Demonstrations in December 2017 across Iran appear to have been sparked by resentment at economic hardship, particularly after the next year’s budget was revealed.
Anger was directed at both Rouhani and at the Supreme Leader Khamanei, and the demonstrations involved young working class Iranians outside Tehran, people who might be expected to support hard-line Islamists.
The demonstrations were much smaller than those over the 2009 election result, however, and present no immediate threat to the Islamic Republic. Whether either the pragmatists or the hard-liners gain most from the events remains to be seen.
The international deal over Iran’s nuclear programme remains at risk. In January President Trump maintained sanctions waivers, allowing the US to continue complying with the deal, but for the last time, he said. The President called on the Europeans and Congress to fix the “flaws” in the deal before the next 90-day review.
Limits on Iran’s programme expire at various points over the next 25 years, and the deal does not cover the Iranian ballistic missile programme or its foreign policy. Opponents of the deal say that these are serious weaknesses, while supporters say that the deal is better than having no limits on Iran’s path to developing a nuclear weapon. Commentators argue that it will be difficult to insert new provisions into the deal since Iran has ruled that out.
Iran’s destabilising actions in its region in pursuit of its struggle for regional supremacy with Saudi Arabia have probably intensified, particularly since the Iranian involvement in the Syrian conflict.
Hizbollah has become increasingly important as a partner in spreading Iranian influence – its intervention in Syria has been very significant. Iran has followed a similar model in training and equipping Shiite militias in Iraq, something which worries observers about that country’s future stability.