(CNSNews.com) – As an exiled opposition movement prepares to hold its annual “Free Iran” rally in Paris, protests at home by Iranians riled by economic grievances are increasingly featuring slogans condemning the government and expressing frustration at its foreign policy priorities.
Video clips posted on social media in recent days show protestors chanting in Farsi against the clerical regime and some of the policies it has pursued for years, including hostility towards the U.S., support for the Assad regime, and funding of terrorist groups in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
Slogans include “Death to the dictator,” “Down with Rouhani,” “Leave Syria, think about us,” “Our enemy is here, not in the U.S.” and – in a country notorious for “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” chants – “Death to Palestine.”
Thousands of protesters this week shut down Tehran’s historic grand bazaar and security forces used teargas to disperse demonstrators outside the nearby parliament complex.
The state-owned Tasnim news agency linked the protests to Iran’s continuing currency woes, after the rial dropped to a record 90,000 to the U.S. dollar on the unofficial market. Less than three months ago the unregulated exchange rate was 48,000 to the dollar, and last September it stood at around 36,000. Government attempts to stem the slide have been unsuccessful.
Protests over rising prices and economic concerns erupted during the closing days of 2017, spread to hundreds of cities and towns across Iran and faced a regime crackdown that left at least 25 Iranians dead and more than 4,000 detained.
Further protests of various kinds have occurred sporadically since then, including a nationwide strike by truck drivers last month. This week’s demonstrations in Tehran have been described as the biggest in the capital since 2012.
The exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran characterizes the protests as an anti-regime uprising, and NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi urged merchants and tradesmen to join the protests and young people to show their support.
“The currency crisis, the recession and high prices is the outcome of the policies of the regime that has wasted the assets of the Iranian people, either by spending on domestic repression, nuclear projects, export of terrorism and fundamentalism and warfare in the region, or have been looted by the regime’s corrupt leaders,” Rajavi said.
In Paris this weekend, the NCRI holds its annual rally, which the group says “will present to the world an alternative to the mullahs’ regime for a future free and democratic Iran.”
Among expected attendees are prominent American figures including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former Marine Corps commander Gen. (Ret.) James Conway.
Last year’s rally drew a reported 100,000 people, the NCRI said.
“However, this year’s event, given the domestic situation and the international developments, is unique. The event heralds the dawn of freedom for the people of Iran and an end to the nightmare of spread of Islamic fundamentalism and instability in the region.”
Blaming the US
Meanwhile Tehran’s prosecutor general, Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi said Tuesday several people who had incited the protests had been arrested and would face trial, adding that they were not shopkeepers or merchants.
Tasnim quoted him as accusing the U.S. of plotting to provoke unrest and civil disobedience in Iran.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo late last week posted messages on Twitter highlighting Iran’s economic troubles and blaming the regime.
“Nearly 30% of Iran’s youth are unemployed,” he tweeted on Thursday.
“Iran’s corrupt regime has enriched IRGC, Hizballah and Hamas, and plundered the country’s wealth on proxy wars abroad while Iranian families struggle,” came a day later.
Another Pompeo tweet on Friday noted thousands of arrests since January, and said, “Iranian people deserve respect for their human rights.”
President Trump last month withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, paving the way for a reimposition of sanctions and signaling that the U.S. wants to build a coalition to tackle Tehran’s “malign activities,” including ballistic missiles and support for terrorism.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a speech Tuesday accused the U.S. of using “psychological and economic warfare” in a bid to “break” the Iranian people.
Tehran Times quoted him as saying the Iranian people would never stop defending their “national interests and pride.”
“Hassan Rouhani can blame ‘foreign propaganda’ until he's blue in the face, but the waves of protests filling the streets speak for themselves,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said in a statement Tuesday.
“The Iranian regime is hopelessly corrupt, and it is robbing the Iranian people blind to fund its terrorist escapades,” he said. “The people are now speaking out, and the United States stands with them – as should our European allies.”