President Hassan Rouhani and other Iranian leaders Monday used mass celebrations of the 1979 revolution to lash out against the U.S. and reaffirm Tehran’s pledge to continue developing ballistic-missile systems that Washington says threatens the region’s security.

In the face of intensifying pressure from the U.S. and its allies to curb Tehran’s military capabilities, Mr. Rouhani told hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Tehran’s Freedom Square that Iran would “continue to pursue our path and our military power.”

“We have not asked and will not ask for permission to develop various types of missile,” he said at the rally to mark the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

Iranian leaders traditionally use events celebrating the 1979 Islamic revolution to denounce the U.S., which reimposed sanctions on Tehran after pulling out of a multilateral nuclear accord last year. Washington has sought to constrain Iran’s ballistic-missile programs and counter its assertive posture in the region.

The Iranian revolution toppled the authoritarian regime of the U.S.-backed shah and began four decades of hostility between Tehran and Washington. For the U.S., countering Iran’s influence in the Middle East remains a primary objective of its presence in the region.

Echoing previous anniversary celebrations, people set U.S. and Israeli flags ablaze and burned effigies of President Trump. Others carried banners saying: “Neither compromise nor surrender” and “We don’t trust the deceitful Westerners.”

In the past year, Iranian authorities faced some of the worst unrest in a decade largely linked to the country’s deteriorating economic situation. Most notably, the local currency has fallen in value by more than half over a year, partly because of U.S. sanctions. Iranian leaders have blamed the U.S. for the country’s economic problems and linked sanctions to an alleged Washington plot to overthrow the leadership.

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Feb. 11 marks the collapse of the shah’s government in 1979 after the return of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini from his exile in Paris. The theocratic political system put in place after the revolution has persisted since then, but Iran’s leaders have had to contend with the changing cultural norms of Iranian society with varying degrees of repression.In a sign of this shift, Monday’s rallies in Tehran featured live pop music alongside loud revolutionary anthems, while young men in jeans rode skateboards among the crowds—all unheard of in the early years of the Islamic Republic.

While hundreds of thousands of Iranians rallied Monday to celebrate the revolution, discontent over the country’s economy continues to simmer.

Iranians carry anti-U.S. and anti-Israel banners and placards as they take part in a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran.

Iranians carry anti-U.S. and anti-Israel banners and placards as they take part in a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran.


Photo:

abedin taherkenareh/epa/Shutterstock

In a new survey conducted by IranPoll, an independent Toronto-based research company, around 59% of Iranians say their economic conditions are getting worse, up from 37% in May 2015 following the nuclear agreement. A majority, 59%, said the main reason for their troubles was domestic mismanagement and corruption. Some 36% primarily blamed the sanctions.

“The sanctions have slowed down our progress but we can overcome the problems by staying united,” said Yeganeh Bahrami, a master’s student of genetics who attended a rally in Tehran.

Many also have hit out against Iran’s rich, who appear to have suffered least from the sanctions.

“Some people inside the country, the filthy rich, damage our country. Forty years ago, they were radical Islamists, and today they have totally flipped,” said 21-year-old student Arash, who gave only one name.

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Still, millions of Iranians continue to support the revolution, which brought the country a level of national autonomy free of foreign influence unmatched in the Middle East.

The shah remains a deeply unpopular figure in Iran due to the widely held belief that he was a client of the U.S., and his ousting was still a point of pride for many Iranians, said Asghar Jamalifard, a 72-year-old veteran of the revolution. He showed The Wall Street Journal photos from when he occasionally served as a bodyguard for Ayatollah Khomeini in France.

“If the U.S. and Britain had not meddled and plundered our country, we would have never made a revolution,” Mr. Jamalifard said.

Some older Tehran residents, meanwhile, said today’s economic travails don’t compare to the hardships of the past.

“I experienced poverty first hand. My mother used to feed us with spiced sheep blood,” revolution veteran Hashem Jafarzadegan, 82, said in an interview at his house in southern Tehran that used to be a meeting place for revolutionaries. “And when I would ask for bread, she would tell me to go to sleep because there was no bread.”

Corrections & Amplifications
While hundreds of thousands of Iranians rallied to celebrate the revolution, discontent over the country’s economy continues to simmer. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that millions of Iranians rallied. (Feb. 11)

Write to Sune Engel Rasmussen at sune.rasmussen@wsj.com



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