After a week of nationwide street rallies, the Iranian regime has declared victory over anti-government protests against poverty, rising prices, and high unemployment. The regime has detained at least 450 people and at least 21 have died.

In 2009, an estimated two million Iranians protested against election fraud. As part of the Arab Spring two years later, protesters took to the streets again, chanting, “Obama, Obama, come help us.”

While this round was much smaller in size — the official estimate from Iranian paramilitaries is 15,000 — they are not correspondingly insignificant. According to Arash Aramesh, a national security analyst who appears frequently on U.S. cable news, the differences in protesters’ number, age, and class speak to a different, but much deeper-rooted discontent with the Iranian government.

“This was not just an urban middle class uprising protesting the result of a fraudulent election. This was an uprising by the poor, joined by the middle class, with chants and slogans against economic inequality, poverty, and unemployment,” he said. “For 39 years the regime in Tehran has relied on the downtrodden, the rural poor, as their base of support. Even a few hundred or a few thousand is a huge red flag."

The Iranian economy is recovering, but this is part of the government’s problem: the windfall from recovering oil prices and nuclear deal sanctions relief is not making its way to regular families. Sanctions relief has led to explosive GDP growth — 12 per cent in 2016. Even so, real household budgets have fallen 15 per cent over the last decade.

Hindering this recovery is the corruption that permeates the Iranian system. In 2011, the chairman of the country’s first national bank fled to Canada after reportedly embezzling 2.6 billion dollars. (He is reportedly living in Toronto while remaining wanted by Interpol; the Canadian government has formally declined to help because Canada and Iran do not have a bilateral extradition treaty).

Protesters also took aim at Iran’s regional ambitions. “Iran got all this money from sanctions relief, and the government is spending it in Syria, in Lebanon, in Yemen, while there are Iranians starving to death,” Aramesh said. “There’s a slogan I heard — it rhymes in Farsi — ‘No to Lebanon, no to Gaza, pay attention to Iran.’ It goes directly against the ideological message of the regime and international Islamist movement.”

Female protesters have furnished the protest’s most indelible images: one taking off her hijab; another with her fist raised in a cloud of tear gas. “Be men, join us,” one protester called to the crowd. “I as a woman will stand in front and protect you. Come represent your country.”

So far, the U.S. policy response has been muted. Yesterday, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted approvingly about the protests, promising support “at the appropriate time.”

“If the president really wants to do something to support Iranian protesters, I’d like for him to provide some bite to his bark,” Aramesh said — disrupting Iranian state media broadcasts, demanding an open Internet for services like Google and Telegram, and forcefully condemning violence against peaceful protesters.

“Let’s face it: Donald Trump is neither respected nor popular in Iran,” he said. “No one is on the streets asking for his help. But even a broken clock is right twice a day.”

—with files from Ed Ngai

Congratulations on an insightful article! You have gathered disparate pieces of information into an understandable whole.

I was particularly interested to see the unhappiness people expressed about Iranian support of military groups in other countries. That's the same problem which the US faces because of its imperialism.

A good story that makes more sense than some of the other mainstream articles. But it would be interesting to know if the Iranian banker also brought the 2.5 billion he fleeced from the Iranian people into Canada. We are increasingly becoming a place where international criminals park their ill gotten cash.

And perhaps, push up our housing costs in the most desirable cities, as they purchase safe houses for themselves in a country too naive to know how some of these global fortunes have been accumulated.

Everywhere, it seems the working poor suffer and find themselves squeezed out of a liveable life...while the corrupt few live high.

Thanks for this article. I'm so tired of the msm willingness to play the imperialist game...where Iran is the problem, and Saudi Arabian aggression in places like Yeman a thing of such little consequence that most media hasn't covered that tragedy, unfolding for months now, hardly at all.

The fact is poverty....hunger....and poor economic prospects for the majority of citizens, should be the issues we pay attention to. Of course, when governments are busy playing imperialistic war games, the real economy suffers. But as much as our hearts may be with those brave women, asking that men join them to defend Iran....the government won't be able to focus on domestic issues and needs as long as the imperialistic west, led by ideological buffoons like DT, continues to foment conflict.

North Korea is another example. The people go hungry there quite often, but economic sanction is the west's only solution to the government policies of that country. And as for diplomacy, unless the country agrees to U.S. terms and makes itself easy to invade (remember how they forced Saddam to surrender his weapons before they invaded Iraq?) we aren't talking.

The protests in Iran take great courage, as government crack downs there can be deadly. But shame on the west, where for the most part, we don't even cover the protests accurately, but instead are complicit in American style reporting...........using the demonstrations to justify our own ideological take on reality.

And thank you to the National Observer....who took the time to actually find out what the discontent was all about. Iran has suffered far too much in the 20th C. , because of the imperialist policies of the west, and too many Canadians know too little about that history and the poverty and inequality it has helped to create.