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A New Revolution? Understanding the protests in Iran (by Private)

Woman, Life, Freedom. Three seemingly innocuous words, which together make up a powerful slogan. Previously mainly used by the Kurdish women's and freedom movement, it has now been taken up on a large scale, becoming the chief rallying cry of the ongoing protests in Iran. The protests, which have engaged hundreds and thousands of people, both within the country and elsewhere, began on the 16th of September, following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Jina Amini, who had been detained by the so-called morality police for violating the country's strict laws regulating women's attire. Since 1981, it has been compulsory for all women to wear hijabs, and violation of the law could result in anything from heavy fines to imprisonment or corporal punishment. The law is enforced by the Guidance Patrol, more commonly known as the morality police, which really only has one task: make sure that those who contravene the Islamic dress code are punished. This was also the case here, when Amini was arrested on the 13th of September, accused of not wearing her hijab in an appropriate way. She died in hospital three days later, following a heart attack. At least, that is what the official statements say. Eyewitnesses give a completely different account, stating that she had been badly beaten by Guidance Patrol officers in conjunction with her arrest, resulting in severe brain damage. Upon arriving at the police station following her arrest, Amini lost consciousness, and was taken to Kasra Hospital in the capital of Tehran. There she fell into a coma, the injuries she sustained through police brutality leading to her subsequent death three days later.

The Iranian regime of course hoped that this would go by unnoticed, but unfortunately for them, this was not something the people of Iran would let go of so easily. After the announcement of Amini's death, protesters gathered outside the hospital, reportedly chanting “I will kill whoever killed my sister”. The next day, Amini was buried in her hometown of Saqqez in Kurdistan Province. Despite official warnings, hundreds of people gathered at her funeral, some of them shouting anti-government slogans. As the protesters marched towards the local governor's office, security forces opened fire on them. Protests quickly spread to the provincial capital, Sanandaj, where young people set fire to tires and threw rocks at riot police, who tried to dissipate crowds using tear gas. In response to the protests, the government acted swiftly, restricting internet access in a bid to prevent demonstrations from spreading. The unrest continued the following day, with protesters becoming increasingly clear with their demands – “death to the dictator” was one of the main slogans used. The next day, protests had spread to Tehran, and on the 20th of September, demonstrations were reported to have taken place in 16 of the country's 31 provinces. In the following days and weeks, protests would continue to grow in number, spreading all over the country, stretching across both cities and rural areas with unprecedented fervour.

While it is the case that protests have taken place in Iran before, they have mostly been connected to specific government policies, and often included only a limited part of the population. This time, things are different. Women have played a big part in the protests, initiating early demonstrations against the mandatory hijab, which quickly turned into nationwide protests demanding the end of Islamic rule. Women, including large numbers of schoolgirls and university students, have continued to be at the forefront of demonstrations, which have gathered everyone from rural workers to the urban middle classes, even reaching cities such as Mashhad and Qom, which are strongholds for supporters of the Islamic Republic. Protesters have used a number of different tactics in their demonstrations, including “flash protests” based on quick formation and dispersion, to preempt intervention by security forces. Apart from flash protests, demonstrators have also held more organised rallies, gathering thousands of people. Many women have removed their hijabs or cut their hair in rebellion against Islamic law, while workers in the oil industry have initiated strikes in support of the protests. Strikes within the energy sector could prove to be especially powerful, as the oil industry makes up a big part of the Iranian economy, and thus risk dealing a painful blow to the regime. Bazaaris (shop owners) and universities have also joined the strikes, which is evidence that the protests are not limited to a certain group of people, but rather, encompass a large portion of the population.

