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On December 28, 2017, protests began in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city, and quickly spread to other cities throughout the country. Demonstrators have expressed a variety of grievances, but most seem to be about economic conditions such as rising prices, poverty, and unemployment. Some of the rhetoric is critical of the Islamic Republic and its leadership.
To understand the upheaval in Iran and how the international community can respond, the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings hosted a discussion today featuring journalist and filmmaker Maziar Bahari, author of “Then They Came for Me,” and Suzanne Maloney, deputy director of Foreign Policy at Brookings and a Brookings senior fellow. Susan Glasser, chief international affairs columnist at Politico, moderated the discussion.
Below are video highlights of the conversation. Visit the event’s web page for full video, audio, and a transcript.
WHAT IS HAPPENING IN IRAN?
Bahari summarized what has been happening since December 28, noting that there is “circumstantial evidence” that the first protest in Mashhad may have been organized by government hardliners to protest Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s economic policies.
“So it’s a very confusing picture that we see coming out of Iran,” Bahari said, “but it shows that there is a fertile ground for protest.”
Maloney offered her analysis of the political context, focusing on the key differences with the massive “Green Movement” rallies that arose after the controversial election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. She noted that unlike in 2009, the current demonstrations lack “an obvious figurehead” and “obvious organization,” but that starting on December 28, a “contagion effect”—the extremely rapid spread of demonstrations to other cities—has been evident.
Bahari also called attention to the fact that the protests today do not have “a clear objective,” and that the Iranian government will play on peoples’ “fear of insecurity” in its response.