As Iran counts the cost of the most violent protests in four decades of Islamic rule, many Iranians have been left asking what happened.  In a week of clashes hundreds of thousands of Iranians frustrated with months of economic hardship, unemployment and then a sudden jump in fuel prices, poured on to the street across the country. Seemingly leaderless and drawn largely from Iran’s unemployed working classes, the men and women voiced a shared sense of hopelessness among Iranians. They chanted anti-regime slogans and then some attacked banks, petrol stations and government buildings.

The state responded with a brutal security crackdown, sending armed officers to confront the crowds and shutting down internet access for five days. When the smoke settled and the information blackout was lifted, Amnesty International said at least 161 people had been killed across 10  provinces, many shot with live rounds.

Iran has experienced periods of civil unrest before: the Green Movement of 2009 and, more recently, protests in 2017 and 2018. But eyewitnesses said the latest demonstrations quickly became riots that were more violent than anything Iran had experienced since its revolution in 1979. “They were like a gang, marching in the streets with faces covered destroying specific targets like banks,” said Hamed, a theatre actor who lives in the town of Fardis in west Tehran, a hotspot during the violence.