How the Iranian regime put down economic protests

ALMOST IMMEDIATELY after the government of Iran switched the internet back on, the stories started coming out. Near the city of Mahshahr alone, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps surrounded, shot and killed 40 to 100 protesters in a marsh, witnesses told the New York Times. Altogether, between 180 and 450 people are thought to have been killed by the government during protests over a rise in the state-controlled price of fuel last month. About 7,000 people were detained out of the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets in all but two of Iran’s 31 provinces. Not since the Islamic revolution in 1979 has the country experienced such deadly unrest.

The regime responded to previous protests with more patience, letting people vent for a few days before rounding up the ringleaders. “This time they shot to kill, not to intimidate,” says an academic from Shahriar, a town where the protests flared. Such was the perceived threat that the regime’s hardliners and pragmatists put aside their rivalries and worked together, unleashing their respective security forces.

Their panic owes much to the make-up of the protesters. Many came from the urban poor, whom the regime calls mostazafin (downtrodden) and considers its base. In 1979 they poured onto the streets to bring down the...

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