Thousands of protesters clashed with riot police in Tehran on Wednesday in the first sign of unrest over the rapid decline of Iran’s currency, which has lost more than a third of its value in less than a week. Our Observer explains that shopkeepers in the capital’s grand bazaar – who are unnerved by the market’s instability – are leading the charge, blaming the government for their woes.
Protests broke out in several commercial areas of the city, notably in Tehran’s grand bazaar, where protesting merchants closed their shops. The huge bazaar, which is the capital’s main commercial hub, has historically played a significant political role: its merchants led a revolt against the ruling monarchy over a century ago, and sided with the Islamic revolutionaries in 1979.
Also on Wednesday, police cracked down on the capital’s currency exchange district of Ferdowsi, arresting those who were changing money illegally. Many Iranians, having lost faith in the rial, have been rushing to convert their money into foreign currency.
The rial hit a record low Tuesday of 35,000 rials to the U.S. dollar. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has put the blame squarely on Western sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program, while some of his hardline conservative rivals have blamed his government’s monetary policies.
Protesters inside the bazaar, where most shops were closed Wednesday. Some protesters yell at the shopkeepers whose shops are still open: "If you have any dignity, close your shops!"

“The fact that bazaaris are protesting should be very worrisome for the government - these are well-off people”

Mehrava (not her real name) is a journalist in Tehran. She witnessed the protest at the grand bazaar.
When I arrived, protesting “bazaaris” [bazaar merchants] were asking their colleagues who were still working to shutter their shops, chanting, “We don’t want conformist bazaaris”. Some started staging a sit-in within the bazaar, and others went out into the street. Those who went out immediately found themselves surrounded by police, so they retreated back into the bazaar and started chanting slogans against the government, like “Forget Syria, think about us instead” and “Down with this lying government”. None of the slogans were against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; they were all against the government and president Ahmadinejad.
Then, some of them broke the police cordon and got out into the street, where they started clashing with police. The police beat many of them with batons and started making arrests. By then other ordinary citizens were joining in, and the protest spread into the surrounding streets. The police brought out the teargas, as some protesters started setting fire to trash cans and even smashing shop windows. There were hundreds of them. When I left, the clashes were still going on.
Protesters yell, "Death to this lying government!"
“They are angry that the government has not found nor even announced any effective measures to curb inflation – they don’t blame western sanctions”
The fact that bazaaris are protesting should be very worrisome for the government. These are well-off people, so this means that the economic crisis is affecting everybody now. This currency devaluation means it’s very expensive for them to import anything from abroad, and their businesses are suffering from the market’s instability. They are angry that the government has not found nor even announced any effective measures to curb the rial's devaluation; they don’t blame western sanctions against Iran.
It’s no surprise that ordinary people joined in the protests – everybody is suffering. Prices on all food products have gone up at least 15 percent since last week, and at least 80 percent over past year. This situation can’t go on like this for much longer.
The view from above: protesters gathered in Ferdowsi district. 
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Gaelle Faure.