Protests continue in Iran: looking into what happened
Protests continue to erupt across Iran even as the government cracks down and state media say the protesters have ended their demonstrations.
The protests, now on their tenth day, were sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman named Mahsa Amini.
Amini died in a hospital three days after the Tehran morality police detained her and took her to a “re-education center.”
The reason for the arrest was that Amini violated the rules of the state headscarf.
Since then, protests have erupted in more than 40 cities, including Tehran.
Dozens were killed in clashes with security forces, and state-sponsored media revealed that at least 1,200 were arrested.
The demonstrations originally began as a call for justice for Amini’s death, but evolved into a broader protest: the unification of factions and social classes calling for the overthrow of the regime.
How are the protests different from the past?
The recent protests are not very different from previous anti-government movements.
However, according to experts, today’s fundamental problems have made the situation more relevant.
Esfandyar Batmangelidj, founder and CEO of London’s Stock Exchange & Bazaar Foundation, said the first waves in 2019, 2021, and earlier this year were driven by economic woes.
He also said this is one of the main reasons the protests have not spread to other sections of society.
“This is different, because what people are really asking for is a more significant kind of political change,” Batmanghelidj explained.
He added that the movement makes it easier to “generate solidarity among different social groups.”
According to Sanam Vakil, the protests also brought together young Iranians with internet access who were unfamiliar with Iran before the Islamic Republic.
Vakil is a Senior Fellow for the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House Think Tank in London.
The Iranian government
Trita Parsi, vice president of the Quincy Institute in Washington, DC, says the Iranian government doesn’t seem to feel any more vulnerable than before.
However, he also says they may misunderstand the situation.
Experts believe that the protests will only grow.
On Sunday, one of the main Iranian teachers’ unions called for a nationwide strike.
Strikes by Iranian workers are more sensitive because they evoke memories of the 1979 revolution, when collective union action proved to be a tactical means of overthrowing the Shah.
“I think it is quite likely that we will see more strikes because the strikes were happening even before this [movement],” said Parsi.
“They may end up being mutually reinforcing.”
Possible end of the conflict
Analysts believe the protests will end with the use of brute force rather than concessions.
The Iranian government has accused the Western media of being behind the protests, especially foreign conspiracies.
According to analysts, this will determine how they will be treated.
“If they see this as a security threat and not as an issue of political expedience, then they are more likely to respond using the tools of their security apparatus,” said Batmanghelidj.
“The government has far more capacity for repression than it does for reform at this stage.”
Vakil said that if the authorities were to make concessions through small reforms, he would raise the question of how young women could put the hijab back on.
He says it would be a face-saving result if the government overthrew the morality police.
Vakil believes that the hijab law is unlikely to be abolished entirely.
He also suggests that a referendum in which Iranians can vote on the hijab issue could help quell the protests, but doubts will arise.
To what extent will the government become vulnerable?
The protests continue without a leader, even as the protests have spread across the country for ten days and the death toll is rising.
The protests’ most vocal and visible figures are living in exile after the government restricted internet access at home.
“This is an indigenous Iranian movement,” said Vakil.
“It is important to stress ordinary Iranians inside the country are the mobilizers of what is happening.”
According to Batmanghelidj, it is necessary to have a leader to negotiate changes with the government and lead the movement.
The protests bear the brunt of several grievances, including compulsory hijab and the brutality of the state security apparatus.
It remains to be seen whether there are members of the Iranian government who understand what is at stake and are prepared to push for a meaningful change in the existing power structure.