As is to be expected in the authoritarian country of Iran, which has been ruled as an Islamic republic by a so called supreme leader since the revolution in 1979, the state has violently attempted to quell protests. Security forces have opened fire on demonstrators across the country, their violent methods killing hundreds of people, many of them belonging to minority groups including Kurds and the Baluch people, who have long faced widespread state-sanctioned persecution. On the 30th of September, 80 people were killed in the deadliest crackdown so far, when police fired on civilians during prayers. Apart from outright killings, security forces have engaged in the raiding of neighbourhoods, and thousands of people have been brought into custody for their participation in the protests. Not only adults have been arrested; schoolchildren have also been detained in large numbers, mostly in prisons. According to officials, they are brought to "psychological centres" where they are to stay until they are "reformed", without access to neither lawyers nor their parents. Pro-government counter-protests have been held in a number of places, encouraged by the regime. The government has also used more covert tactics, employing psychological warfare through the spreading of rumours and misinformation that seek to discourage protesters from continuing their fight for change. A common narrative among state officials is that the protests did not originate domestically, but rather, were the result of foreign influence. It has repeatedly been stated that the protests are being orchestrated by the country's arch enemies, the United States and Israel, in a rather weak attempt to undermine the power of the protesters. Even though the clergy and ruling class have held a united front in their condemnation of the protests, some politicians have actually spoken out in favour of the protests, or at least, recognised the issues that people are now raising their voices about. Nevertheless, the Iranian regime has been relentless in its efforts to curb protests, choosing to utilise the whole range of personnel included in the country's so called Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corpse (IRCG), as well as plainclothes officers and riot police. So far, a number of people have been charged with “waging war against God” or “corruption on Earth” – crimes that are punished by death. In spite of these heavy efforts by the state to repress its own people, using both violence, restriction of the means of communication, and scare tactics, protests have continued, undiminished in strength.

While it was the death of Mahsa Jina Amini that gave rise to the current protests, it is something else that has spurred them on. In order to really understand the protests, and the demands people are making, we need to look into the recent history of Iran. As mentioned above, previous protests have often had a more narrow approach to change, being directed at specific government policies or its failures to deliver on particular policy areas. For example, protests in 2017-2018 specifically targeted economic policies, while the 2019-2020 protests erupted as a reaction to the increase in fuel prices. The difference this time round is that the protests are not directed at the government, with President Ebrahim Raisi at its helm. Rather, they are aimed at the Islamic Republic itself, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei being the central figure, holding the highest office in the country. He is the utmost representative of the strict theocracy that has been in place since 1979, following the Iranian revolution in which the previously secular government was overthrown and replaced by Islamic rule. This was achieved after a year of protests, which were supported by a majority of the population. The demonstrations culminated in a national referendum, held on the 1st of April 1979. The announced results showed overwhelming support for the idea of becoming an islamic republic, with 98.2% of the electorate allegedly voting in favour of this proposal. Whether this figure is accurate or not is of course debatable, but given that the revolution was initiated by the people, we can conclude that it was indeed what the population of Iran wanted. Today however, things have changed completely. People no longer believe that Islamic law and custom should form the basis for the constitution and how the country is run, instead calling for greater freedom and women's rights, which have been greatly curtailed under the Supreme Leader's rule.

Apart from large domestic backing, the protests have also received widespread support across the world, with people gathering in big numbers at rallies in countries like Germany, South Korea, Japan, Canada, and Australia to show solidarity and join in the Iranian people's calls for change. Political institutions such as the United Nations and European Union have also responded, imposing sanctions on central figures responsible for the harsh treatment of protesters. Sanctions have also come from individual countries, including the United States and Canada, but so far, such measures have proven ineffective, doing nothing to stop the Iranian government's repression of its own people. Given the country's track record when it comes to human rights, there are unfortunately few prospects of things changing any time soon, unless something drastic happens. However, there is still some cause for hope, as the protests have yet to show any signs of waning, more than two months after they first began. Observers contend that the reason why the current protests have been able to become so powerful is that there is immense discontent with nearly everything in Iran right now, mainly in regards to living conditions. This resentment has been building up for years now, with issues like inflation, high unemployment, and poverty being the reality for a large part of the population, as the regime has repeatedly proven to be unable to provide its people with better living standards. Coupled with widespread corruption and political repression, it is evident that the Iranian people have had enough of Islamic rule. Scholars have argued that the regime is experiencing a legitimacy crisis, as it is undeniably struggling to convince people that it is best suited to lead the country. Looking at the demonstrations now, it is clear that the people who are out on streets protesting are not simply seeking partial reform – they are demanding real change.

As we reach the end of this article, the question posed in the title is still short of an answer. Whether these protests will indeed turn into a new full-scale revolution remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: Mahsa Jina Amini did not die in vain. Her death sparked these demonstrations, which, if they have not shaken the theocracy to the core, have revealed cracks in its surface – cracks that may trickle down, and eventually prove to be the beginning of the end of the Islamic Republic.

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LeleDE wrote on 30-11 19:29:
LeleDE wrote:
Its so crazy what happen there😔
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Private wrote on 28-11 23:07:
BloomCissi wrote:
You should all apply to NT, just saying... 

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