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The New Face of Iran Protests: More Frequent, More Political And Angrier

A bank branch attacked in Shiraz, Iran. Slogans written in red say, "Death to Khamenei, Death to Rouhani". November 17, 2019

The ongoing widespread unrest in Iran since November 15, shows that protests have become more frequent and more intense. While large protests were happening with an interval of ten years before, now they are happening every two years.

The post-election unrest in 2009 took place some 10 years after the unrest that followed an attack on a Tehran University dormitory in 1999. But more recently, there has been an interval of only two years between the late 2017 nationwide protests and the current round of mass unrest.

Meanwhile, there have been many smaller-scale demonstrations between December 2017 and November 2019, continuing almost constantly. Labor unrest, protests by investors, pensioners and teachers all over Iran are only a few of those manifestations of discontent.

The protests in 1999 and 2009 reflected more the differences within the ruling system between reformists and the ruling conservatives. Protests were limited to the middle class and the more educated in a few large cities, but now it seems the whole country is on fire, with smaller town being at the forefront of the unrest.

Protesters carrying an injured comrade in Shiraz, Iran
Protesters carrying an injured comrade in Shiraz, Iran

But the protests in 2017 and 2019 represent a revolt against the entire ruling system and do not reflect factional fighting within the Islamic Republic elite. These are protests by the people who have been frustrated by the status quo and took to the streets without a clear organization and leadership.

Meanwhile, there has been a shift from reformist discourse with limited demands to more revolutionary discourse with more fundamental demands. In the new form of protests, demonstrators have left behind the idea of reforms and the confrontation between reformists and conservatives and see themselves against the establishment of the Islamic Republic as a whole.

More Radical Demands

Although recent protests were triggered by economic motives such as a hike in the gas price, but built-up frustration and demands quickly pushed the protests toward political slogans questioning the very essence of the Islamic Republic and the legitimacy of its top leaders.

Meanwhile, the government's confrontation with and suppression of the protestors has intensified. In recent days the government has been more willing to use guns against the demonstrators and has reportedly shot more people than in 2017 and 2018.

It appears that one reason is that the government fears losing control over the country while it is also under unprecedented pressure from abroad, as it has lost its oil revenues. However, a more violent confrontation may backfire against the government and make the protesters angrier and more aggressive rather than intimidated.

Notably, it appears that for the first time the pillars of the government including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani, the Supreme Council of National Security, the national Security Council, the IRGC and the Interior Ministry agree on the harsh suppression of the protests. All of them have threatened the protesters and called them "thugs." This unanimity can indicate fear among officials in the face of a substantial threat against the Islamic Republic. As if they are saying this is a crisis that threatens the Islamic Republic's existence.

Slogans; 'No Islamic Republic'

In tens of Iranian cities, economically and even ideologically motivated protests led to a widespread slogans such as "We do not want the Islamic Republic."

Other slogans in the November 2019 protests include: "Our silly leader is a stigma for us", "Death to the dictator", “Dictator, Leave the country", "Death to Khamenei". The slogans are now targeting the essence of the regime and the demonstrators have set fire to posters of Khamenei or symbols associated with him and his regime.

Protesters have set fire to a bank in Isfahan. November 17, 2019
Protesters have set fire to a bank in Isfahan. November 17, 2019

Some slogans are direct responses to his comment when he called the demonstraters "thugs". People are now more insistent calling on passers-by to join the demonstrations: "Iranians, it's enough, show your will", “Why are you sitting, You are your own savior", and similar slogans that call on drivers to abandon their cars in the middle of the road to stop the traffic as a sign of protest.

There are also slogans that praise Reza Shah Pahlavi the founder of modern Iran, and another one that calls on former crown prince to return to Iran: "Return to Iran, the Shah of Iran." Khamenei for the first time referred to the royal family's influence in his first speech after the new round of protests started on Friday.

On the first day there were quite a few slogans about the rising price of gasoline, but they were quickly replaced by political slogans in the following days.

Generally, the slogans chanted during the November 2019 protests are more targeted, clearer, down to the point and show a lot of anger.

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    Morad Vaisibiame

    Morad Veisi is a journalist and an editor at Radio Farda and is considered an expert in affairs related to Iran's IRGC and the Supreme Leader ayatollah Ali Khamenei.