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What's Happened Since Protests Started In Iran

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

This week, families commemorated the dead in Iran at the end of a traditional mourning period 40 days after hundreds of people were killed by security forces in November protests. That's when thousands of people took to the streets in response to a drastic cut in fuel subsidies. The memorials were met with beefed up security and reports of crackdowns to quell any calls for renewed protests.

Mehrzad Boroujerdi, director of Virginia Tech's School of Public and International Affairs, is on the line with us to explain what's going on. Welcome.

MEHRZAD BOROUJERDI: Thank you for having me.

FADEL: So can you help us understand what's happened since those protests and crackdowns back in November? Did they just stop?

BOROUJERDI: Well, the protests haven't stopped. But the aftershocks of it are still being felt as the citizenry comes to terms with exactly what transpired, meaning the series of arrest and the killings that have taken place.

FADEL: How much do we actually know about the crackdowns that are going on, the arrests that are going on inside Iran?

BOROUJERDI: You know, after the government restored internet access, you know, we have been flooded by reports coming out of Iran, testimonials on the part of families, who are, you know, giving an account of what really has transpired.

My sense is that, you know, the government has overcome the biggest challenge, which was the actual, you know, young men in the streets that were protesting. But the aftershocks are still there. And frankly, it's going to have a series of ramifications. Perhaps most important, it might translate into a low turnout on the part of the citizenry for the February 21 parliamentary election.

FADEL: And what are some of the other ramifications? That sounds like people's loss of confidence in the system. What else?

BOROUJERDI: So we learned, for example, that there are certain limits and liabilities for this type of leaderless protest movements that happened in Iran. We learned that the Iranian middle class was not necessarily ready to join what some have been labeling the poor people's protest, particularly as it turned violent. It was also interesting to me, as an observer of Iranian politics, that the government really did not make any effort to try to convince the citizenry of the necessity of undertaking such measures.

FADEL: At the time that the protest started in November - I know it's been 40 days. People were burying their dead this week under intense security crackdowns. But those protests came at a time that we were seeing protests in Chile, in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Sudan, in Hong Kong - still ongoing now. What's different about Iran's demonstrations? And is it right to lump them together?

BOROUJERDI: I don't quite believe so, at least in the case of what's happening in Iran, in Iraq and Lebanon. I see, again, a common denominator is at work here. The citizenry coming and asking for more from their rulers is really what is at stake here. And in - at least in Iran and in Iraq, we see that the government has, for a variety of reasons, seemed to have abandoned this position of, you know, whether they could really convince the citizenry of the necessity of measures that they have undertaken.

FADEL: It feels like you're saying they gave up on getting by in.

BOROUJERDI: Absolutely. I think, you know, if we consider trust as a political capital, I believe what really was the victims that, you know, a sense of trust between the citizenry and their - and the government.

FADEL: You know, as we're speaking, there are still reports of further arrests and crackdowns. And it's happening as the country prepares to celebrate the 41st anniversary of the Islamic revolution at a time where the country is quite young. The median age is around 30. So a lot of Iranians probably don't even remember that revolution that brought this current government. How do people look at that commemoration that's coming up and what's been happening in the last couple months?

BOROUJERDI: Right. So I think, you know, the timing is really bad for the government because I think that the protests have really sort of dampened the enthusiasm that the government wants to see from the citizenry. And in my view, they are fighting demography.

As you mentioned, you have a young population. But in addition to that, I will add two other qualities to that population. Not only it is young, but it's also for the first time in Iran's history overwhelmingly educated and overwhelmingly urban. I think this makes for some, you know, worrying nights if I was in the shoes of the Iranian supreme leader.

FADEL: Mehrzad Boroujerdi, director of Virginia Tech's School of Public and International Affairs, thank you so much for joining us.

BOROUJERDI: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.