Tehran, Iran – Iranians have taken to the streets across the country to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1979 revolution, renewing their allegiance to the country’s Islamic principles at a time of rising economic and political pressure amid the resumption of punishing US sanctions.
In his address to the demonstrators gathered at Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square on Monday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani dismissed US efforts to isolate Tehran, saying US sanctions could not break the Islamic Republic.
“The presence of people today on the streets all over Islamic Iran … means that the enemy will never reach its evil objectives,” Rouhani said, adding that the country will continue to pursue its missile programme to defend the country from external threats.
“We have not asked, and will never ask for permission in developing our missile arsenal as we continue to pursue our path to military might.”
Iran organises the nationwide rally every February 11 to highlight the size of grassroots support for the revolution, which replaced Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s government with an Islamic Republic under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Domestically, the event is also known as Ten-Day Dawn to commemorate the period of violent protests following the February 1, 1979, return of Khomeini from exile. It also marks the official end of the 2,500 years of the Persian Empire.
In Tehran, tens of thousands of marchers gathered at Azadi Square, one of the capital’s most iconic monuments built by the United States-backed shah and renamed after the victory of the forces loyal to Khomeini. Thousands of others also gathered in other cities including the holy city of Mashhad.
Estimates of the total crowd size across the country range from hundreds of thousands to millions of people, according to different Iranian publications.
In his speech, President Rouhani added that the 1979 revolution saved the country “from tyranny, colonisation and dependence”.
“This nation has managed to establish a system of Islamic Republic and an independent system of government,” Rouhani said, as he stressed that the country has also managed to “foil the conspiracies” led by the US and Israel.
Amid rain and snow that covered parts of the Iranian capital, demonstrators marched through major streets carrying anti-US and Saudi banners and signs.
Demonstrators also chanted, “Death to America”, “Death to Israel” and “Death to the al-Saud” family of Saudi Arabia.
One demonstrator, an accountant in his 30s, told Al Jazeera that he participates in the march every year. This year, he is marching with his wife, their nine-year-old son and other family members.
The man, who asked not to be named, said that he remains loyal to the principles of the Islamic Republic, but also calls on public officials to root out corruption in the government.
Meanwhile, a woman in her 20s blamed the current economic and political woes to the country’s reformist leaders.
Security has been tightened across Iran in the lead-up to Monday’s events. Last year, gunmen dressed in fatigues opened fire at a military march in Ahvaz marking the 30th anniversary of the end of the Iran-Iraq war, killing at least 29 people and wounding scores.
Since the revolution, which united the country against the shah, the country appears today to be more divided between the hardliners, who believe in the strict implementation of laws from 40 years ago, and the reformists, who are pushing for more economic transparency and more freedoms among its population.
In 2017, President Hassan Rouhani was reelected in a vote seen a litmus test for his major accomplishment – a landmark nuclear deal signed with world powers in 2015 and the subsequent lifting of tough economic sanctions that had long strangled the country’s economy.