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Iran’s Loyal Security Forces Protect Ruling System That Protesters Want to Topple

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Mr. Mogouei, whose father and brother are high-ranking members of the Guards, has criticized the violence against protesters: riot police firing into crowds; a member of the security forces dragging a woman by her hair and striking her head with a baton; an actress leaving an interrogation with a bruised face.

In many instances, the protesters are fighting back, throwing rocks at the security forces, burning their cars and beating officers, according to witnesses and videos posted on social media.

Mr. Mogouei said that on Oct. 2 in Tehran, plainclothes militiamen fired rubber bullets at him and beat him so badly on the head that he passed out, all because he tried to intervene to protect a young female protester.

So far, the protesters have found ways to befuddle the security services.

The protests are small crowds and scattered across the country but widespread, making it difficult for the government to mount a large, definitive response. That has kept the movement going, but it could struggle to keep it up if it does not develop clear leadership and clear, unified objectives, said Sanam Vakil, the deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House.

The Middle East’s recent history provides multiple examples of similar popular movements quashed by repressive states. Successful pro-democracy uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt were diverted by strongman presidents, Yemen collapsed into civil war and Syria illustrated the vast carnage that a regime can inflict on its people to ensure its survival.

Iran’s security services could also resort to even more force if they fear that their existence is threatened. But that prospect makes some inside the ruling system uneasy.

“We are telling officials in meetings that if you don’t change course and realize that the legitimacy of the system is at stake, the only way the Islamic Republic can remain in power is to kill several hundred people every few months,” Gheis Ghoreishi, an analyst who has advised the government, told The New York Times.

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