" journalists are operating in Iran, argues Smith.
  • More advice for US: In the New York Times, Philip Gordon has some specific advice of his own for Trump: "Keep quiet and do nothing." Doing otherwise might actually hurt the movement, he argues.
(Read more Iran stories.)

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