“At this moment, the government appears to have this under control — this is discontent, not revolution,” said a former senior intelligence official with long Middle East experience, after Iran was roiled by a sixth day of anti-government protests in more than 70 cities. The protests are both large and small, according to one official, who said that in some cities, demonstrators can be counted on one hand.

“People so far are moving away from something — the status quo — but not embracing something else, revolution,” said the former official.

The former official added, however, that “the social contract is stained, the regime is embarrassed.”

“The protests are symptomatic of longstanding grievances that have been left to fester by Tehran,” said a current official. “The Iranian government faces a crossroads.”

The current and former officials said the protests were different in character and scope from the bloody unrest that roiled the country in 2009, which police and paramilitary Basij suppressed with batons, pepper spray, sticks and firearms. Among those shot and killed was Neda Agha-Soltan, whose final moments were uploaded to YouTube and viewed around the world.

More than 20 people are reported to have died in the current protests, but there have been no reports of a widespread, violent crackdown by the government.

The 2009 protests came in the wake of a disputed presidential election in which hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed an overwhelming re-election victory. Today’s unrest is more about economic grievances, analysts say, and Iran is run by a more moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, who reacted to the demonstrations by saying that people are free to protest and criticize the government.

A current U.S. intelligence official said the current protests have been “widespread, but turnout has not yet reached the size of the 2009 protests.”

Another reason cited for the lack of a greater government response is that the protests have moved so fast, starting on Thursday and moving to the capital on the weekend.

NBC News