The movement came after police arrested 22-year-old Mahsa Amini (also known by her Kurdish name, Jina) at a Tehran metro station for violating Iran’s conservative women’s dress code. Born out of a long rage against decades of oppression. He allegedly beat her to death and tried to cover it up. What started in Amini’s hometown in a Kurdish-dominated state has grown into a persistent nationwide challenge to the regime that will not be easily defeated.
Weeks passed and the government tightened its deadly crackdown, especially in Kurdish areas, but demonstrations continued. They made Iran’s leadership look like a stalemate and left with no idea how far they would go to regain control. Although the regime could completely liberate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to quell the movement, that would provoke more anger from domestic opponents and risk further international condemnation.
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“I feel it’s never too late to save myself and my peers,” Nazanin, a college student in Azad, told The Washington Post. Concerned for her safety, she gave only her first name. She said she didn’t see a future for herself in Iran until her protests changed her “as many people have”.
Every day, demonstrators chanting “Women, Life, Freedom” and “Death to the Dictator” and burning statues of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The women take off their headscarves and stand alongside demonstrators who choose to wear them.
Massive social unrest is underway, but Iran’s clerical leadership and the security forces that support it remain strong. At the first sign of unrest, authorities followed a familiar strategy. They cut off internet and cell phone access, violently disrupted protests, and launched a massive arrest and intimidation campaign targeting doctors and schools. Human rights group Hrana estimates that more than 400 people were killed, including more than 60 minors, and more than 18,000 people were arrested. Under these circumstances, it is impossible to determine an exact number, as field reporting is so difficult.
With each death, arrest, and attack, public outrage increases. But Iran’s security state was built to withstand popular unrest. Shia revolutionaries, who came to power in 1979, created a parallel security force, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, and a separate legal system, the Revolutionary Courts, to protect the Islamic Republic and its supreme leader. did.
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Part of what has changed is that many Iranians have given up on reform. Even as Tehran quells protests or offers concessions (the latter rarely done), many Iranians have come to reject the Islamic Republic’s core values. “Even if it is suppressed, there is a new narrative, a new sense of defiance,” said Mohammad Ali Qadivar, a sociologist at Boston University who studies the Iranian protest movement.
For decades, people have endured the daily injustices of an authoritarian theocracy built around gender segregation. Young Iranians, in particular, “have seen a decline in living standards, all reform efforts have been cut short,” and “grew up with little, if any, ideological attachment to the Islamic Republic,” he said. said Manije Moradian, an assistant professor of research. at Barnard University studying the Iranian diaspora.
The riots are fueled by women and youth, in part because the state has arrested, deported, or sidelined most opponents.In 2009, millions of Iranians Protest against fraudulent elections.demonstration was violently suppressed. In 2017 and 2019, thousands rebelled against economic grievances and government mismanagement, and authorities killed hundreds in the resulting crackdown. The Iranian people know that there could be an even worse crackdown, like when thousands of people were killed in the purges during his post-revolution decade.
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The US and Europe are left with few good options for their response. Before the uprising, Iran was already subject to the most extensive sanctions of any other country. Decades of economic isolation, combined with internal corruption and mismanagement, have ravaged the economy.
In recent weeks, Washington and Brussels have responded by designating more individuals and institutions involved in the violence. Although justified, in practice they are tantamount to feel-good policies,” and had little impact on Iran’s leadership. Regardless, it helped collectively punish Iranians and “empowered” the Revolutionary Guard, which controls much of Iran’s official and black market economy, he said.
In recent years, Western diplomatic engagement with Iran has centered on securing (and now re-securing) a nuclear deal that includes sanctions relief. But as a result, it has become “reluctant” to address other issues, such as Iran’s human rights abuses, said Ali Fatler Nejad, a German-Iranian political scientist.
Iran blames the protests on “foreign agitators”, especially Iran’s enemies such as the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, but remains sensitive to its international image. United Nations human rights groups voted last week to create an independent fact-finding mission on the crackdown. The Iranian Foreign Ministry has said it will not participate.
But many Iranians these days are closely connected to the wider world online and long to end their international isolation. In recent weeks, Iranian players have shown small signs of solidarity with the riots at international sporting events, much to the nation’s chagrin. Supporters clashed and Iran’s national team struggled to balance their tacit support for protesters with the need to ensure their own safety.
Back in Iran, people have been killed, arrested and threatened into silence. Ayatollah Khamenei on Saturday praised Basij, a volunteer militia with ties to the Revolutionary Guard, as another sign that violence may continue to worsen.
The movement doesn’t seem set to fade on its own. The leaders of the Iranian clergy and the security state behind them must decide how far to go. Many of the movement’s supporters in Iran see international attention as one of their few, albeit limited, defenses.
“We will take to the streets until some peace can come from this constant injustice and oppression,” said a 30-year-old woman from Sanandaj, Kurdistan last month. Though her communication was almost completely cut off, she spoke in her anonymity out of concern for her own safety—she hoped one day she would be able to speak freely. .