Strength of Iran protests uncertain after a week of unrest

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Ever since the Islamic Republic was founded in 1979, the sight of government-supported mass gatherings to commemorate the revolution or protests against Zionism or United States foreign policy has become a regular occurrence.

Among the slickly produced signs carried by supporters at Wednesday's pro-government rallies were ones targeting Israel, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Tuesday blamed the protests on meddling by "enemies of Iran".

Fars also said protests on Friday struck Qom, a city that is the world's foremost centre for Shiite Islamic scholarship and home to a major Shiite shrine.

"So far, security forces have not tried to prevent the demonstrations. but this will change if [Khamenei] calls for an end to the street protests and demonstrators defy his call", said one former Iranian official from the reformist camp.

The protesters have little chance of toppling the clerical leaders, who appear to be retaining control of the military, police and security forces and have no compunction about using them, according to one US official following the developments.

Iranian state media yesterday aired pro-government demonstrations in cities across the country after a week of protests and unrest over the nation's poor economy - a move apparently seeking to calm nerves amid clashes that have killed 21 people.

The US stance to the unrest, which has included a string of tweets from President Donald Trump, has drawn an angry response from the Iranian leadership. Rouhani has dismissed Trump's criticisms, while many Iranians remain angry with the American president over his travel bans barring them from getting USA visas, as well as his refusal to re-certify the nuclear deal. Mohammed Reza Shah, who ruled the country until 1979, was a staunch ally of the West who relied on foreign support to shore up his reign.

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The IRGC is a powerful force with ties to the country's supreme leader, and is dedicated to preserving the country's Islamic system.

"Iran is failing at every level despite the awful deal made with them by the Obama administration", Mr Trump tweeted yesterday, referring to the 2015 nuclear pact sealed under his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.

Despite a billion dollars released to Iran by the United States, inflation is worsening and unemployment remains high among young people. Discontent was brewing beneath the surface for a while.

"The reality is the Iran nuclear deal was so ill founded because... by only being a ten-year agreement, it virtually guaranteed that they would develop a nuclear weapon after that ten year period of time", Pence told the Voice of America. Trump's words also make it easy for the Iranian regime to dismiss their protests as American-inspired.

The anti-regime protests in Iran enters in its second week. Experts estimate a smaller, but potentially more widespread turnout than in 2009. Iranian govt should respect their people's rights, including right to express themselves.

Rouhani, elected in 2013, is more exposed. If those reforms were blocked, "it will be clear to the Iranian people where the problem lies, positioning Rouhani as a motor for change rather than a bulwark against it". The city is a conservative bastion and a stronghold of Ebrahim Raisi, a cleric who unsuccessfully challenged President Hassan Rouhani in last year's election.

As the U.S. continues to voice support for those protesting, Dr. Tazmini cautions that "democracy promotion measures created to achieve regime change will only encourage hardliners within the regime".

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