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Protests In Iran Over Power Cuts And Water Shortages Have Been Met With Violence

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's been a long, hot summer in Iran. In several parts of the country, people are enduring chronic power cuts and water shortages. When crowds took to the streets to protest, they were met with a violent crackdown by security forces. NPR's Peter Kenyon has been hearing from Iranians about what they're going through.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Davoud, a 42-year-old living in the city of Mashhad in northeast Iran, says it was an encounter with his aunt that made him realize how bad things had gotten. Like all those interviewed for this piece, he asked that his last name not be used because he worries about retribution for speaking to the media. Davoud says his aunt is a kind, gentle woman. He can't recall ever hearing her complain. And she wouldn't dream of criticizing Iranian officials or their policies. But one night this summer, Davoud says his aunt visited him and she was laughing hysterically.

DAVOUD: (Through interpreter) She said last night, there was an outage. And the dishes were in the machine. Her food was perishing in the fridge. And she got so pissed off that she went to the roof and started chanting death to Khamenei.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

KENYON: And she wasn't the only one. This video posted to Twitter features other Iranians making the same chant in the dark against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Protests broke out in southwest Khuzestan Province and spread to other towns and cities. Officials have blamed the outages on this year's drought conditions, searing temperatures and on U.S. sanctions. Iranians say that is part of the problem, but also blame corruption and poor management. In Mashhad, Davoud says the anger among ordinary Iranians is palpable. One evening, he went for a drive and found shops and businesses paralyzed by the power cuts, with merchants and customers just standing around outside.

DAVOUD: (Through interpreter) The people were so angry that they didn't even speak to each other. It was a quiet, angry population on the road. It was a scary atmosphere.

KENYON: In Gilan Province near the Caspian Sea, NPR reached Sareh, a freelance architect. She says in her village, there's no cell phone service, so everyone relies on the internet. When the power goes out, so does the internet. And Sareh's business has suffered so much so that she finds herself wondering how much more she can take.

SAREH: (Through interpreter) Every day you wake up and there's a new challenge waiting to make your life harder and a new door slams shut. It's very hard. I never in my life used to think about emigrating, but now even I am thinking about plans to get out of here.

KENYON: The water and power protests long predate the election of President Ebrahim Raisi. But they present just one of the many serious challenges facing the hard-line cleric and the government he's still assembling. Iran's economy remains deeply depressed, and progress toward getting relief from American sanctions is slow. Although talks aimed at getting the sanctions lifted are expected to resume in the coming weeks. Iranians, long-used to hardships, say relief can't come soon enough.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAZERBEAK'S "WINGING IT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.