World News

Iran Stages Pro-Government Rallies After Days of Unrest

Posted January 3, 2018 9:43 a.m. EST

TEHRAN, Iran — Orchestrated, pro-government rallies were held throughout Iran on Wednesday, after nearly a week of protests over the ailing economy and the suppression of individual rights.

The demonstrations received copious coverage in the Iranian state media, apparently in an effort to demonstrate the clerical government’s depth of support, after 21 people were killed and hundreds were arrested as unrest erupted in provincial areas and, to a lesser extent, in Tehran.

Demonstrators waved Iranian flags and photographs of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Many carried placards saying “Death to seditionists” and chanted slogans like, “We offer the blood in our veins to our leader.”

Anti-government demonstrations started Thursday in the city of Mashhad and quickly spread to other parts of the country. Dissatisfaction is running high over rampant unemployment, inflation and the general state of the economy, but also about the lack of freedoms in entertainment and personal matters.

In Isfahan, a central city, pro-government demonstrators marched and shouted slogans against the United States, which Khamenei blamed on Tuesday, with other “enemies of Iran,” for instigating the protests.

“In recent events, enemies of #Iran have allied & used the various means they possess, including money, weapons, politics &intelligence services, to trouble the Islamic Republic,” he said on Twitter. “The enemy is always looking for an opportunity & any crevice to infiltrate &strike the Iranian nation.”

Khamenei has been a principal target of the anti-government demonstrators, who have torn down posters bearing his portrait and demanded his removal from power. That is a particularly dangerous challenge under the Iranian political system, in which the supreme leader is considered nearly sacred, the official representative of God on earth.

Iran’s state-run English-language broadcaster, Press TV, carried Wednesday’s pro-government rallies live Wednesday, proclaiming that they were intended to “protest the violence that has taken place over the last few nights in cities.”

The anti-government demonstrations have surprised Iran’s establishment, which has been slow to respond. Organizing mass rallies with exhortations and various inducements is a favorite tactic, a tried-and-true method to bolster the state’s legitimacy.

Anti-government demonstrations flared in several cities Wednesday, videos posted on social media seemed to show. In Khomeynishahr, where a 13-year-old boy was killed on Monday, protesters set fire to a seminary; demonstrations were also reported in Shiraz, Kazerun, Lenjan and Rasht.

In the six days since the protests broke out, demonstrators have appeared in more than 80 cities, human rights advocates say, but Tehran has by and large been an exception and anti-government protesters have been frustrated by the lack of a large response there.

“I wanted to protest on Tuesday, and while opposition channels said people had gathered, I arrived at Vali-e Asr Square, and there was no one,” said Farhad, 33, a cybersecurity expert, who asked that his surname not be mentioned for safety reasons. “There were lots of police, however.”