The citizens’ anger that fueled the nationwide Iran demonstrations will continue to linger and could erupt again at any time despite the protests winding down at the moment, experts say.
Suzanne Maloney, deputy director of the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution, called the recent rallies “one of the most serious crises Iran has faced in the past 25 years,” Euronews reported.
The mass display of dissent, which resulted in at least 21 deaths and more than 3,700 arrests, appeared to be leaderless and spread without the impetus of any particular opposition group, which is significant, according to Maloney.
“We now see that Iranians are willing to take profound risks to challenge the regime directly in a way we have not seen in years,” the expert said.
Although some have claimed the initial protests may have been initiated by hardline enemies of Rouhani, who is considered a moderate, their proliferation to dozens of cities including Tehran appeared entirely spontaneous.
Many of the activists appeared to be young, disenfranchised working-class Iranians, giving the uprising a wholly different tenor to the Green Movement of 2009, which saw millions take to the streets and was driven by the middle classes before it was crushed.
Also, many ordinary Iranians feel that the economic benefits they were promised following the U.S.-backed nuclear deal of 2015 failed to trickle down into their pockets. Alongside high youth unemployment and inflation, this seems to be one of the main drivers of the unrest.
“The Iranian government dodged a bullet, thus far. Now it’s a race against time for the government,” said Holly Dagres, a Middle East analyst and curator of The Iranist newsletter. “Very real grievances remain and they will need to be addressed in real-world terms. If they don’t, expect protests to flare up again and who knows what that will lead to.”
Both Rouhani and Khamenei have acknowledged the protesters’ right to be heard. The latter, the figurehead of the country’s conservative clerical elite, even conceded: “We must listen, we must hear. We must provide answers within our means,” according to Reuters.
But the supreme leader also blamed the U.S. and its arch regional enemy, Saudi Arabia, for helping foment the protests’ most violent aspects. And many Western analysts say that the regime — both moderates and hardliners — need to back up their words if they are to appease their simmering population in the long term.
“Without addressing the main drivers of these protests, the Iranian leaders are buying time until the next one,” said Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, a non-profit organization working to prevent wars.
Siavush Randjbar-Daemi, a lecturer in Iranian history at Britain’s University of Manchester, predicted “a very, very testing next few months” for the regime.
“On the one hand it has succeeded in preventing these protests getting out of hand and contained them to a great extent and they did not achieve critical mass in terms of numbers,” Randjbar-Daemi said. “However, I do not think the feeling of dissent toward the regime and level of disgust for the political and economic situation has gone away.”