Has the Islamic Republic of Iran signed its death warrant for the death of a young student in a police cell in mid-September? The protests that followed further destabilized the regime.
The Iranian fall of 2022 turns orange and red – of bright lights and innocent blood, the emblem of the revolution. The stakes of that revolution are in the song bray, Based on the numerous tweets from the protesters. To be able to dance in the streets, to kiss in public. To our sisters, to me and our sisters. (…) The future for school children. Because of this imposed paradise, imprisoned intellectuals, and neglected Afghan children, it’s an endless list. Because of slogans about imaginary enemies, the ruins of houses built with corruption money. For a feeling of peace of mind, for compatriots, for the Motherland, for prosperity, for a girl who wants to be a boy. Women, life, freedom.
This poem was downloaded forty million times at the end of September in the first 48 hours after it appeared on Instagram. Writer and singer Shervin Hajepour was arrested on the spot, and charged with “anti-government propaganda” and “incitement to violence”.
Every time a woman is harassed by the police, civilians get involved. This has never happened before.
Zahra, a student
Hajipur was silenced, but the genie was out of the bottle. As much as the government is trying to shut down the internet and crack down on protests, the images and stories keep pouring in. Thousands of girls and women publicly burn the obligatory headscarf, in their classrooms students mock wandering government officials. Iranian celebrities express their support for the protesters, the national football team is embroiled in a loyalty row at the Qatar World Cup.
The grave of Mahsa Amini, who died in a police cell for not wearing a headscarf properly, became the first of many. Hundreds of unarmed civilians have been killed in the months since the protests have taken place, and tens of thousands have been hospitalized or imprisoned.
“We hate the regime,” says Zahra, 21, a psychology student from Tehran who takes part in the protests almost every day. We see them all the time on the street, armed agents of oppression. We are afraid of the way they sit on their bikes and hold their clubs, of the looks they give us. It’s a battle of attrition. Who prevails in the end?
At first, Zahra was skeptical that the protest would continue. ‘Why should we seize the opportunity?’ All previous waves of protest were violently suppressed. But we gradually realized that this time is different. Not because of what happened to Mahsa Amini, because over the past 40 years many women and girls have been victims of the morality police. The difference lies in civil solidarity – our united anger is stronger than our fear. Law enforcement officers no longer act against “inappropriate” clothing, they understand that they no longer have a free hand. Every time they harass a woman, civilians get involved. This has never happened before.’
Zahra realizes that the battle is not over yet. “But the old days will not return, the government has lost its power,” she says with conviction. “We may face severe repression, but we don’t think about the future. We think about the years of repression that we finally let go.”
The street as the ultimate political arena is a constant in modern Iranian history. In 1906, the young revolutionaries managed to limit the king’s power through their mass assemblies and the imposition of parliament and the constitution. Less than half a century later, citizens tried to end foreign domination with large demonstrations and in 1979 the current regime was born from a revolution against Shah Reza Pahlavi. Also in recent decades, there have been many attempts – unsuccessful – to improve the relationship between the citizen and the state.
Was this downfall of resentment to be expected? Is it different now? Already in 2020, Iranian-American Saeed Qasseminejad spoke of “evolution towards revolution.” In his research on the waves of protest between 1999 and 2019, he opined that from 2017 onwards, the drive for reform transformed into a struggle for regime change. Moreover, the interval between waves of protest is becoming increasingly short. They waited another decade after 1999, but since 2017 they have succeeded each other annually. The social structure of protest movements has also changed radically. They ranged from a middle class with political demands to poor citizens with economic grievances to the current nationwide state of discontent.
The latter is also evident from opinion polls conducted by the Dutch Iranian Academic Jaman Foundation. Nearly three-quarters of Iranians oppose compulsory veiling, 60 percent do not pray, and more than two-thirds do not want religious legislation, and this was already evident in 2020. According to the latest poll conducted in February 2022, nearly nine out of ten citizens They dream of democracy.
“Mahsa Amini’s death was the perfect spark for revolution,” says Iranian-Finnish political journalist Qambiz Ghafouri. ‘The young woman who studied law, looked very ordinary, had been beaten by the police for no reason and belonged to an ethnic minority that was discriminated against – she was Kurdish. Despite massive government pressure, her relatives refused to remain silent. Amini’s death caused a shock. It was further magnified by the regime’s reaction: instead of quickly punishing the guilty, there was a cover-up. The protests escalated and the police soon fired live ammunition.
