The demonstrations of anger against the local authorities after the deadly collapse of a building in the southwest of Iran are part of a general movement of questioning the Islamic Republic, according to experts.
Demonstrations have been sweeping the country for several weeks, especially after the end of government subsidies for flour and the increase in the prices of oil or dairy products in a context of great economic difficulties due to US sanctions.
The collapse on May 23 of a building under construction in Abadan, one of the main cities in the province of Jozestan (southwest), generated a new wave of indignation. At least 36 people died, according to the latest balance.
The Iranian Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urged that those responsible for this tragedy be prosecuted and punished. The regional justice reported the arrest of 13 people, including the mayor of Abadan and two predecessors in office, accused of being “responsible” for the drama.
However, criticism is directed at all authorities, including Ayatollah Khamenei, as evidenced by the slogans directed against the Supreme Guide, according to images of demonstrations circulating on social networks.
The protest brings together “middle and lower classes”, hit by a general impoverishment that affects their “daily needs”, and who also criticize “the corruption of the regime”, according to Farhad Khosrokhavar, retired director of studies at the School of Higher Studies in social sciences (EHESS) in Paris.
Kasra Aarabi, leading Iran analyst at the Tony Blair Institute, believes that “the demonstrations are not only about the state of the economy but also about the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic.”
The mobilization wins both rural and urban areas and the participation of workers, the popular base of the Islamic Republic, is a source of concern for the regime, he adds.
On Sunday, a day of national mourning for the drama, hundreds of people gathered in Abadan for a remembrance ceremony, shouted slogans to overshadow the speech of a local representative of the Assembly of Experts, a collegiate body in charge of appointing, supervising and eventually dismissing the Supreme Guide, as reported to the Fars press agency.
Others threw the state television camera to the ground and the police urged people “to leave the streets,” the Tasnim agency said.
For more than a week, nightly rallies have been taking place in Abadan and other cities in the province to mourn the victims and demand accountability.
Some activists have reported deaths in demonstrations in mid-May, before the collapse in Abadan, where riot forces have been sent in, who they say used bullets.
“This shows the fragility and instability of the Iranian regime: any incident can provoke massive demonstrations that can be uncontrolled. Thus, the collapse of a building emerges as an existential threat to the system,” says Mahmud Amiry Moghaddam, director of the NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR), based in Oslo.
The protests have even reached the stands of football fans: supporters of Tehran’s Esteglal club shouted “Abadan!” during a recent match at the Azadi stadium in the capital.
In the cultural sphere, several Iranian filmmakers, including the award-winning Mohammad Rasulof, published an open letter urging the security forces to “lay down their arms” and not oppose the anger against “corruption, theft, incompetence and repression”.
And Iranian actress Tsar Amir Ebrahimi, accepting the award for female performance at the Cannes festival on Saturday, declared in Persian: “My heart goes out to the men and women of Abadan.”