Protests broke out in several cities across Iran last week:
The demonstrations began Thursday to oppose high unemployment and rising costs, including a 40 percent jump in the price of eggs. But they swiftly expanded to take on a system many protesters have said is corrupt.
“Down with the dictator!” some demonstrators chanted, as they tore down posters of the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, in central Tehran. Protesters defied police from Kermanshah in the west to the holy city of Qom in the north and Ahvaz southwest of the capital, according to footage uploaded onto social media. Many of the images could not be confirmed.
At least two protesters have been killed so far. The protests obviously show some significant discontent with the regime and economic conditions inside Iran, and frustration with both may have been made worse by unmet rising expectations. Based on initial reports, it appears that there is also some dissatisfaction with the government’s diversion of resources to foreign conflicts rather than using them at home. It remains to be seen how representative these protests are and how enduring they will be.
The key thing that U.S. politicians and policymakers need to keep in mind is that internal protests in Iran are not about us, and they are not an “opportunity” for us to exploit. The U.S. should publicly say as little as possible about the protests except to condemn the use of force against peaceful protesters, and it should not otherwise attempt to insert itself into the situation or interfere. There is not much that the U.S. could practically do in any case, and none of it would be helpful or constructive. The Trump administration in particular has no credibility with Iranians, and any expressions of support it offers are likely both unwanted by and harmful to the intended recipients. The administration cannot ban Iranians from the U.S. at the start of the year, and then suddenly pretend that it respects them and supports their aspirations at the end. It will be a serious error if the Trump administration concludes that the U.S. needs to “make up” for Obama’s handling of the Green movement protests, but after eight years of hawkish myth-making they might do exactly that. It would be far wiser and better for the U.S. and the Iranian people if our government allowed events in Iran to unfold without comment from Washington.