State TV: 10 More Dead in Iran Protests

Iranian state television said Monday 10 people were killed overnight during anti-government protests that have emerged in areas across the country since late last week.

The report did not offer additional details to go along with the death toll.

Earlier Monday, the ILNA news agency quoted an Iranian lawmaker as saying two people were shot dead overnight in the southwestern town of Izeh, but that he did not yet know who was responsible for the shootings.

The current unrest began with a relatively small protest this past Thursday in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city, and the main base for the opponents of moderate president Hassan Rouhani, before spreading to other parts of the country.

In his first public response to the protests, Iranian state media quoted Rouhani on Sunday as acknowledging that Iranians have the right to protest and criticize his government. But Rouhani said social unrest and destruction of public property are unacceptable. He also said Trump had “no right” to sympathize with the Iranian people. The Trump administration labels the Iranian government as the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism — a charge Tehran rejects — and issued travel bans that have blocked Iranians from getting U.S. visas.

Stephen Zunes, chairman of Middle East Studies at the University of San Francisco, said the real power in Iran is in the hands of “reactionary clerics” such as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and that reformers like Rouhani are unable to move Iranian society to one that meets the needs of its people.  He told VOA the big question now is whether the protests will have real momentum.

“It appears to have been spontaneous, not very well organized, and while most Iranians want change, generally you do need to have a greater strategic thinking and leadership in order to force major reforms, much less a change of government,” Zunes said.

Timeline of Unrest in Iran

The protests after the Iran’s 2009 elections were prompted by accusations of fraud in the presidential election, and voters demanded the votes be recounted. Those protests had strong leadership from then-presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

Iran’s economy has improved since its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, in which Iran limited its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the end of some international sanctions. Iran now sells its oil on the global market and has signed deals to purchase tens of billions of dollars’ worth of Western aircraft.

But that improvement has not reached the average Iranian. Unemployment remains high, and official inflation has crept up to 10 percent. A recent increase in egg and poultry prices by as much as 40 percent, which a government spokesman has blamed on a cull over avian flu fears, appears to have been the spark for the economic protests.

“The protesters are demanding a better life,” said Hooshang Amirahmadi, founder and president of the American-Iranian Council and a professor of public policy at Rutgers University. “They are saying they want a huge change, they want a radical change. They are not going to leave the streets until they get it.”

Protests have increased in frequency and intensity over past few months because of economic change — prices going up, inflation, banks under pressure, people worried about deposits disappearing, according to Alex Vatanka, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute.

“Rouhani, I think this is a wake-up call for him. Rouhani really has taken the people who voted for him for granted. Nobody really genuinely thought he was a reformist but hoped that he would at least take certain steps to move in that direction. He’s done none of it,” Vatanka said. “In fact, since his re-election in May, he’s turned toward the right. That has just infuriated those reformists who sort of bought the idea that gradual reform in the Islamic Republic is possible.”

But Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior Iran analyst for the Foundation for Defense and Democracies, told VOA he believes the protesters are using anger about the economy as a way to express general grievances over the government.

“What is true is that the Iranian people want accountability, respect, justice. And they want their government to put their interests — national interests — ahead of the narrow, factional or regime interests,” Behnam said.

He also said many Iranians are angered over what they believe is pointless intervention in regional affairs.

“The average Iranian is looking at the political fights it’s picking in the region and saying ‘why do we need that?’ And they’re worried about their basic lot in life — and coming to the reality that this government cannot deliver. That’s why you heard slogans like ‘Not Gaza, Not Lebanon. My life for Iran.'”

VOA’s Carla Babb, Margaret Besheer, Michelle Quinn and Victor Beattie contributed to this report

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA Persian.

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