The Iranian regime has failed to contain the mass protests, despite brutal tactics

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 grew strong despite increasingly harsh crackdowns, drawing on the unprecedented solidarity between ethnic minorities and different religious groups and the solidarity of men with 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, women and youth – high school students were walking out of school on strike, women tearing off their headscarves and cutting 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 earlier in the 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 for the International Crisis Group, told Vox by 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 more than 50 children Under 18 years old Farnaz Fassihi from The New York Times I mentioned Monday. 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, which has no leader and no name, began among women, who for a long time were 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 this 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 death for every “martyr” killed by 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 transmit economic pain to the middle class, just as Saddam in 2002 was richer than it was in 1992 at the start 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 as such is vulnerable to the same fault lines that have driven other countries in the region into civil conflict,” Ali Vaez, Iran project director at the International Crisis Group, told Vox by email. But these protests are primarily driven by a broadly shared sense of patriotism, 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 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 definitely there; Although the costs are increasingly high.

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 the crackdown and those who want more repression.” Faiz 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 indications 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. No one’s going around lynching kids in the street, they’re just hotheads and bad guys, thugs, hired to go quell that protest, and 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.

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 momentum of the movement and the reaction of the regime.

“But so far, every measure of the regime’s old playbook has failed to crush the protests,” Faiz said.

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