Protests in Iran have shaken the Islamic Republic

Tor the Iranian morality police officers who arrested 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 13 must have seemed business as usual. Her brother’s appeals that they were visitors on unknown terrain in Tehran went unheeded when she was forced to leave, just one of dozens of her arrested that day for showing a few strands of hair outside her veil. But what followed is to shake the theocratic state to the core.

Hours after his arrest, Amini was admitted to the hospital “without vital signs and brain dead,” authorities there reported. She was pronounced dead on September 16. In the intervening days, the Iranian public saw a photo of a girl in the prime of life attached to tubes: bloodstains visible in her ear, which a doctor who viewed the images called a possible sign. She suffered from severe head trauma.

Protests erupted almost immediately at Amini’s funeral in his hometown of Saqqez in Iran’s Kurdistan province, only to spread like wildfire across the country. Unprecedented in size and speed, they were also marked by the audacity of the protesters, led in almost all cases by women. They held up photographs of Amini, waved her veil in the air, burned them in bonfires and shouted “Zhin, Zhiyan, Azadi” (woman, life, freedom).

On social media, his name became an Iranian version of #MeToo, a message for ordinary people mail experiences of loss Y oppression at the hands of the Islamic Republic, gathered under #MahsaAmini. “For my cousin, whom you imprisoned in 1958 at the age of 16, and in 1967 you informed his mother of his execution,” read one. In a variety of forms and language, the hashtag surpassed 80 million mentions on Twitter—many with the slogan “Mahsa, you are not dead, your name has become a symbol”. Others She alluded to her brother’s pleas to let her go as they were strangers in Tehran: “You are no longer a stranger, the whole country knows you now.”

Every day image after image they emerged from Iranian women facing the police and security forces with their heads free of any cover. Most only knew of the hijab, the hair and body covering prescribed by faith as the law of the land, which was born decades after the 1979 revolution that turned Iran into a theocracy while rolling back women’s rights. By Friday, a week after Amini’s death, parts of Tehran had become protest zones. The Iranians gathered under a highway overpass singing“This is the year of blood, Seyed Ali will be overthrown,” a reference to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

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The Islamic Republic, no stranger to public discontent and protests, was shocked and caught off guard. The security apparatus began clamping down almost immediately. short, grainy clips filmed on cell phones began to appear on Instagram, Twitterand WhatsApp showing police, in many cases accompanied and abetted by Basij paramilitary forces, attacking and beating men and women as they fled their attack, with the sound of gunfire clearly audible.

As the protests continued, more and more names and photos of young men and women claimed to have been killed appeared on social media, including a on the Instagram account of Iranian actress Parasto Salehi. The official counts rose steadily, from more than a dozen to 26, a state television presenter. quoted at one point Thursday to 35 a few hours later.

In more than four decades in power, the Iranian state has quelled many protests, beginning with those led by rivals fighting for control of the country after the US-backed Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, fled in 1979. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in 2009 to protest perceived electoral fraud in what became known as the “Green Revolution”, only to be broken up by regime forces and mass arrests. Most recently, in November 2019, increases in gasoline prices sparked sudden public outbursts across the country that the government responded with live fire. In eight days the number of civilian deaths past 300, including at least 23 children, according to Amnesty International. To obscure its actions and prevent protesters from communicating, the government took another extreme step: shutting down the internet.

Ominously, a similar approach appears to be underway now. mobile data networks have been turned off and most social networks filtered. And while Iranians learned years ago how to bypass Internet restrictions, often through the use of VPNs, the imminent possibility of a total blackout has many worried, especially after dozens of activists, students and political figures were pre-emptively arrested in orders by the head of the Judiciary, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i.

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The apprehension is also fueled by the recordings circulating on messaging services. In an unverified audio file shared on Telegram, a senior Basij commander in the northern city of Rasht can be heard pleading with members of his division to report for operations against the protests, repeatedly saying: “Thank God, our hands have now been left open. The language is generally understood to mean that paramilitaries can now use live ammunition against protesters.

In another recording circulating, an intelligence officer calls a young protester in the central city of Kerman and demands that he stop “instigating the crowds” by making street speeches or he will face the consequences. To the officer’s apparent surprise, he was told, “Do your worst.”

The protests have continued despite the risks. clips Y images circulating online shows riot police and plainclothes agents persecuted and, in some cases, captured and beaten by protesters. With at least 80 cities they are reported to be actively protesting, and the number is growing every day, the security forces seem to be stretched thin, and reports of disagreement among them began to circulate.

At the same time, more and more Iranian celebrities, actors and athletes have come out publicly in support of the protesters, demanding that the state back down and listen to them, from former soccer player Ali Karimi, who in Twitter Y Instagram lashed out at the authorities and demanded an end to the brutality, actresses like katayoun-riahi, who publicly removed her veil in solidarity with Iranian women. Even celebrities who had been seen as loyal and close to the establishment like Shahab Hoseini they have joined the ranks of those demanding an end to violent repression.

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During the first week of protest, international diplomacy could have acted as a brake on the security forces. President Ebrahim Raisi had traveled to the United Nations General Assembly in New York in part over talks to restart the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. But now that Raisi is back and no deal is in hand, activists warn that a repeat of November 2019 could be unavoidable.

Managing Director of Keyhanthe newspaper closely linked to the Supreme Leader, warned earlier this week that security forces would soon be back on the streets. The Revolutionary Guard Corps issued a statement Thursday promising the defeat of the “enemy conspiracy”. The week brought reports of increased violence and the use of more deadly equipment by security forces and a rise in deaths, especially in the western region of Kurdistan where Amini hails from. There are already signs that security forces are converging on Tehran, with schools, universities, cinemas, theaters and even some government offices closed in the coming days, in an all-out effort to quell protests in the capital. Government-organized counter-protesters order protesters to be executed.

Both sides understand that the problem goes far beyond the hijab.

“Mahsa Amini’s death was the spark in the tinderbox of almost universal discontent among Iranians,” says a political analyst in Tehran who preferred not to be identified for security reasons.

“Whether it is political and personal freedoms, economic hardship or social constraints, many Iranians no longer have any hope for the future in the Islamic Republic…and the state no longer has the economic means to solve or delay its problems by throwing money at it. ”, adds the analyst.

“The protests these days are in the name of humanity, unlike the 1979 revolution that was in the name of God,” tweeted Mohammadreza Javadi Yeganeh, professor of sociology at the University of Tehran.

The 2022 demonstrations are “a social revolution,” Yeganeh added. “Protesters, especially women, want to live according to their own understanding, without paying attention to what religion says.”

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