woman with hand held high, surrounded by smoke
FILE - In this Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017 photo made by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran, a university student attends a protest inside Tehran University while a smoke grenade is thrown by Iranian police, in Tehran, Iran. Demonstrations over the country's flagging economy began on Dec. 28 and quickly spread across the country. (AP Photo, File)

The Realities behind Iran’s demonstrations

The protests shaking provincial cities and towns in Iran since December 28 are a new and different phenomenon for the Islamic Republic. Young, politically voiceless people of modest means are apparently frustrated over the economic prospects and inequities they perceive. The Middle East Institute (MEI) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) are pleased to host a discussion providing an inside view of the demonstrations and how they contrast with the “Green Movement” of 2009 or an Iranian “spring” of the like that spread through the Arab world in 2011.


Golnaz Esfandiari
Senior correspondent, RFE/RL
Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent in RFE/RL’s Central Newsroom and editor of the award-winning Persian Letters blog. She was previously chief editor of RFE/RL‘s Persian Service, Radio Farda. Her reporting and analysis on Iran have been cited by The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, The Los Angeles Times, and The Weekly Standard, and she is frequently sought out to provide commentary on Iran, including by CNN, NPR, BBC, and Czech, Slovak, Polish, Argentinian, and South African television and radio channels. Esfandiari has worked as a consultant on Iran with Freedom House, authoring several of their reports on human rights and press freedom in Iran. In 2013, she was tagged for the third year in a row in Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Twitterati list.

Ahmed Majidyar
Director, IranObserved, MEI
Ahmad Khalid Majidyar is a fellow and the director of IranObserved Project at the Middle East Institute. From 2008 to 2015, Majidyar worked as a senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he co-authored two monographs on Iran: Iranian Influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan (AEI 2012), and The Shi’ites of the Middle East: An Iranian fifth column? (AEI 2014). He also published a number of research papers on Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. As an instructor with the Naval Postgraduate School’s Leadership Development and Education for Sustained Peace program (2008-2016), Majidyar provided graduate-level seminars to more than 3,000 U.S. and NATO military leaders on Afghanistan and the broader region. In addition, he has provided briefings on Iran and Afghanistan at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Joint IED Defeat Organization, the National Defense University, the State Department, and Congress; and he has spoken as a guest analyst at think tanks, universities, and world affairs councils.

Negar Mortazavi
Freelance journalist
Negar Mortazavi is an Iranian-American journalist covering Iran in English and Persian. She writes, reports and tweets on Iran extensively and is a frequent commentator on Iran at MSNBC, BBC, PRI, The New York Times, Al-Jazeera, The Huffington Post, and international outlets across the world in Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, Turkey, Switzerland, and Japan. She worked as a TV presenter at Voice of America Persian where she hosted a daily hour-long interactive show that discussed current affairs with Iranians across the world
Alex Vatanka
Senior fellow, MEI
Alex Vatanka (الکس وطن خواه) specializes in Middle Eastern regional security affairs with a particular focus on Iran. From 2006 to 2010, he was the managing editor of Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst. From 2001 to 2006, he was a senior political analyst at Jane’s in London (UK) where he mainly covered the Middle East. Alex is also a senior fellow in Middle East Studies at the US Air Force Special Operations School (USAFSOS) at Hurlburt Field and teaches as an adjunct professor at DISAM at Wright-Patterson AFB. He has lectured widely for both governmental and commercial audiences, including the US Departments of State and Defense, US intelligence agencies, US Congressional staff, and Middle Eastern energy firms. Beyond Jane’s, the Middle East Institute and the Jamestown Foundation, he has written for such outlets as The Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Affairs, Americas Quarterly, CNN.com, Al Monitor, the Journal of International Security Affairs, BBC Persian Online, The National Interest, The World Today, PBS, Daily Beast, the Jerusalem Post, Journal of Democracy and the Council of Foreign Relations.

Ishaan Tharoor, Moderator
Foreign Affairs Reporter, The Washington Post
Ishaan Tharoor is a foreign affairs writer at The Washington Post, where he pens “Today’s Worldview,” a daily column on global affairs. He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.