Iran Protests: President Rouhani Sides With Young Protesters Over Aging Hard-Liners

President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, speaks during a Cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran. Getty Images

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani spoke out against his country's hard-liners on Monday, saying the young protesters who took to the streets over the past 10 days want more than the country's conservative elites can offer.

"It would be a misrepresentation [of the protests] and also an insult to Iranian people to say [the protesters] only had economic demands," Rouhani said, according to the Tasnim news agency. "One cannot force one's lifestyle on the future generations…The problem is that we want two generations after us to live the way we like them to," he continued. The demonstrators have political and social demands, too.

In the most extensive comments since the protests began, Rouhani positioned himself firmly on the side of the young, working-class individuals who have been protesting in cities across the country since December 28, 2017.

The demonstrations are the biggest since 2009, when Iranians spoke out against what some called a stolen election. Over the past 10 days, the protests that began after a sharp uptick in the price of eggs turned into a rebellion against the country's Islamic leadership. As people chant slogans against Iran's religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, politicians like Rouhani are working to ensure they are not blamed for the unrest.

"Over the past week, politicians from all sides of Iran's establishment have both claimed to support the protesters' grievances while also accusing their political opponents to be the source of the problems," Kevan Harris, an Iran expert at UCLA, told Newsweek in an email on Monday.

"Protests in Iran, such as in 2009, tend to result in a reshuffling of these politicians' alliances and associations as they maneuver against each other, and a reshuffling is bound to happen again."

President of Iran Hassan Rouhani speaks during a Cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran. Getty Images

The main question is whether political jockeying can successfully address the grievances of citizens who want major social and political reforms, and who want an end to corruption, Harris said.

The demonstrations exacerbated the country's already deep political divides. Some said the protesters' economic grievances were highlighted when Rouhani leaked a proposed government budget last month. It said cash subsidies for the poor would be slashed and fuel prices would rise, while the country spends billions on foreign policy endeavors in the Middle East.

Some of Rouhani's supporters claimed the protests were originally organized by the hard-liners to discredit the government, saying the conservatives attempted to frame the protests to prove Rouhani's economic policies failed the country.

"President Rouhani is fully aware that parts of the recent unrest were instigated by his political opponents. So he will now hit back by putting the blame [for the protesters' grievances] on state entities beyond his own reach," Adnan Tabatabai, an Iran analyst, told Newsweek. "By doing that, he tries to divert the anger of people onto other figures."

An Iranian woman attends a pro-government rally in Iran. Getty Images

Others said Rouhani's comments are meaningless unless he calls for more decisive moves, such as releasing the hundreds of demonstrators who have been imprisoned since the protests began.

"Even though Rouhani mildly touched on some of the issues that people are asking for, equal opportunities for all and that everyone should pay taxes…he failed to come up with more comprehensive solutions," Omid Memarian, an Iran analyst, told Newsweek.

"Instead, he criticized the other side without naming anyone. Same old same old. People want action."