The semiofficial Iranian Labor News Agency quoted Mohsen Nasj-Hamedani, Tehran’s deputy governor-general for security affairs, as saying that “a number of protesters” had been arrested in the capital on Friday after “an illegal call” for a rally on social media platforms. He said about 50 people had showed up for the rally.
“A number of them left after being warned by police. A few others, however, remained despite being warned to leave,” the news service quoted him as saying, and “a number of them were detained after arrest warrants were issued.”
The Tasnim news agency quoted Mr. Hamedani as saying that no protest permits had been issued for Tehran and warning that “such gatherings will be firmly dealt with by the police.”
Hard-liners, including Mr. Hamedani, castigated the protesters, warning that Iran’s enemies would take advantage of any sign of dissent.
One hard-line religious leader, Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, said that a protest in the northeastern city of Sabzevar had been disrupted when “all of a sudden, a small group of roughly 50 people among the crowd started to chant norm-braking slogans such as ‘Forget Palestine’ or ‘No to Gaza, No to Lebanon, I will give my life for Iran.’” (Government-approved protests routinely invoke the Iranian government’s self-designated role as a defender of Palestinian aspirations and as a foe of the United States.)
A reformist ally of Mr. Rouhani, Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, warned that protesters risked setting off unrest that might not be controllable.
“The ones who trigger political moves in the streets may not be the ones who will put an end to it, since others may ride the wave they have started, and they must know that their action will backfire on them,” the semiofficial ISNA news agency quoted Mr. Jahangiri as saying. He added that the government was open to receiving “fair criticism.”
The protests also spread on Friday to Kermanshah, a city in western Iran that is mainly inhabited by ethnic Kurds. It is near the site of an earthquake last month that killed hundreds of people.
About 300 people gathered at Freedom Square in the city and carried out a march in which public property was damaged, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency, which is close to the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
The protesters shouted antigovernment slogans like “Death or freedom,” “Care for us and leave Palestine” and “Political prisoners must be freed,” according to Fars.
Ali Vaez, the Iran project director for the International Crisis Group, said it was possible that hard-line opponents of Mr. Rouhani were behind the protests in Mashhad, capitalizing on anger about the economic belt-tightening and about rising food and gasoline prices.
“The trigger was apparently a protest that the government’s hard-line opponents organized in Mashhad, which got out of control and turned into an anti-regime rally and is now spreading across the country,” he said.
He noted that Saturday is the eighth anniversary of the nationwide demonstrations that helped crush the 2009 pro-democracy Green Movement.
“The system will probably use it as a show of force and in its wake will repress any dissent,” Mr. Vaez said. “The only meaningful consequence probably is that it will provide ammunition for the Trump administration to further condemn the regime.”
But Nader Karimi Juni, a reformist journalist, was skeptical that hard-liners were behind the protests. “If the protests continue for a while, which is not certain, it will be dangerous for the regime,” he said. “However, the future is unpredictable and the regime has managed to crack down on more serious protests in the past decades.”
Fazel Meybodi, a reformist cleric from the holy city of Qom, said he believed the protests had emerged from authentic concerns, as the government’s new budget had “made people in the provincial towns angry.”
“If the police and government treat people gently, this crisis will wane and tranquillity will prevail,” he said. “Otherwise they might — I stress might — grow in the future. Economic issues are urgent, and the protests have nothing to do with any factions — neither reformist nor hard-liner. Poor people are protesting, that is it.”