Khamenei Losing His Grip on Iran

Protesters In Iran Denounce Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

NPR

January 1, 20185:03 AM ET

Rachel Martin talks to journalist Ali Noorani, who’s with Agence France-Presse, for the latest from Iran, where violent protests have broken out. At least four protesters have been killed.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The rare sound of political dissent in Iran. Protesters there in Tehran chanting, shame on you. They’ve been on the streets for five days now. Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, issued a statement acknowledging the economic grievances that appear to be spurring these protests. But some are actually demanding political change, as well, going so far as to denounce Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. Ali Noorani joins us now. He’s a reporter with AFP, and he joins us on Skype. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

ALI NOORANI: Hi. Thank you.

MARTIN: Describe what it’s like in Tehran today.

NOORANI: So far, it’s calm. The protesters haven’t started yet. They will start later. If they start, they will start later in the evening, as with previous days. But things are calm for now.

MARTIN: Although things have not been calm. These protests have turned deadly in the last couple of days. How is President Rouhani responding?

NOORANI: President Rouhani spoke for the first time on day four in reaction to these protests. And he did say that criticism is a right of people. But he said that there’s a difference between damaging public property and criticism. And he said that Iran and the government will not tolerate disruption of public order and damaging public properties.

MARTIN: What is at the root of these protests?

NOORANI: The root cause is not really clear still. But it did start with the platform of economic problems in the northeast of the country in Mashhad Iran’s second city. It started with people protesting the high prices and cost of living, unemployment, poverty. And at first, many said, including government officials – said that maybe the conservatives or Rouhani’s opponents are behind this. But it turned out of control soon. And it’s spread across the country.

MARTIN: I mean, President Rouhani kind of sold the Iran nuclear deal as this way to improve Iran’s economy, right? But, clearly, you’re suggesting that Iranians are feeling any benefit from that economic opening.

NOORANI: Yeah. Iranians on the street – yeah, they are not really feeling it on the table. But Iran’s economy has improved. The inflation has been tamed from over 40 percent to single digit. And there has been some international investment. But, indeed, it hasn’t been as much as expected. The expectation is very, very high for the people. And, no, yeah, the people have not felt it in their own lives.

MARTIN: So we remember the protests that happened in Iran back in 2009. This was the so-called Green Revolution. Those protests were huge, got big attention from around the world. But it didn’t change much in Iran. Are these protests destined for that same fate?

NOORANI: Yes. It’s probably – the protests were really a surprise, but these are much smaller compared to 2009. And they were suppressed. And, probably, these ones will be suppressed, as they have turned to political and against the regime. And there are pro-regime protests popping up around the country. So the government will probably suppress it.

MARTIN: Ali Noorani, a journalist with AFP, joined us from Tehran. Thank you.

NOORANI: Thank you.

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