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Paul Vallely: Resistance to the regime builds in Iran

04 November 2022

Will growing revolt against its rulers turn to revolution, asks Paul Vallely


Iranian women in Istanbul protest against their country’s regime, in Istanbul, on Monday

Iranian women in Istanbul protest against their country’s regime, in Istanbul, on Monday

THE protests all across Iran show no sign of letting up, despite a violent crackdown by the theocracy in which 300 protesters have been killed and 14,000 doctors, students, journalists, and artists have been arrested. Is the Iranian regime about to topple?

There have been serious protests against the ayatollahs in the past. In 2009, the urban middle class took to the streets after an election was stolen from a reformist candidate. In 2019, rocketing petrol prices sparked a mass protest among workers. But such dissent has been suppressed with violence and intimidation.

The protests of the past seven weeks have been different. When Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman on a visit to Tehran, died at the hands of the “morality police” — for the crime of allowing her hair to show at the side of her hijab (News, 14 October) — hundreds of thousands of protesters, in 133 cities and 122 universities, chanted her name. Many cried: “Death to the dictator!” — the shout that toppled the Shah in 1979 now directed at the current leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

And now the protesters, for the first time in the Middle East, are women — and the teenage girls of Gen Z who are using TikTok, Instagram, and Telegram to spread the message to their peers throughout Iran, but also across the worldwide web.

In Iran, women are banned from dancing and singing. They are forbidden from watching men’s sports. They must have male guardians to travel, or enter hotels. Their access to family planning and foetal monitoring has been restricted. They have been imprisoned for speaking out for equal rights for women. The enforcement of the compulsory hijab has been tightened.

Already resentful at all this, women responded to the death of Ms Amini with the slogan “Zan, zindiqi, azadi” (“Women, life, freedom”), removing their headscarves in public, cutting their hair, and shouting “Get lost!” to the Iranian President.

Five factors must coincide to provoke a revolution, the political scientist Professor Jack Goldstone says: economic strain, the alienation of elites, popular anger at injustice, the spread of narratives of resistance, and international support for revolutionary change.

Much of that is in place in Iran. The economy is stagnant, inflation is 50 per cent, and the price of bread is soaring. Popular anger has spread from students and intellectuals to athletes, oil workers, businessmen, and shopkeepers. Fear has been punctured. At one university, the crowds chanted: “If we do not stand together, we are killed one by one.” An awareness of an alternative way of life has been spread through the internet.

As for international support, the hashtag #MahsaAmini has been posted an astonishing 300 million times. In Argentina this week, Coldplay invited an Iranian movie star to join them on stage to sing the Iranian anthem of resistance. Canada and the EU are moving to add Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to their list of proscribed terrorist organisations.

If the unholy alliance between the theocratic elite and the Revolutionary Guards can be broken — and word is that the latter are motivated more by their huge business interests than by religious zeal — the final one of the Goldstone conditions may be met. If that happens, then revolt may indeed turn to revolution.

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