Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have deployed forces to three provinces to put down anti-government unrest after six days of protests that have rattled the clerical leadership and left 21 people dead.
The protests, which began last week over economic hardships suffered by the young and working class, have evolved into a rising against the powers and privileges of a remote elite, especially supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The unrest continued to draw sharply varied responses internationally, with Europeans expressing unease at the delighted reaction by U.S. and Israeli leaders to the display of opposition to Iran’s clerical establishment.
Defying threats from the judiciary of execution if convicted of rioting, protests resumed after nightfall with hundreds hitting the streets of Malayer in Hamadan province chanting: “People are begging, the supreme leader is acting like God!”
Videos carried by social media showed protesters in the northern town of Nowshahr shouting “death to the dictator”.
In a sign of official concern about the resilience of the protests, the Revolutionary Guards commander, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said he had dispatched forces to Hamadan, Isfahan and Lorestan provinces to tackle “the new sedition”.
Most of the casualties among protesters have occurred in those regions of the sprawling Islamic Republic.
The Revolutionary Guards, the sword and shield of Iran’s Shi’ite theocracy, were instrumental in suppressing an uprising over alleged election fraud in 2009 in which dozens of mainly middle-class protesters were killed.
In Washington, a senior Trump administration official said the United States aimed to collect “actionable information” that could allow it to pursue sanctions against Iranian individuals and organisations involved in the crackdown.
But in Paris, President Emmanuel Macron said the tone of comments from the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia was “almost one that would lead us to war … a deliberate strategy for some,” and stressed the importance of keeping a dialogue with Tehran.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel expressed concern about the situation escalating. “What we urgently advise against is the attempt to abuse this internal Iranian conflict … internationally. That is not going to ease the situation any way,” he said.
Cover image: Iranian pro-government supporters march during the funeral of a young member of the Revolutionary Guards, Sajjad Shahsanai, in the city of Najafabad, west of Isfahan, on January 3, 2018.