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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

A voice from Tehran: Iran's leaderless protests hindered as communication links are shut down

The lack of any clear direction in the Iran protests could prove problematic for the would-be revolutionaries

Calls by protesters in Iran for a general strike went unheeded because the government has shut down the internet. EPA/STR
Calls by protesters in Iran for a general strike went unheeded because the government has shut down the internet. EPA/STR

It is almost a week since the protests began in Iran. Already 21 people have died but the protesters show no sign of giving up. Gareth Browne of The National spoke to one of them in Tehran.

"The ongoing protests in Iran are a leaderless movement, a mosaic of small protests. The calls for a general strike are an attempt to bring some direction to the protests. The calls for a national strike were made mostly on social media late on Monday but the government has shut down communications.

"People are going to work in Tehran, the internet is shut down. I just read about it [the strike calls] on Twitter after 5 hours of trying to get a VPN, but nobody knows. I heard the plan was to strike, but since everything is shut down there is no way to plan this kind of stuff, or let everybody know about it.

"Facebook is already blocked in Iran so the most popular social media is Instagram or Telegram, but the government blocked them on Sunday. Most Iranians couldn't get access to them. Then early on Monday, there were interruptions on Twitter and even some TV broadcasts.

"The strikes are a Plan B. We do not know what we are going into the streets for, the protests have no leaders, that's why the strike was called. Many people will not march until they know what they are marching for."

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As the protests approach the first Friday, the chants are as diverse as ever - from "Death to the Dictator" to simple pleas for economic reform - and a common set of demands has yet to emerge.By calling for a strike, the protesters may be trying to link up with the country's national labour movement, which did not happen during the so-called Green Revolution of 2009, when workers largely refused to participate in marches and demonstrations.

Holly Dagres, an Iranian-American analyst warned that a leaderless movement presents risks for the authorities too. “[It] can be problematic for the Iranian government because it’s really hard to point fingers at who to blame, which is what they did during the 2009 post-election protests known as the Green Movement,” she said. “They blamed the Green Movement leaders and eventually in 2011 put them under house arrest. At the same time, a leaderless movement provides an opportunity for President Rouhani to step in and address the grievances.

“It also presents an opportunity for someone to manipulate [the protests] for their own agenda. We’re already seeing that happening with opposition groups outside of Iran like the monarchists and Mujahideen Al Khalq and the National Council of Resistance of Iran. They are using the protests as an excuse to push for regime change in Iran.”