The Evolution of Civilian Protests in Iran
As the conditions in Iran continue to worsen, the people of Iran are standing up for their rights despite the violence threatened by the government
Sharon B.
February 2022

The Islamic Republic of Iran is not new to regular protests from civilians. The country’s reform movement has been shaped by street power as people voice discontent and push for incremental change in government policy. However, in the past few years, there has been an increase in both the frequency and intensity of protests as their focus shifts from reform to revolution.

The government response to protests over the years has been to deploy security forces to intimidate the protestors. These forces often use tear gas, batons and live ammunition to disperse the crowds. Blocking the internet is also a major tactic utilized to reduce and impede the organization of the protests. Protestors are arrested and many go missing while being treated in hospitals. However, the careful attitude that protestors adopted in fear of the brutal actions of the regime seems to have been discarded as more unsatisfied citizens fiercely challenge the government and IRGC’s oppression.

The main structural change to civilian protests was observed in 2017, when the usual calls for reform began to be replaced with more calls for the ousting of the supreme leader and an end to the clerical leadership. There seems to be a spirit of fearlessness in the republic, with citizens displaying courage despite the very present threat to their lives. The protests have also begun to garner the attention of civil servants, business people, university students, writers, artists, academics and more.

One of the largest protests in Iran took place in 2019, sparked by an increase in fuel prices. Iran experienced its deadliest political protest in 40 years, which quickly turned into calls for the end of the current leadership. The government responded to the protests like it has in the past, with a major crackdown that left at least 180 dead. The IRGC hid the bodies of protestors, making it difficult to determine the death toll and allowing the regime to under report the death count. However, Iranians were back on the streets not long after, following the IRGC admitting to taking down Ukrainian flight 752. The protestors chanted “death to the liars”, “Commander-in-chief [Ali Khamenei] resign, resign.” “Death to the supreme leader, all these years of crimes.”

The protests reveal one major fact: the incredibly high levels of frustration with Iran’s leaders, accompanied by the extreme economic and political challenges in the nation have left the Iranian people with an unstoppable desire for change. Most of the protests are concentrated in neighborhoods and cities populated by low-income and working-class families. This implies that the uprising is developing in the otherwise historically loyal base of Iran’s post-revolutionary regime. The civilians who are embittered and overwhelmed are directing their hostility toward the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Calls and slogans such as “Death to the dictator” have become commonplace in protests across the country, despite the tough government response.

Each time the government brutally fights back against the protestors, the anti-regime sentiments grow exponentially. However, the key motivations for the protests have been political, social and economic grievances, such as the failure of the JCPoA.

The plan promised a better life for Iranians and an end to international isolation. Among the promises of the plan were also political and social freedoms and economic empowerment.

Iranians were hopeful and counted on improved livelihoods, but the plan fell short. Rouhani failed to deliver as the growth of Iran’s GDP had no benefit to the common citizens. Foreign investments were awarded to companies controlled by the state, IRGC and supreme leader, with average Iranians unable to earn any dividends. Iran also continued to pump billions worth of investment into the war against the Syrian people led by Bashar al-Assad.

The most recent protests in Iran were in 2021, caused by water shortage due to drought and continual governmental neglect. The protests, which began in Khuzestan province, spread across various cities including Tehran, Karaj and Tabriz. The growing frustration with the regime is evident. The sanctions, incompetent government, corruption, mismanagement and isolation from the rest of the world is no longer tolerable to Iranians. Wealthy citizens and government officials flourish with their tax money as the average citizen suffers.

The government’s severe responses are no longer holding people back as more and more take to the streets to demand better treatment, with no end in sight. It is clear that these protests will keep happening unless the government acts to meet the needs of its citizens and respond to their concerns.

Leaks from the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Government Agencies