International Law Middle East

Iran Protests Explained: 3 Things You Should Know

The current protests in Iran are the most noteworthy upheaval in almost a decade, since the Green Revolution of 2009, when people took to the streets to protest the results of the 2009 presidential election.

1. Why are they protesting?

The current unrest, which has resulted in more than 20 deaths and hundreds of arrests, allegedly started over economic concerns. Unemployment, inflation and the prices of food and basic necessities are at a high. People are currently protesting all over Iran.

The protests have recently become broader in scope. People are now demonstrating against corruption in the government and against the clerical leaders of the country.

While these events give us hope of a brighter future for Iran and its people, it is too early to predict what – if any – effects this will have. A legitimate concern is that there does not appear to be any clear leader or group organizing the protests. Unorganized demonstrations, as you may assume, are usually not too effective. 

2. How have local authorities and the international community reacted?

At the beginning, the protests seemed to be directed at President Rouhani, a so-called “moderate.” He has been the President since 2013 (but, as explained below, doesn’t hold much power in comparison to the clerics). Rouhani, in a surprising move, defended people’s right to protest.

Perhaps a first in the regime’s history, people are now also demonstrating against the religious leaders. Iran’s Supreme (religious) Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, blamed the West and the “enemies” of Iran as responsible for these events.

President Trump and the U.S. government have expressed support for the protestors and criticized Obama for ignoring the demonstrators of the Green Revolution back in 2009. 

3. Brief description of Iran’s current government:

 Iran, as a theocracy, is ruled by religious clerics. At the top of the ladder you have the Ayatollah, the “Supreme Leader.” He is a dictator, as he was not democratically elected. He is the only one who can declare war and he appoints the leaders of the judiciary. Consequently, the Supreme Leader largely controls the judicial branch.

The President is in charge of economic policies. He is “democratically” elected. However, the Council of Guardians can veto any presidential candidate. Hence, the Council of Guardian has the last word on who ends up running in the presidential elections.

The Council of Guardians is composed of twelve jurists: six appointed by the Supreme Leader and six recommended by the leader of the judiciary. These “guardians” have the power to interpret the Constitution and can veto any laws passed by Parliament.

Parliament members are democratically elected but the veto power held by the Council of Guardians essentially undermines this “democracy.”


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