The uproar, the girls and women ripping off and setting fire to their hijabs, the rage in the streets of 90 Iranian cities, show no signs of abating. The young people now leading these protests are different from the previous generation; they have lost that feeling of fear. They know that they have nothing more to lose by fighting against the only government they have ever known — the oppressive regime run by religious fanatics in Tehran. A report on the latest protests can be found here: “A barrier of fear has been broken in Iran. The regime may be at a point of no return,” by Jomana Karadsheh and Tamara Qiblawi, CNN, October 5, 2022:
A woman dressed in black raises a framed portrait of her son, Siavash Mahmoudi, in the air as she paces the sidewalk in Iran’s capital, Tehran. “I am not scared of anyone. They told me to be silent. I will not be,” the woman seen in a viral social media video yells, her voice fraught with emotion.
“I will carry my son’s picture everywhere. They killed him.”
Mahmoudi’s mother is among many Iranians who claim the regime tried to silence them as they mourned loved ones slain in ongoing nationwide demonstrations.
But Iran’s protesters, and their supporters, are defiant. For weeks [and now in its fourth week], a nationwide protest movement has relentlessly gathered momentum and appears to have blunted the government’s decades-old intimidation tactics. Slogans against the clerical leadership echo throughout the city. Videos of schoolgirls waving their headscarves in the air as they sing protest songs in classrooms have gone viral, as have images of protesters fighting back against members of the formidable paramilitary group Basij.
These are scenes previously believed to be unthinkable in Iran, where the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei rules with an iron fist. But experts say that these protests transcend Iran’s many social and ethnic divisions, breaking a decades-old barrier of fear and posing an unprecedented threat to the regime.
The generation of Iranians in their twenties are unlike their predecessors, who protested about the price of gasoline in 2019 or against the outcome of an election, and possible electoral fraud, in 2009. These protests are not so focused. They are against the regime, against the Supreme Leader; only the collapse of that regime, and that leader, will satisfy them. They may not win this time, but they are using the battering ram of many weeks of nation-wide protests to weaken the foundations of the state.
Across Iran, protesters seem intent on exposing the weaknesses of a clerical establishment which is widely accused of corruption and has stamped out dissent with arbitrary detentions and even mass executions.
Tehran has been convulsing with demonstrations since the death in mid-September of Mahsa (also known as Zhina) Amini, the 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman who died after being detained by the country’s morality police for how she was dressed.
Protests crop up sporadically in various parts of the capital throughout each day. At night, a chant that has become a staple of the protests — “death to the dictator” — sounds from the rooftops of buildings. It’s a reference to Khamenei, who was once considered beyond reproach because of his elevated clerical status….
In 2019, the protests prompted by the rise in the price of fuel were directed at the government, with “death to the rulers” heard. But now it is a challenge – or threat – flung directly not at vague “rulers,” but at one man, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. This is most worrisome for the rulers. Yet the regime has held back from the kind of bloodbath it sanctioned in 2019, when 1,500 protesters were killed, and the protests were crushed in three days. The Basij and the army are now using more live fire than they did initially, and the death toll has crept up to 250 (including the latest figure of 82 Baluchis killed), but that number is still far from the toll of lives taken three years ago. One wonders if the government is holding back, as compared to 2019, because it fears that some members of the military or the Basij militia will this time refuse the orders to mass murder demonstrators.
Last week, Amnesty International said it had obtained a leaked document which appeared to instruct commanders of armed forces in all provinces to “mercilessly confront” protesters, deploying riot police as well as some members of the military’s elite Revolutionary guards, the Basij paramilitary force and plainclothes security agents.
In addition, Amnesty International said it had seen evidence of sexual assault against female protesters – CNN has not been able to verify this. Social media video has also shown Iranian security forces dragging unveiled women through the streets by their hair….
This brutality toward women hasn’t cowed these young women, but made them even more furious. They continue to tear off their hijabs and, defiantly, set fire to them. One YouTube scene that has gone viral shows middle-school girls surrounding a member of the Basij who had arrived to read them the riot act, only to be surrounded by the girls yelling at him, and forcing him from the room.
It’s no longer a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, hijabs, and the morality police. The rage has metastasized. Now the cries being repeated all over Iran are directed at the regime itself: “Death to the Islamic Republic! Death to the Dictator!” This is a direct challenge to the Supreme Leader who, instead of suavely trying to calm down the protests with a show, however fake, of sympathetic understanding, has ordered his military – the army and the Basij – to crush the protesters. Where before the security forces used metal pellets and tear gas to break up protests, now they use clubs and live fire. Close to 250 Iranians have been reported killed so far, but this has only increased the rage of the protesters, who have no intention of dispersing and returning to the wretched existences that, thanks to the morality police, they had endured before the murder of Mahsa Amini.
“These are primarily very, very young people, a younger generation who have apparently completely lost faith that this Islamic Republic can be reformed,” said Trita Parsi, executive vice-president at the Washington, DC-based Quincy Institute.
“They’re breaking from their previous generation who was seeking to reform the system from within,” Parsi added. “This new generation seems to not have any faith in that at all.”
How amusing that Trita Parsi, who for years in Washington has lobbied against efforts to increase U.S. sanctions on Iran, now finds himself needing to appear to be an ally of that “new generation” that, he must assume, will inherit Iran.
The 83-year-old Khamenei, who commented on the protests for the first time on Monday, blamed – without evidence – the United States and Israel for fueling the protests. He also made clear that the regime would block the protesters’ desire for change.
