How Rouhani can use protests to advance reform

Al-Monitor | : On the fourth day into the protests in Iran, key questions remain unanswered, although some emerging trends are providing important clues as to what might come next.

Having first begun in the northeastern city of Mashhad, the protests have now spread to most Iranian cities. However, major urban centers such as Tehran and Tabriz have not yet seen major demonstrations such as those that took place in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential elections. Thus, in terms of geography, the trend is one of decentralized, provincial protests. Moreover, the actual number of protesters appears limited, though their impact should not be underestimated. For instance, violence, which included the burning of a police vehicle, was reported in the central city of Kashan; still, one account put the number of protesters there on Dec. 30 at merely a few hundred. However, while smaller groups of protesters may not constitute a critical mass, they could nonetheless prove difficult for the authorities to confront.

It is also becoming clear that the key mode of mobilization is the popular smartphone app Telegram, which has some 40 million users in Iran. Al-Monitor has previously closely covered the popularity of Telegram, how the authorities have sought to control its spread and how it has changed Iranian media. In April, the Supreme Council of Cyberspace in Iran required administrators of channels with more than 5,000 followers to register with the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The move followed crackdowns on administrators of Reformist channels ahead of the May 2017 presidential elections. President Hassan Rouhani, allied with the Reformist camp, easily won a second term in those elections.

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