The people of Iran — chafing under a brutal regime and mounting economic woes — took to the streets in massive protests last week.

This is not the first time protests have rocked Iran, of course.

In 1979, religious fundamentalists toppled the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who had been friendly with the United States, and installed the anti-West Ayatollah Khomeini. For the past 40 years, this regime has opposed free speech, capitalism, human rights, women’s rights and Western values. It has backed such terrorist organizations as Hezbollah and Hamas. While pledging the destruction of Israel and the United States, it is racing to perfect nuclear weapons and the missiles that can deliver them.

Not everyone in Iran has been happy with this state of affairs.

Student protests in 1999 led to multiple deaths, 1,000 to 1,500 arrests, and the injuries of thousands. In 2009, the Green Revolution persisted for seven months. The regime arrested 4,000 people, while scores of protesters were killed.

Last week, new protests erupted around the country over the regime’s plan to hit the people with a significant increase in fuel prices.

The government’s threatening policies have led to harsh economic retaliation by the West against the Islamic Republic. Iran’s oil exports have nearly ceased. Escalating inflation and unemployment rates have created more poverty and hunger than ever before. The fuel hike seemed the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Images of Iranians protesting on the streets broke through the regime’s censorship and circulated on social media. Officials confirmed five deaths, but Amnesty International, basing their numbers on eyewitness accounts, reported that there had actually been 106 deaths in 21 cities. If accurate, that would be the largest number of casualties in protests since the 1979 Revolution.

There are also reports of about 1,000 protesters being arrested, according to Iran’s Fars news agency. The protesters destroyed or set ablaze vehicles and buildings, including reportedly up to 100 banks.

The current ruler, Ayatollah Khamenei, insisted the protests constitute a “security matter, not a popular movement.” Iran’s state TV network showed Iranians joining pro-government rallies, with many predictably chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”

President Hassan Rouhani, appearing on state TV, declared the unrest had been put down.

Iran blamed what they called “thugs” for contributing to this unrest, including the United States, Israel and even Saudi Arabia.

The real thugs, of course, are Khamenei, Rouhani and others running the Islamic Republic of Iran. They are persisting in policies that cannot help but turn Iran into an international pariah, while ruining the country’s economy.

The Trump administration, wisely, does not seem to be pursuing a policy of regime change. Rather, it is using sanctions to pressure Iran’s leaders to talk seriously about ending its attempts to threaten the world with nuclear Armageddon. It is crucial that any new deal include a permanent end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions and rigorous inspections to verify compliance.

Let us hope that civil unrest puts added pressure on the regime to change its ways and reduce tensions.

-The Panama City News Herald