A University student has publicly challenged Iran’s Supreme Leader over economic and social issues in a meeting in Tehran — but the encounter may be a political maneuver by Ayatollah Khamenei’s office.

The Supreme Leader was holding his annual Ramadan session with students on Monday when Sahar Mehrabi read her speech about the “numerous crises” facing Iran, including “intensified systematic inequality in social classes, the decline of public trust, and the increase in the environmental crisis and shantytowns”. She cited high unemployment, the challenges faced by minority groups, and the manner in which hardliners within the judiciary and security system “fabricate security cases in a delusional way” to target activists.

Asked “What answer does Your Excellency have in response to questions, criticisms and protests?”, Khamenei acknowledged many of the shortcomings, but said “removing problems is not as easy” as students expect. He suggested “injecting of revolutionary, motivated and committed young people into the governmental apparatuses”.

But some observers noted that the Supreme Leader used a similar tactic at a meeting with students in November 2009 to show his reception of criticism, amid mass protests after the disputed Presidential election “won” by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

They also noted that Khamenei’s office could use the challenge to put pressure on the Rouhani Government, amid sustained in-fighting within the regime over political and social issues and with a fragile Iranian economy facing wider US sanctions. The first part of Mehrabi’s speech focused more on the Government and its shortcomings, before putting her questions to the Supreme Leader.

Khamenei’s Twitter account was careful in noting the remarks, but omitted any specifics to portray a positive outcome:

While conservative outlets simply republished the account of the meeting on Khamenei’s website, the regime’s English-lanuguage outlet Press TV — possibly to omit any involvement in political maneuvers — did not mention the meeting.