In the first 10 weeks, there were about 450 deaths, including 60 children. All of these victims caused more appearances. Because of the outrage, but also because of the Iranian tradition that the dead are commemorated with a meeting on the fourth and forty-seventh day of his death.
Some observers explain the wave of protests against a presidential order in July to enforce strict compliance with veiling and chastity laws. “It wasn’t a tangle,” Ghafouri says. The dress code has been an ideological pillar of the regime since 1979 and that has never changed. As a 14-year-old kid, I was arrested for wearing a T-shirt and shorts, which are still banned.
Ghafouri also sees the division between reformists and conservatives in the regime as nonsense. Do you think that the morality police were not active during the era of the so-called reformist President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005)? Or did President Hassan Rouhani (2013-2021) not pursue a repressive policy? He had executed people for drinking alcohol, like Morteza Jamali, the 55-year-old family man in 2020. The West simply closed its eyes to the domestic situation because of the signing of the nuclear deal.
Generation Z is made up of the sons and daughters of citizens who have given their children a voice.
Hamid Farmand, expert on children’s rights
Ghafouri also does not believe that the regime will make any concessions. Those in power well remember how in November 1978 the Shah said in a televised speech that he “heard the voice of the revolution and approved it as a Shah and as a citizen of Iran.” Two months later, he was removed from power. In the mindset of ayatollahs, concessions are an indication of weakness, as the Arab Spring proved. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak then tried to calm the demonstrators by promising that he would not run for another term. He had to resign after a few weeks. On the other hand, his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, acted ruthlessly and remains in the saddle mode.”
Will Mohsa Amini’s death lead to regime change? Ghafouri finds it hard to predict. He fears that Tehran will provoke an international conflict to divert attention from its domestic turmoil. “Restarting the nuclear weapons program, for example, and this will not leave Israel unpunished. Or a military confrontation with the Kurdish resistance factions in Iraq. The foreign threat always leads to the cohesion of ranks at home.
However, Ghafuri remains optimistic for the time being. The protesters have assets his generation lacks. The Internet and social media give them a window into the world and the freedoms people enjoy elsewhere. Thanks to these tools, they can find each other and share their message and experience with the international community. Moreover, the traditional fears disappeared. No one fears that the fall of the Islamic Republic will lead to regional disintegration and the declaration of independence for the Kurds and Baluchis. On the contrary, there is great solidarity with ethnic and religious minorities. The danger of the Syrian scenario no longer convinces anyone. It is the whole people against the regime and its supporters.
Few experts doubt that unity is in the face of a common enemy. This was also the case at the end of the 1970s, with the wave of popular anger that toppled the Shah. But then Khomeini’s followers mercilessly dealt with their former allies, tens of thousands of left-wing activists who dreamed of economic redistribution in a democratic and secular Iran. We do not know what political and economic structures Iran will have in the future. Because of the many foreign political assassinations ordered by Tehran in recent decades, there are hardly any charismatic and experienced opposition leaders. However, I hear that the opposition circles are working on a transitional council, where politicians are seated left and right, and the monarchists are represented as much as the republicans. They will have to prepare for a referendum and draw up a new provisional constitution.
Hamid Farim, 46, has lived to the rhythm of the Islamic Revolution for a long time. Two of his uncles were executed by the Islamic Republic. As a child of six, he saw his mother disappear into prison for five years. In 2022, Varmand is a child rights expert and leads an organization for families of prisoners in the United States. He has been working day and night on the protests since September. “I knew something was going to happen, not just when or how,” he says. “What amazes me is that it’s a common distinction speaking now: Women, youth, ethnic or religious minorities, are the leaders of these protests. Their social status is the worst, so they’re willing to risk everything.” .
Varmand also understands the importance of technology in protests. But according to him, the demonstrators are carried away by all those who came before them and failed. Previous generations could not bring about change, but they did pass on the revolution of their hearts to their children. Most of my peers were raised in a traditional, authoritarian context, but Generation Z is made up of the sons and daughters of citizens who have given their children a voice.
And do not forget the 3 million Iranians who fled in waves to Europe and America because of the Islamic Revolution. These are usually highly educated people who are fundamentally committed to their homeland. They are the international spokesperson for the demonstrators. Thousands have taken to the streets in all Western capitals since the end of September, using their technological skills and connections to keep the world watching. For the first time in a long time, they think something is really going to change.