“I say clearly that these riots and the insecurity were engineered by the US and the occupying, false Zionist regime (Israel), as well as their paid agents, with the help of some traitorous Iranians abroad,” said Khamenei in his address.…
Of course. All those women speaking in Farsi and setting fire to their hijabs must surely be CIA agents. And all those students at the Sharif Technological University are Zionist agents provocateurs. The Great Satan and the Little Satan, aided by traitors abroad, are trying to spread alarm and unhappiness. It won’t work. They tried that it in 2009, and 2017, and 2019, but Iranians were not fooled then, and won’t be fooled now. The Supreme Leader is never wrong.
The difference is that these protests are not winding down, but continuing without letup and in some places have gained steam, in 90 cities across the country — in Tehran, Tabriz, Khermanshah, Shiraz, Urmia, even in the holy cities of Mashhad and Qom. Social media is now being used far more than in previous protests. Many more Iranians now have a computer or a Smartphone than they did in the previous protests, and the regime is having a difficult time trying to censor social media sites, so it shut down access to the Internet altogether. But Iranian activists have figured out a way to access the Internet nonetheless. This new approach involves Tor servers inside Iran itself, and engaging the tech community outside the country. This approach — using servers inside the country as a sort of “Trojan Horse for internet access” — is gaining endorsement from the free-speech community at large. What this means is that the Iranian government can no longer prevent dissidents from accessing the Internet. As one tech expert said: “If Iran has segmented off its residential internet access from the rest of the world, but its servers located within the country can still access both Iranian residential IPs as well as the outside internet, then setting up servers within the country to relay traffic should work. The government no longer controls the information received by, or disseminated by, the tech savvy young.
“The protests transcend social sectarian boundaries, bringing together a much broader strata of Iranian society than we have seen in years,” said Ali Vaez, director of the International Crisis Group’s Iran Project. “But they suffer from the same shortcomings that the previous movements in Iran also suffered from. Primarily, the lack of leadership.…
How do we on the outside know that there is no leadership inside Iran? We have no idea whether the protesters in any of the 90 cities simply gather spontaneously, or whether a vanguard of dissidents, perhaps even a single leader, directs their marching, and tells them what to chant. Perhaps the dissidents are leaderless, or perhaps there are leaders, unknown to us, who are sending messages on social media about when and where to gather, what slogans to chant, how to have the greatest impact on other Iranians who may still be on the sidelines, how to appeal to the members of the military to refrain from firing on them, how to make these protests in Qom or Mashhad or Tabriz known to the world’s media.
Demonstrations in Iran have been going on around the country since September 16; they are now entering their fourth week. This is much longer than any of the previous protests.The one in 2019 was crushed in three days. It is clear that Iranians are no longer fearful of the regime, not even by the use of live fire. And the protests have in some places taken on a distinctly ethnic cast. The massive show of force in Iranian Kurdistan – the Kurds are the favorite target of the Persian-dominated regime – has in turn prompted angry Kurds to chant slogans demanding an end to the government’s curbing of the use of the Kurdish language in schools, and demanding, too, the teaching of Kurdish culture. Now another ethnic group, the Baluchis, have risen up, and the Iranian military have been mowing them down, with at least 66 Baluchis, including women and children, killed in the massacre that took place on September 30 at Zahedan, with another 16 being killed in that city several incidents since. This now has the Baluchi population in an uproar. While there are only three million Baluchis in eastern Iran, there are another seven million right across the border in Pakistan, who are battle-hardened, having carried on for years a separatist insurrection against Islamabad; they can see what the Iranian military is doing to their fellow Baluchis and are no doubt ready to help their fellow Baluchis in Iran.
The Iranian government is flailing out in every direction. It has attacked the restive Kurds, and the Baluchis. But it has yet to crush the protesters in any of the more than 90 cities where they have been marching. It has now come down hard on the Kurds and the Baluchis, who remain defiant. It has tried, but ultimately failed, to cut off access to the Internet. And the sight on YouTube of young schoolgirls defiantly challenging a Basij who had come to intimidate them, and even forcing him into leaving the room, has startled many. Tehran is uncertain how to proceed. Should the military start mowing down the protesters, as it did in 2019, when 1,500 were killed, and the protests were crushed in three days? Or should the government try to avoid mass casualties, lest the response be even more furious, and instead use just enough force to keep an acceptable lid on protests, until the protesters themselves grow tired?
Those protesting know exactly what they are doing. As the Iranian-American scholar in exile, Pardis Mahdavi, has said: “The protests are actually growing despite the violent crackdowns. … The protests not only show no sign of decreasing, but what we’re seeing actually are increased generations out there protesting. Some of the images that we were seeing yesterday are of young schoolgirls, even, resisting, protesting, adding their voice to the protests. And to me, it’s interesting to see this generation, this is the generation born after the 2000s who were born into resistance, these are young people who are building on the decades’ worth of work that … feminists, women and men, have been doing since the revolution.
“For the past 44 years, you’ve seen resistance brewing. But this is a generation that was born into an atmosphere where the resistance was really taking root, and so as long as they have been alive they have seen people speaking out against the regime, which I think has emboldened them to protest in the way that they’re doing today.”
Young girls, university students, bazaaris, lawyers, doctors, trade unionists, are all represented in the protests. Meanwhile, the government menaces, blames Israel and America, calls out counter-demonstrators who seem to consist solely of niqabbed women. The cries of “Death to the Dictator!” grow louder. And the government in Tehran still does not know where to put its hands and feet.