The unnamed woman is one of countless Iranians who say their savings have been wiped out by the collapse of fraudulent businesses and unlicensed credit institutions in recent years. Economists are now pointing to the abrupt closure of these poorly regulated institutions as laying the foundation for the unrest that struck Iran starting in late December.

"Banks are shutting down without any kind of notice, and it's creating a huge political and economic backlash at a local level," said Suzanne Maloney, senior fellow on Middle East policy at the Brookings Institution.

Anger over these losses came on top of years of pent-up frustration over a sluggish economy. When the government announced recent price increases and released an austere budget bill, it ignited at-times violent protests that spread rapidly to dozens of cities nationwide. Demonstrators quickly turned their fury on corrupt officials and the Islamic republic as a whole.


"Most protests in Iran are over economic issues," Maloney said. "What's different is that it seems to have tapped into a deep sense of alienation and frustration, that people aren't just demonstrating for better working conditions or pay, but insisting on wholesale rejection of the system itself."

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