Hardliners batter President Hassan Rouhani over his faltering nuclear deal, sending his popularity plummeting. Women in the streets film themselves removing their mandatory headscarves, or hijabs, in protest. Meanwhile, state television airs moments from a major corruption trial.

Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of Iranian politics.

Ahead of the 40th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution, the country's Government is allowing more criticism to bubble up to the surface. Analysts say that may serve as a relief valve in this nation of 80 million people, which already has seen widespread, leaderless protests rock the country at the start of the year.

But limits still clearly exist in Iran's Shia theocracy, ensnaring lawyers, activists and others in lengthy prison terms handed down in closed-door trials. And the frustration people feel may not be satiated by complaining alone, especially as US sanctions on Iran's oil industry take effect in November.


"If we continue like this, the situation will be more complicated, because people are very tired and they have less tolerance," Faezeh Hashemi, the activist daughter of Iran's late President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, told the Associated Press. "I don't think that the majority of people are after regime change because everybody is worried what may happen next. But people are after their demands."

Perhaps the person in the biggest lurch in Iran now is Rouhani. The US appears poised to further sanction Iran despite Tehran abiding by Rouhani's nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for sanctions being lifted.

In response, Rouhani has slowly replaced his message of rapprochement with the West with hardline hints about Iran's ability to close off the Strait of Hormuz, through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes.

There are signs that the Iranian Government recognises the growing anger. Iranian broadcasters, all state-run, have been airing major corruption trials in recent weeks. They've also allowed sceptical reporting by local newspapers on some cases.

At the same time, social media photos of children of the country's elite enjoying luxuries the average Iranian can't have sparked outrage.

"Such stories suggest that the Islamic Republic may be approaching an existential crisis, where its core values such as adopting a simple lifestyle and observing Islam strictly are widely promoted by the establishment but not necessarily followed by the elite," analyst Sara Bazoobandi recently wrote for the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

Iran saw nationwide protests in late December and early January over its worsening economic situation, which resulted in nearly 5000 reported arrests and at least 25 people being killed. And Iran's economy has gotten worse since President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the nuclear deal. Also, an attack by Arab separatists Saturday on a military parade in the country's southwest killed at least 25 people.

Meanwhile, social change can be seen on any street in Tehran, as some young women wear their state-mandated hijabs loosely over their hair. Some even shrug it down to their shoulders while driving. An image of a young woman, her head uncovered and waving her hijab like a flag in Tehran's main Enghelab Street while standing on a telephone junction box, became famous during the economic protests.


Tehran's police meanwhile have said they won't arrest women for not observing the Islamic dress code. However, online videos of women being harassed continue to circulate on social media.

Hashemi, who learned politics from her father, said: "The world and the situation have changed. People have reached a point that they have nothing to lose." Hashemi, who has served prison time over her comments and activism, added: "Usually you only fear things for the first time. When things happen once you are no longer worried, and you get a bit braver, and you raise your demands more freely."

- AP