On Monday, at the start of the first game of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, members of the Iranian men’s national football team stood silently while their national anthem was played.
It was a very clear reminder that discontent with the Iranian government remains strong, after several months of continuous protests in the country.
The Iranian regime is struggling to crush a huge wave of smart and enduring protests, unlike any the Islamic Republic has faced in the past. The non-leadership movement has grown stronger despite increasingly harsh crackdowns, drawing on unprecedented solidarity among ethnic minorities, various religious groups, and men allied with protesting women.
The movement began in September after the death 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, a Kurd from Saqqez in northwestern Iran, was arrested by the morality police in Tehran for allegedly improperly wearing a headscarf and later died in police custody. The protests in Saqqez soon spread to Tehran and other cities across the country. Now in its third month, the protests show no signs of stopping, despite the horrific violence unleashed by security forces on protesters, including brutal beatings, mass arrests, and indiscriminate killings of protesters, including children.
On the front lines of the demonstrations are women and youth – high school students walk out of school on strike, women tear off their headscarves and cut their hair in public as an act of mourning and defiance.
Despite earlier viral allegations, the government has not sentenced to death the 15,000 people arrested during the protests The island explained last week. This misunderstanding likely comes from a statement signed by 227 out of 290 Iranian parliamentarians stating that protesters “waging war against God” should be dealt with in a way that would “set an example”.
“But they’re not going to cull them all,” Ali Vaez, Iran project director at the International Crisis Group, told Vox via email. “If the past is a prologue, the regime is likely to ruthlessly execute a few to teach others a lesson and deter them from taking to the streets.”
However, more than 300 people were killed during the protests. This number includes approximately 50 children under the age of 18 Farnaz Fassihi from The New York Times I mentioned last week. However, it is difficult to track down victims and arrests. Access to social media and the Internet has been severely restricted, And foreign journalists do not have access to the country. this dimension, Five demonstrators It is planned to be executed to participate in the uprising.
However, the government’s response to the protests has become more extreme. Security forces escalated from using tear gas to shooting protesters with it Metal pellets and rubber bulletsAnd the bodies of several dead teens show evidence of this Severe head trauma. Mass arrests, threats of execution and indiscriminate killings fueled protesters’ calls for a new government and “death to the dictator”.
The violence could get worse, Borzo Dragahi, senior international correspondent for The Independent and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Vox in a phone interview. He said, “In the mind of the system, nothing is off limits because we are doing God’s work.”
Here is how the protest movement has evolved over time
The movement began without a leader, without a name among women, who had long been treated as second-class citizens with few rights in the Islamic Republic, and It remained a women-centered movement. Every day, girls and young women defy strict orders to cover their hair in public, and stand up to those who demand they follow the rules, even outward appearances. Harassment of a member of the feared Basijwhich is a paramilitary force that is part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and aided in violent crackdowns on demonstrators.
“It’s really poignant and kind of unprecedented even, perhaps, globally, this kind of feminist angle, and it’s real,” said Dragahi. “Men supporting women, schoolgirls going out and demonstrating in the day, schoolchildren going out and rioting against the police at night, people supporting each other, people cheering on women while they take off their headscarves etc. This whole angle of feminism is quite unique, for a political revolution in any country.” “.
Schoolgirls began participating in the protests publicly and seriously in October, and over the past several weeks, the protests have morphed into something broader and more inclusive—a call for an end to the regime coming from Iranians of ethnic, sexual, and religious backgrounds. .
The movement is also diversifying its tactics beyond just walking down the street every day, said Ilham Gitanci, a sociologist affiliated with Santa Monica College, Written for the Wilson Center last week:
The current social movement is spreading in the following ways: The strike of major university students (112 universities and still ongoing). high school students stepping out of classrooms; Street protests are held almost every night, especially on Wednesdays, and on the traditional 40th day of each “martyr”‘s death at the hands of the security forces.
Protesters have also called for a boycott of goods made by companies with alleged links to the regime, Getantchi wrote, including a major maker of groceries and household goods as well as Iran’s version of Amazon, Digikala.
