by Dokhi Fassihian, Senior Program Manager, Middle East and North Africa

Citizens have long been excluded from policymaking, and they don’t like the results.

Six days of protests in cities across Iran have left dozens dead and hundreds arrested in what amounts to the most significant eruption of antigovernment sentiment since 2009. The demonstrations were initially focused on rising food prices, but they have quickly morphed into calls for the removal of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and an end to the Islamic Republic.

Despite tired claims by Khamenei that the unrest is being orchestrated by the country’s “foreign enemies,” the demonstrations are obviously organic, effectively leaderless, and spearheaded by working-class Iranians living outside the capital. In fact, it is increasingly clear that this uprising reflects a failure of governance. It is the public’s frustrated response to a regime that has excluded its people from civic and political life at home while keeping them isolated from the rest of the world.

An ailing economy despite the nuclear deal

Ordinary Iranians have not reaped the economic benefits promised by the government after it signed the nuclear deal with the international community in 2015. Nonnuclear U.S. restrictions are still in place, Iran remains locked out of the international financial system, and with the exception of a handful of companies like Total and Renault, most large international firms are reluctant to invest in the country’s unpredictable political and regulatory environment. While Iran’s economy has shown strong growth according to some…