TEHRAN (Dispatches) – Millions of Iranians rallied on the streets Sunday to mark the 39th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in a show of force and unity just weeks after scattered protests hit some cities and towns.
Demonstrators burned American and Israeli flags, as well as images of President Donald Trump, whose refusal to re-certify the nuclear deal with world powers has riled Iranians. A few burned a white sheet reading "BARJAM," the Farsi acronym for the 2015 nuclear accord that Tehran signed with world powers.
This year’s rallies came after Trump cheered the rioters in a volley of tweets which angered many Iranians who view the American leader's entreaties as "hypocritical" after he called Iran a "terrorist nation."
The vehemence of slogans cried out by huge masses of protesters on Sunday sought to reflect that anger toward the U.S. and its president who has banned Iranians from traveling to the United States and refused to properly refer to the Persian Gulf.
In the capital Tehran, hundreds of thousands of people and officials descended on the iconic Azadi Square, where Iran's President Hassan Rouhani called for "a year of unity" in a speech broadcast across the country.
"I request that the 40th year of the revolution, the coming year, be the year of unity. I ask principlists, reformists, moderates and all parties and all people to come and be together," he said.
In his speech, Rouhani promised more job opportunities and better economic condition in the near future.
The country's economy still struggles despite the 2015 nuclear deal. The accord allowed Iran to begin selling its crude oil again on the international market, but rising food prices have squeezed the average Iranian while salaries remain stagnant and unemployment high.
A January survey by the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland and the Toronto-based firm IranPoll found that 58.4% of those interviewed said they found the country's economy was getting worse. Nearly 70% said they found Trump to be "completely hostile" toward Iran. The telephone-interview survey of 1,002 Iranians had a margin of error of 3.1%.
The economic protests still were on people's minds Sunday even at a pro-government rally.
"Look at these people, they have come in massive numbers here though they know there are some economic problems, too," said Samaneh Heidari, a 29-year-old teacher wearing a black chador. "We are here to show support to the revolution, it's bigger than any kind of opposition."
Demonstrator Abdolali Tehrani, 57, said he took part in the economic protests but still wanted to take part in Sunday's rally.
"I went out then for a peaceful protest against the unemployment of my two sons, both at home with bachelor's degrees," he said. "Today, I am here to say I still support the revolution that brought us independence and dignity. Revolution and the economic problems, these are two different issues."
The same sentiment was echoed by demonstrator Mehdi Mohebi. "People have the right to protest against inflation and economic troubles," he said, "The same people have come to demonstrate on the revolution anniversary to announce that they are loyal to their establishment and revolution despite all these problems."
Each year on the 22nd of the month of Bahman on the Persian calendar, Iranians turn out to renew their allegiance to the Islamic establishment and Imam Khomeini, the late founder of the Islamic Republic.
People from all walks of life rally in different cities and towns across Iran to celebrate the nation’s victory that put an end to the monarchical rule of the U.S.-backed Pahlavi regime.
Some of Iran's latest defense achievements were put on display in Azadi Square, including an anti-tank missile called Toofan M-2 which has a maximum range of 3,750 meters as well as two long-range Qadr ballistic missiles.
A total of 250 foreign reporters were covering the event, according to Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance officials.