The effect of the boycotts is significant, Fayez said, “even the rumor of a distant association with the IRGC could now destroy businesses that may not have connections to the force and have suffered for years under sanctions and endemic corruption.” at the top of the Strikes in major industries and loss Revenue generated from the Internet due to power failure and Limitations of services like InstagramBoycotts are likely to do more damage to the economy – but without a guarantee that they will lead to the downfall of the regime.
“In some ways, the boycott is bound to exacerbate the impact of the sanctions, leading to more misery,” Fayez said. The regime has always been able to pass on economic pain to the middle class, as did Saddam [Hussein] The year 2002 was richer than it was in 1992 at the beginning of the international sanctions regime against Iraq. It took outside intervention to bring about regime change in Iraq after a decade of devastating sanctions.”
Can the Iranian government stop the momentum?
Iranian society has a long history of protest, Haleh Esfandiari and Marina Ottawi write for Wilson Center last month. But the regime succeeded in crushing previous mass movements such as the protests of 2009 and 2019 very quickly. These movements were based around individual issues, such as the rigged election of unpopular leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency in 2009 and the gas price hike in 2019.
This movement is racist. The call is not only for reform, but rather a fundamental challenge to the concept of the basic system of society.
“Iran is a mixture of different sects and ethnicities, and therefore is vulnerable to the same fault lines that have pushed other countries in the region into civil conflict,” Fayez said. But these protests are driven primarily by a widely shared sense of nationalism, not separatism. Although the regime has tried to portray them as a threat to the country’s territorial integrity, and at times provoke separatists by spreading a higher degree of violence in Iran’s border provinces, where minorities live, the movement has preserved its nationalist character.
But the collapse of Ali Khamenei’s theocratic regime will likely require “pressure from below and divisions at the top.” Karim Sadjadpur I wrote for Foreign Affairs this spring. The pressure from below is certainly there, despite the increasingly high costs.
The economic misery Iran faces—the result of brutal sanctions by the United States and its allies, as well as the regime’s determination to exert influence in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and now Russia by financing proxy groups and exporting weapons—is a powerful galvanizing force. with unemployment running at about 11.5 percentPeople have the incentive and the time to protest.
However, Fayez said, it appears that the country’s elite are weathering the economic collapse and maintaining their support for and relations with the regime. “We haven’t seen serious schisms yet,” among the country’s powerful and influential upper class. Despite the regime’s “utter failure to improve the economic welfare of the country”, the upper echelons of society refused, at least publicly, to stand up to those in power.
There are cracks in the system’s interface, Dragahi said, though they may be small and easy to miss.
“The difference seems to be between those who support repression and those who want more repression,” Fayez told Vox. Political fissures It is not as extreme as it was in the previous protest movementsThis is likely due to the fact that “the regime has gotten rid of the most pragmatic forces in Iranian politics and is now either hard-liner or sycophantic,” he said.
But there are signs that the regime does not fully control the riot police, whom Dragahi has described as either thugs or religious fanatics, putting them in a precarious position.
people are being killed by chaos; “They are unprofessional and cannot properly control the crowd,” Daragahi explained. “Basically, when you let the dogs out of their cages, that dynamic explodes. Nobody’s lynching kids in the street. They’re just hotheads and bad guys, thugs, hired to go quell that protest. They have very little experience.”
Even if the regime is uncomfortable with killing innocent protesters, condemning the security forces who carried it out is too risky, as it could turn them against the clerics responsible.
“The main danger is that if the theocratic government proves unable to rein in the protests, the Revolutionary Guards may push the clerics aside and take over,” Fayez told Vox.
And despite the atrocities of mass arrests, death threats and death threats already perpetrated by the regime, the protests have continued, growing and developing. “It’s really in uncharted territory,” said Dragahi, both in terms of the movement’s momentum and the regime’s response.
“But so far, every measure of the regime’s old playbook has failed to crush the protests,” Faiz said.
Update Nov 21 10:35 a.m.: This story was originally published on November 19 and has been updated as members of the Iranian men’s national soccer team remain silent during their national anthems at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.