MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, Sep 19 (IPS) – It’s been a year since a photo of Mahsa Amini, 22 – bruised and in a coma from which she will never recover after being arrested by the moral police for her allegedly incorrect hijab worn – was published. viral, sending people into the streets.
The protests have become the fiercest challenge yet faced by Iran’s theocratic regime. The unprecedented scale of the protests was accompanied by an unprecedented brutality of repression, which clearly revealed the regime’s fear for its own survival.
Led by women and young people, the mobilizations under the banner “Woman, life, freedom” formulated broader demands for social and political change. They spread like wildfire – on the streets of Iran, in universities and even in the cemeteries where a growing number of victims of the regime were buried. These words were taken up and amplified by the Iranian diaspora around the world. The Iranian people have made it clear that they want the Islamic Republic to disappear.
A year later, the theocratic regime is still in place, but that doesn’t mean nothing has changed. It is by force that the authorities have regained control – at least for now. But subtle changes in daily life reveal the presence of active undercurrents that could spark mass protests again. The regime knows this, hence the fear with which it awaits this date and its redoubled repression as it approaches.
A glimpse of the change
Last December, as protests raged and authorities worked to stop them, women could be seen on Iranian streets without their hijabs for the first time in decades. Once the protests were suppressed, many simply refused to submit to the old rules again. A tactical shift followed, with mass street mobilization morphing into more elusive civil disobedience.
Women, especially those from Generation Z, like Mahsa, continue to protest daily, simply by not respecting hijab rules. Young people express their defiance by dancing or showing affection in public. Cities are waking up to acts of civil disobedience written on their walls. Anti-diet slogans seem to come from nowhere. In some parts of the country where many people from excluded ethnic minorities live, protests follow Friday prayers. It won’t take long for the embers of rebellion to reignite.
Ahead of the anniversary, family members of those killed during the 2022 protests faced pressure not to hold memorial services for their loved ones. The lawyer representing Mahsa Amini’s family was accused of “propaganda against the state” due to interviews with foreign media. University professors suspected of being critical of the regime have been fired, suspended, forced to retire or have not had their contracts renewed. The students were subject to disciplinary measures in retaliation for their activism.
Artists who have expressed support for the protest movement have faced reprisals, including arrests and prosecutions on ridiculous charges such as “broadcasting an illegal song.” Some were held in detention on more serious charges and subjected to physical and psychological torture, including solitary confinement and beatings.
Two months ago, the regime put the moral police back on the streets. Initial attempts to arrest women found violating hijab regulations, however, were met with resistance, leading to clashes between sympathetic passers-by and police. Women, including celebrities, have been prosecuted for appearing in public without their hijab. Drivers of cars carrying passengers not wearing hijabs have received traffic tickets and private businesses have been shut down for non-compliance with hijab laws.
The regime’s most conservative elements have stepped up their efforts by proposing a new “hijab and chastity” law that aims to impose harsher penalties, including lashes, heavy fines and prison terms of up to up to 10 years for those who appear without the hijab. The bill is currently being reviewed by Iran’s Guardian Council, a 12-member, all-male body headed by a 97-year-old cleric.
If not now, then anytime
As September 16 approached, the presence of security forces on the streets continued to increase, with the establishment of instant checkpoints and the interruption of Internet access. The government was clearly worried that something big was going to happen.
As this anniversary passes, the hardline ruling elite remains united and the army and security forces stand by them, while the protest movement is directionless and has been hit hard. Some argue that what has allowed it to spread so quickly – the role of young people, and young women in particular – has also limited its appeal within broader Iranian society, and particularly among low-income people, who are concerned above all by economic conflicts, rising inflation and increasing poverty. .
There are ideological differences within the Iranian diaspora, formed through successive waves of exile and including left and right groups, monarchists and ethnic separatists. Although most share the goal of replacing authoritarian theocracy with a secular democracy, they are divided on strategy and tactics, including whether sanctions are the best way to deal with the regime.
Since protests began last year, thousands of people around the world have shown their support and called on their governments to act. And some did, starting with the United States, which very early on imposed sanctions on morality police and senior police and security officials. New sanctions targeting 29 additional individuals and entities, including 18 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and security forces, were imposed on the eve of the anniversary of the protests, September 15, the International Day of Democracy. That day, US President Joe Biden made a statement about Mahsa Amini inspiring a “historic movement” for democracy and human dignity.
The continued surge of international solidarity shows that the world remains attentive and attentive. A new regime is not imminent in Iran, but the quest for democracy is not over either. For those living under a murderous regime, every day of the year is the anniversary of a death, indignity or rights violation. Each day will therefore bring a new opportunity to resurrect the rebellion.
Inés M. Pousadela is a CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and editor for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society report.
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