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How Rouhani can use protests to advance reform

Key questions about the protests in Iran remain unanswered, but that does not stop President Hassan Rouhani from being able to seize on the demonstrations to advance his agenda.
Iranian students scuffle with police at the University of Tehran during a demonstration driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017. 
Students protested in a third day of demonstrations, videos on social media showed, but were outnumbered by counter-demonstrators.  / AFP PHOTO / STR        (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

On the fourth day into the protests in Iran, key questions remain unanswered, although some emerging trends are providing important clues as to what might come next.

Having first begun in the northeastern city of Mashhad, the protests have now spread to most Iranian cities. However, major urban centers such as Tehran and Tabriz have not yet seen major demonstrations such as those that took place in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential elections. Thus, in terms of geography, the trend is one of decentralized, provincial protests. Moreover, the actual number of protesters appears limited, though their impact should not be underestimated. For instance, violence, which included the burning of a police vehicle, was reported in the central city of Kashan; still, one account put the number of protesters there on Dec. 30 at merely a few hundred. However, while smaller groups of protesters may not constitute a critical mass, they could nonetheless prove difficult for the authorities to confront.

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