There have been anti-government protests in the Iranian capital, Tehran, and other cities after Iranian authorities admitted that they had “involuntarily shot down” a Ukrainian International Airlines plane.
Some of the protesters have been heard shouting slogans against the leadership.
So how strong is the opposition in Iran and what do the protesters want?
Who do they protest against?
Crowds that took to the streets in recent days have concentrated in Tehran and other cities such as Isfahan, and mainly comprise university students and others from the middle class, angry at the deaths of those traveling on the plane.
They have condemned the authorities for not telling the truth initially. But slogans have also been heard against the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei and the Islamic regime.
“Many of them will have met people on that plane, as they are students who can afford to travel abroad,” says Rana Rahimpour of the BBC.
There are also few signs that these protests are centered around a particular personality. “It’s hard to say that there is only one figure at this time that people can join,” says Fatemeh Shams, an Iranian professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
What political opposition is allowed?
Iran’s system allows elections, but political groups have to operate within the strict limits of the Islamic Republic.
In the 2016 parliamentary elections, almost half of the candidates were disqualified by the Iranian Guardian Council, which examines them for their commitment to the Islamic system of Iran.
And for this year’s parliamentary elections, which will be held in February, thousands of potential candidates have been disqualified again, including 90 current legislators.
Candidates from groups opposed to the Islamic Republic, or who want to change the existing system completely, cannot run.
The Council of Guardians can also ban potential presidential candidates and veto any legislation passed by parliament if it is considered to be incompatible with the Islamic constitution and Islamic law of Iran.
Ayatollah Khamenei, which is at the top of Iran’s political power structure, names half of the members of this body.
The Supreme Leader also controls the armed forces and makes decisions on security, defense and important foreign policy issues.
So, in practice, the president and parliament in Iran, even if they support the change, have limited powers.
There are also opposition movements that want greater autonomy for ethnic minorities such as Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis and Azerbaijanis.
Some of these groups, such as the Iranian Kurdistan Democratic Party, are armed and have fought for decades against the Iranian state.
Does the opposition have leaders?
There has been a reform movement in Iran for years, with Mohammad Khatami, the former president, as his decorative figure.
In office from 1997 to 2005, Khatami introduced limited social and economic reforms, and expelled Western countries.
However, more extensive changes were blocked by conservative interests, and Khatami himself has been set aside, with his movements and restricted access to the media.
In 2009, a major challenge for the regime came after a disputed presidential election, won by the uncompromising Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The defeated candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi challenged the result and became leaders of what became known as the Green Movement. Millions took to the streets to demand a new election, but Ayatollah Khamenei insisted that the result was valid.
Hard action against protests
There was a widespread offensive against protesters that year and dozens of opposition supporters were killed.
Many of the main opposition figures were arrested. Mousavi and Karroubi remain under house arrest more than a decade later.
More recently, there were protests in late 2017 and early 2018 over the worsening economic conditions.
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High levels of unemployment in some parts of the country had particularly affected the relatively young population.
The richest middle classes also joined these protests against the management of the economy by the government of President Hassan Rouhani, considered moderate.
Those who participated shouted slogans against the country’s leaders, and heard calls for the restoration of the monarchy, overthrown in 1979.
Protests erupted again in November 2019 after the government announced that it would increase gasoline prices by 50% while struggling to cope with the economic sanctions restored by the US. UU. When he abandoned the nuclear agreement the previous year.
The riots caused a bloody repression by the security forces.
Amnesty International said more than 304 people were killed, but a report from the Reuters news agency put the death toll at 1,500. Iranian authorities dismissed both figures. The Internet shutdown lasted about five days, virtually cutting the country.
A feature of these more recent protests is that they have often been without leaders and fueled by grassroots anger over inflation, unemployment and growing inequality.
However, despite the outbreak of riots, the government has managed to maintain control, using a combination of severe restrictions on opposition figures and repressive actions.
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