Mass protests in Iran is the regime’s biggest challenge in years

A protester holds a portrait of Mahsa Amini during a demonstration in support of Amini, a young Iranian woman who died after being arrested by the Islamic Republic’s moral police in Tehran, on Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul on September 20, 2022.

Ozan Kose | AFP | beautiful pictures

Protests that rocked Iran over the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody have spread to at least 50 cities, even as police arrest and kill protesters in a violent crackdown .

Videos of women burning headscarves and crowds chanting “death to the dictator” amid burning cars are flooding social media, despite repeated shutdowns by the Iranian government. the internet in this country.

The uprisings were triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, an Iranian Kurdish woman who was arrested for allegedly violating Iran’s strict regulations on the wearing of the Muslim hijab for women. female. She died while in police custody, reportedly suffering multiple blows to the head.

The Iranian authorities claimed no wrongdoing and said that Amini died of a heart attack; but her family, and many Iranians, accuse the government of a cover-up. The alleged witnesses say they saw Amini beaten to death by Iran’s fearsome moral police. The image of Amini being intubated and unconscious in a hospital bed caused outrage across the country.

For the conservative Muslim theocracy of 86 million people, whose rigid laws prohibit any dissent and impose fearsome punishments on those seen as a threat to With the regime in power, acts of rebellion were enormous – and for the first time a protest movement of this scale was led by women. Public appearance as a woman without a head covering is a crime in Iran and resulting in jail time.

The Iranian government puts the official death toll of those killed in the unrest at 17; An advocacy group, the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, says government forces have killed 36 people.

CNBC was unable to independently verify these numbers.

What this uprising has revealed is the utter illegality of not only the Islamic Republic, but also the reality of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, in the eyes of this new generation.

The US has responded by condemning the actions of the Iranian government and imposing sanctions on Iran’s ethics police, whom it blames for Amini’s death.

Finance Minister Janet Yellen said: “Mahsa Amini is a courageous woman. The Treasury Department also said it had imposed sanctions on several senior commanders of the Iranian military.

“The Iranian government needs to end its systematic repression of women and allow peaceful protest,” Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said in a separate statement.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry and United Nations Mission did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline conservative cleric, did not mention Amini’s death or the protests during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.

‘Our people don’t give up’

A photo obtained by AFP outside Iran on September 21, 2022, shows Iranian protesters burning a trash can in the capital Tehran during a demonstration for Mahsa Amini, days after she died in custody. police custody. –

– | Afp | beautiful pictures

“They are beating and killing protesters in all the cities of Iran, and the police are trying to get help from neighboring countries,” an unnamed woman in the capital Tehran told CNBC. like Afghanistan”.

She described some of the police forces confronting the protesters as “too young”, saying she and the protesters would tell them, “why are you against us? Come and demonstrate with us!”

In response, she said, “some of them cursed at us, but most said ‘they forced us’.”

Not only did Iran oppress the women there, it made the whole world hate us.

Iranians who spoke to CNBC said the situation is becoming more and more dangerous.

“Since the government cut off the Internet outside of Iran, things have only gotten worse,” an Iranian woman living in Dubai told CNBC.

“But our people don’t give up and want to keep fighting to overthrow the government,” she said, speaking anonymously for fear of government retaliation.

This woman said that state aggression against women for not wearing a headscarf has “always been this bad for 43 years”, referring to how long Iran has been an Islamic Republic. , established after the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

She describes “how embarrassed we are by the authorities and religious extremists” for having too much hair and that “they take you to a re-education center where you have to take a religion class.” by force, and if this is not the first time they imprison you.”

“Not only does Iran oppress women there, it makes the whole world hate us,” she added.

A challenge to ‘the whole project of political Islam’

The protests, although certainly not the first in Iran in recent years, say a lot about attitudes, said Roham Alvandi, an Iranian historian and professor at the London School of Economics. young generation towards the Islamic Republic and their current despair. The speed at which these uprisings spread and the international support they attracted presents a significant challenge to the regime.

“This is an uprising sparked by the generation of Mahsa Amini, who have lived most of their lives in a heavily securitized country, a devastated economy and a global economy, and they blame this right at the feet of the Islamic Republic,” Alvandi wrote on Twitter.

“What this uprising has revealed is the utter illegitimacy of not only the Islamic Republic, but indeed the Iranian Revolution of 1979, in the eyes of this new generation. This has implications. enormous not only for Iran, but for the whole project of Islamic politics.”

TOPSHOT – Nasibe Samsaei, an Iranian woman living in Turkey, cut her ponytail during a protest outside the Iranian consulate in Istanbul on September 21, 2022, following the death of an Iranian woman following the death of an Iranian woman. when she was arrested by the country’s ethics police in Tehran.

Yasin Akgul | AFP | beautiful pictures

The most significant of the anti-government uprisings in Iran over the past two decades is arguably Iran’s “Green Movement” in 2009, where hundreds of thousands of Iranians, mostly students, protested the election results. sending is widely considered to be fraudulent.

But this time, “the protesters were much bolder,” said Evan Seigel, a scholar who has co-published books on Iranian history. “Driven by their anger over decades of repression and humiliation, they have tried to fend off the streets with repressive authorities, especially the obnoxious bust police.”

“For the first time I can recall, the regime’s medieval attitude toward women became a central issue in popular resistance to the regime,” he said.

Members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) march during the annual military parade In the southwestern city of Ahvaz before the attack.

STRINGER | AFP | beautiful pictures

However, analysts do not see the possibility of regime overthrow, mainly due to the sheer strength and size of its security apparatus. Some Iranians said they did not know if there was hope.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its paramilitary force, the Basij, which number around 250,000 and law enforcement personnel make up an additional half a million people across the country, bolstering their strength. strong coercion. These agencies were instrumental in quelling the Green Movement in 2009 and the protests since.

The events also underscore the irony of the Biden administration’s effort to pursue a deal with Tehran to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which some say lifted sanctions on Iran. country in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.

Behnam ben Taleblu, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told CNBC: “There cannot be a snapshot of Washington’s Iran policy that is more inconsistent than the image of Raisi and the UNGA podium during the day. as protests against the Islamic Republic across Iran took place.

He added: “Iranian women have bravely protested Iran’s discriminatory headscarf laws before. “This is not the end of that story.”

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