Iranian students protest at the University of Tehran during a demonstration driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017. Photo: AFP/STR
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A wave of anti-government protests that have taken place in dozens of Iranian cities for the past four days have the potential to go beyond the Green Movement that shook the pillars of the Islamic Republic for the first time in 2009, the renowned Iranian Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi said.
She said that the protest that began in the western city of Mashhad, but soon spread to more than two dozen cities across the country, is "the starting point of a great movement."
"I do not think these protests will end anytime soon," Ebadi, a lawyer and rights activist who has lived in the United Kingdom since 2009, told the Italian newspaper La Republica.
"It seems that we are witnessing a protesting movement that can be wider than the Green Movement of 2009. I will not be surprised if these protests turn into a greater movement," she said with determination, according to the Farsi service of Radio Free Europe.
Mir-Hossein Mousavi, a moderate leader and former prime minister, and Mahdi Karroubi, another candidate in the 2009 election, are still under house arrest where they have been since the 2009 contested elections that sparked widespread protests on the streets of Iranian cities, notably in Tehran.
The authorities ended the protests with a brutal crackdown, killing tens of people and arresting many.
The primary demand in 2009 was free and fair elections with many carrying placards with the slogan "Where is my vote." Some of the demands of the protesters on the streets now are as radical as a call for a regime change and the ouster of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Ebadi said that the gap between the poor and the rich is increasingly widening in Iran, a major factor driving people to protest.
"In Iran, there is a serious financial crisis," Ebadi said, with many Iranians struggling to make a living despite the country’s nuclear deal more than two years ago that secured relief from sanctions mainly imposed by the United States.
"Corruption has spread across the country," Ebadi added, explaining the socio-economic roots of the protests. The nuclear deal did not yield the results promised to ordinary Iranians by the government, she explained.
Some protesters chanted slogans against Iran's military interventions in the Middle East such as the nearly seven-year-old Syrian civil war and in Gaza, Palestine.
Ebadi said that Iranians citizens who are unemployed and suffering under high inflation and expensive food prices do not want to see their money going elsewhere in the Middle East.
Iranian officials have for long defended their presence in places like Syria and Iraq. They argue that while much of the Middle East has been plagued by war and conflict, their military activities beyond their borders have secured peace and security back home.