“Part of me is feeling hope,” said Arash Azizi, a New York University researcher, far from his home in Iran. “We see the rising up of the downtrodden.”

“But I am even more worried than hopeful,” he added.

More than 20 people have been killed and 450 arrested since a protest movement in cities and towns across Iran began in late December, and analysts say if it continues, the impact many not just be in Iran, but across the region.

Mostly peaceful protests could turn into clashes and Iran’s rivals are watching for the prospect of a weakened state, according to Reza Marashi, research director with the National Iranian American Council.

Protesters are demanding an end to “mismanagement, nepotism and corruption,” he said, and have called for the fall of the government in recent days.

Unlike mass protests in 2009 against an election seen as illegitimate, the movement is without clear leadership, and normally outspoken activists in Iran have been largely silent. It is still not clear if the demonstrations will continue with the same velocity as they have in the past week. And if they do, according to Marashi, it is too early to predict an outcome.

The 2009 protests lasted for months, but were ultimately crushed by security forces. Thousands of people were arrested and dozens killed. The election results were upheld.

Current protests have attracted considerably smaller crowds, but in a larger number of cities and towns, said Marashi. “It’s more important to see how it plays out over the weeks and months,” he said. Iran-Saudi rivalry

Iran is embroiled in proxy wars with Saudi Arabia in Syria and Yemen, as well as funding Hezbollah, a Lebanese military and Israeli archenemy. It is also a key player in Iraq, and its internal politics have the potential to impact almost every corner of the region.

Among the protesters’ grievances are vast sums of money sent abroad while people are hungry at home.

In the past two years, tensions between Tehran and Riyadh have become explosive, and Iranian officials have accused Saudi Arabia, the United States and Britain of having a hand in the protests.

“This is a silly claim, with no basis in fact,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Americas office. “It is farcical because the Saudis have little influence in Iran.”

In recent days, protesters also began calling for the collapse of their government, demanding “Death to the dictator!” and “Clerics should get lost!” Among Iran’s main rivals, this sparked speculation � or perhaps hope � that the Iranian government will fall or be damaged.

For Saudi Arabia, this could mean a shift of regional power toward Riyadh as Iran’s influence and ability to fight regional conflicts decrease, according to Khaled Almaeena, a Saudi political and media analyst based in Jeddah.

“For too long, Iran has been interfering with other states,” he said.

Source: Voice of America