Iranian women have been the catalyst for the largest uprising in the Islamic Republic in years. The protests were ignited after Iran’s morality police arrested and jailed Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman, for not wearing her hijab, or headscarf, properly. She then died in custody, sparking a major wave of protests across the country led mainly by women who expressed their disdain and rejection of Iran’s archaic and extremist laws.
The protests, which began on 16 September, have been unique in their extension across the country, covering 156 towns and cities in 31 different governorates by 1 October. Iranian opposition news reports indicate that as many as 100 universities and other institutions have joined the protests and students are now striking and refusing to attend classes. More surprising is the fact that the move has been supported by university professors who have also joined the strikes.
The Iranian protests have been met by brutal violence from the country’s security forces, leaving over 80 people dead to date. However, other Iranian opposition reports say that at least 300 people have died and hundreds of others have been injured, with 15,000 arrests thus far. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has vowed to crack down on the ongoing protests. The results of this crackdown by his tyrannical regime are already clear from the rapidly rising death toll.
Iran’s State Security Force (SSF), the national police force the regime has designated to counter public anger and uprisings, has warned the protestors that it is backed by the Iranian army and the Revolutionary Guard and its notorious paramilitary wing the Basij.
But the protests have nevertheless continued for the third week in a row without any sign of their dying down despite the draconian measures taken by the regime. The degree of anger has reached peak levels. Many women have been seen tearing off the hijabs that they are forced to wear and even cutting off their own hair in protest at the death of Amini.
What distinguishes the latest wave of protests in Iran is that it was initially led by brave Iranian women who are fed up with the mediaeval-style laws in the country that force women to wear a scarf over their head in public and subject them to physical punishment and time in prison if they don’t submit to these laws.
These draconian laws have recently been coupled with extremely hard economic conditions in this oil-rich country. The annual inflation rate in Iran reached a peak of 54 per cent in August, causing hardships to the majority of citizens in a country of 84 million people.
The economic sanctions resulting from the aggressive policies of the Iranian regime have exacerbated the already dire situation. These sanctions will not be lifted until the Iranian regime agrees to commit to a series of changes that include signing the revised nuclear agreement proposed by the Western powers.
The current negotiations on this agreement carried out by the 5+1 group of mostly Western countries represent the Iranian regime’s only leeway if it is to overcome the economic sanctions imposed by the Western powers to halt its ambitions to produce a nuclear weapon.
But the negotiations remain at a standstill thanks to Iran’s failure to provide evidence that it is set abandon its ambitions.
Several US senators have warned against resuming negotiations with Iran during the current wave of protests in the country. They have warned against providing a lifeline to a regime that carries the global reputation of being a state-sponsor of terrorism.
Iran’s political and military interventions in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen through financially backing militias such as Hizbullah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and the Popular Mobilisation Forces in Iraq have wreaked havoc in these countries. The Iranian regime has also attempted for decades to destabilise the neighbouring Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE through direct political threats of launching a war or vile acts of espionage against them. The Iranian regime has not hesitated to hijack oil tankers owned by the UK and others in recent years.
This sort of behaviour over four decades has discredited the Iranian regime, which has also not ceased from hunting down, kidnapping, and assassinating its detractors in the US and Europe. The current Iranian regime with its ailing 83-year-old supreme leader Ali Khamenei has exhausted most ways of persecuting dissidents and terrorising its neighbours and others across the world. The latest wave of protests in the country has been a protest against the policies of a regime that has wasted and ruined the lives of generations of Iranians through its expansionist ambitions and repressive acts.
The world has awakened to the cruel realities in Iran, and the deaths of Mahsa Amini and other young women like Hadis Najafi, shot dead for showing her hair in a video, are a reminder of the ongoing injustices in the country. The stories of other women who have also lost their lives are becoming better known, but these are a drop in the ocean when compared to the large numbers of Iranian women imprisoned, tortured, flogged or executed for the slightest of reasons.
The Iranian authorities are not sparing any means to quell the current revolt in the country. But even so, the protests are spreading to more areas by the day, with the majority of Iranians now realising that there will be no end to their misery except with the ousting of the regime.
The success of the current wave of protests will rely on how far the Iranian people are willing to stand up against the regime’s aggression against their freedoms. These freedoms have been denied them for over four decades under one of the most repressive regimes on the planet.
With most Iranians now fed up of being dragged into regional and global conflicts at the expense of their lives and livelihoods, the Iranian regime is still adamant about pursuing its archaic and repressive laws against its own citizens. But attempts to replicate the laws and rules of mediaeval times in the 21st century will end up in failure no matter how long they continue.
This is a fact that the regime in Iran has failed to grasp, but it is one that will eventually bring about its downfall.
* The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring: The Long and Winding Road to Democracy.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 October, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.