Will Iran heed the lessons from history?

The ongoing protests in Iran began in Mashhad not Tehran, which is a highly significant factor when considering the nature of the protests; their primary causes, and their possible trajectory. Traditionally, protests in Iran begin in the capital, Tehran, led by the upper middle classes, the main driving force of all political transformations Iran has witnessed in the past several decades.

Such transformations include the revolution that overthrew the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1979, which began as a national movement before turning into an Islamic revolution.

Ultimately, the clerics emerged as the most powerful group in 1979, largely due to organisation and the dominating presence of Ayatollah Khomeini who, at least in the first stage of the revolution, was able to contain the differences between competing powers, which were many and varied.

Current protests appear to have ignited spontaneously among disgruntled sections of Iranian society. Many citizens are feeling aggrieved at the increasing problems of making ends meet.

Such economic pressures are evident in the soaring unemployment rate of around 12% in urban areas, rising to as much as 60% in some provinces that receive only scant government attention. To compound the problem, inflation has increased to more than 8%, according to official estimates, making the quality of life for many families untenable.

Deteriorating living conditions have coincided with the growing dominance of the military which, with its various branches, is believed to account for between 25 to 40 per cent of the budget and there is mounting pressure on President Hassan Rouhani to increase financial allocations to the sector in the next budget. The Revolutionary Guard currently receive about $7.5 billion annually, in addition to other generous financial allocations for the regular army and the Basij forces.

Current protests have continued to gather momentum, spreading through Iranian society both both horizontally and vertically.

Horizontally, demonstrations spread from Mashhad to other provinces, such as Kermanshah, Ahvaz, Bandar Abbas, Kurdistan, Khorramabad, Najafabad, Hamadan, Isfahan, and Tabriz before reaching Tehran. Vertically, they have evolved from mere protests against deplorable living conditions to demonstrations with an undeniable political dimension.

Demands have been broadened to put pressure on the ruling regime to stop supporting Iran's allies abroad, whether political--as is...

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