For many, last week’s outburst of protests in Iran came as a huge surprise. There were few signs in the English-language media that a massive bubble of discontent was growing in the forgotten areas outside of Tehran—the provincial towns and cities that few foreigners ever visit, and where even many residents of the capital have never set foot.
Even long-time Iran observers have confessed to being stunned, noting that they don’t personally know any of the protesters currently in the streets, though they knew plenty who participated in the post-June 2009 election protests in the country. Some are strongly hinting (or outright suggesting) that this means external forces are at play, or that the protesters in the crowds are hired guns.
The more plausible explanation is much less sexy: Many of these Iran watchers are Tehran-centric and deal mainly with upper-middle class Iranian professionals and intellectuals. They just don’t have access to who’s protesting. So far, the crowds seem to be made up of working-class people in cities like Mashhad, Arak and Kermanshah—the kinds of people who don’t tweet about their suffering in English or call up foreign journalists to share their experiences.