DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — As nationwide protests have shaken Iran over the last week, the Islamic Republic increasingly has blamed its foreign foes for fomenting the unrest.
So far, Tehran has not offered any evidence to support that claim, though Iran’s opponents throughout the Middle East and elsewhere are looking on at the demonstrations with hope they’ll force changes in its theocratic government.
Here’s a look at what’s been said, what’s known and what remains unknown:
SUPREME LEADER AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, in a speech to veterans and their families: “The enemy is waiting for an opportunity, for a crack through which it can infiltrate. Look at the recent days’ incidents. All those who are at odds with the Islamic Republic have utilized various means, including money, weapon, politics and intelligence apparatus, to create problems for the Islamic system, the Islamic Republic and the Islamic Revolution. “
THE FACTS: Protests began Dec. 28 in the northeastern city of Mashhad, sparked by a jump in food prices, and initially focused on economic issues. The U.S. government believes that hard-liners initiated the demonstrations as a means to pressure President Hassan Rouhani, a relatively moderate cleric within Iran’s political system.
The protests then went nationwide, with calls for the overthrow the entire government. They spread to smaller and smaller towns and cities in the Iranian countryside, and peaceful protests also gave way to violent unrest in some places.
Iran on Thursday directly blamed a CIA official for the protests. The Trump administration has denied having any hand in the protests, and the CIA declined to comment. President Donald Trump has thrown moral support to the protesters in tweets and has promised more concrete backing, floating possible new sanctions against Iran if it violates human rights in cracking down. But so far, his administration has taken no steps.
Iranian authorities announced the arrest of a protest leader initially described as European who later was identified as an Iranian dual national. Dual nationalities are not uncommon in Iran, so the arrest would hardly be proof of meddling by foreign powers. However, the Iranian exile group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, supporters of exiled Iranian Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi and other activists abroad have sought to keep up the protests’ momentum by using social media to spread videos and calls for people to join. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, long a hawk on Iran, also has been applauding the protests.
IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, in a tweet: “Iran’s security and stability depend on its own people, who … have the right to vote and to protest. These hard-earned rights will be protected, and infiltrators will not be allowed to sabotage them through violence and destruction.”
THE FACTS: In Iran, protests must receive prior approval from the Interior Ministry, which oversees its police. None of the peaceful protests in Iran this past week appear to have received that permission.
Iran also violently suppressed the 2009 mass protests that followed the disputed re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a crackdown that saw thousands detained, dozens killed and others tortured. The protest movement’s leaders remain under house arrest years later.
Iran does allow some labor strikes or unauthorized demonstrations to take place, like when coal miners angry over the deaths of at least 42 of their colleagues in an explosion in May confronted Rouhani during his presidential re-election campaign. Iran’s government also organized two days of mass demonstrations across the country Wednesday and Thursday as a sign of strength and to reassure those worried about the unrest.
Iranians do vote in elections for president and parliament, but unelected cleric-led bodies vet would-be candidates and bar from running those they don’t approve of. Final say on all matters of state rests with the supreme leader.
IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS GHOLAMALI KHOSHROO, in a letter to the U.N. secretary-general: “Against the backdrop of continuous attempts by previous U.S. administrations to disrupt the course of normal political, social and cultural life in Iran in the past decades, starting with the coup against Iran’s democratically elected prime minister in 1953, the current U.S. administration has crossed every limit in flouting rules and principles of international law governing the civilized conduct of international relations. … The president and vice president of the United States, in their numerous absurd tweets, incited Iranians to engage in disruptive acts.”
THE FACTS: While the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover and hostage crisis colors Americans’ thoughts on Iran, perhaps no event more affects Iranian beliefs about the U.S. than the 1953 coup. The CIA joined the British in fomenting a coup against the elected government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh. Though initially a failure, street protests fanned by the CIA ultimately pushed Mosaddegh out of power and cemented the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The shah, stricken with cancer, abandoned the throne just before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. That 1953 coup still fuels mistrust of the U.S. among Iranians.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have tweeted their support for the protesters, but they have not called for violence or disruptive acts.
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EDITOR’S NOTE _ A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.