Iran mobilises supporters for pro-government rallies

Iran mobilises supporters for pro-government rallies
Iran's pre-planned rallies came just days after anti-government protests, which have spread across the country.
3 min read
30 December, 2017

Tens of thousands of Iranian regime supporters marched in cities across the country on Saturday in a show of support for the government after two days of mass protests against Iran's religious rulers.

Thousands of Iranians took to the streets in anti-government rallies on Friday, in what is thought to be the biggest show of public defiance since 2009.

The protests come a day after demonstrations against rising food prices and inflation began in second city Mashhad, with authorities arresting 52 protesters over the unrest.

Initially aimed against high prices, the anti-government protests quickly turned against the Islamic regime as a whole.

On Saturday, state television showed huge crowds of pro-regime supporters gathering in Tehran and Mashhad to mark the anniversary of "the sedition", the last major civil protests following disputed elections in 2009.

The pre-planned rallies came just days after anti-government protests, which had spread from Mashhad on Thursday to numerous towns across the country.

Videos on social media showed hundreds marching through the holy city of Qom on Friday evening, with people chanting "death to the dictator" and "free political prisoners". 

There were even chants in favour of the monarchy toppled by the Islamic revolution of 1979.

Others shouted "not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran" reflecting anger that the government is focusing too much on regional politics rather than tackling domestic problems.

Footage of large-scale protests were shared from the cities of Rasht, Hamedan, Kermanshah, Qazvin and elsewhere, with police responding with water cannons.

Public anger

While state television focused entirely on the pro-government rallies on Saturday, officials nonetheless warned against dismissing the public anger seen in recent days.

"The country is facing serious challenges with unemployment, high prices, corruption, lack of water, social gap, unbalanced distribution of budget," wrote Hesamoddin Ashena, cultural adviser to President Hassan Rouhani, on Twitter.

"People have the right for their voice to be heard."

An Iranian official said on Friday that 52 people had been arrested at the protests in Mashhad for chanting "harsh slogans".

Washington condemned the arrests, warning Tehran that "the world is watching".

"Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime's corruption and its squandering of the nation's wealth to fund terrorism abroad," US President Donald Trump tweeted late Friday.

"Iranian govt should respect their people's rights, including right to express themselves," he wrote.

Since the 2009 protests were ruthlessly put down by the Revolutionary Guards, many middle-class Iranians have abandoned hope of pressing for change from the streets. 

Low-level strikes and demonstrations have continued, however, often on a sector-by-sector basis as bus drivers or factory workers protest against unpaid wages or poor working conditions.

Some of this week's protests were directed against financial scandals linked to unauthorised lending institutions which collapsed with the loss of hundreds of thousands of accounts. 

There has also been anger at welfare cuts and fuel price increases in the latest budget announced earlier this month.

Since taking power in 2013, Rouhani has sought to clean up the banking sector and kick-start the economy, but many say progress has been too slow. 

Although conservatives have fiercely criticised Rouhani for the country's economic failings, they were already moving on Saturday to distinguish economic protests from wider attacks on the regime. 

"The people who are protesting are vigilant and distance themselves from enemies of the system," said Mohsen Rezai, former Revolutionary Guards commander, on his Instagram page.