Majid Asgaripour/WANA via Reuters
When Khotan, 28, recently launched her women’s clothing boutique on Instagram, she decided to feature collections of colorful, form-fitting crop tops and T-shirts rather than the mandatory clothing long-imposed by Iranian authorities.
“We thought at one point about selling scarves and capes,” says the Tehran-based designer, who spoke to NPR over a blurred Zoom line giving only her first name for fear of being found and detained for having criticized the government. “Ultimately, we decided to post Instagram Stories showing our followers different ways to turn their scarves into tops or skirts.”
It’s been a year since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, also known by her Kurdish name Jina, died while in the custody of Iran’s morality police. His death sparked some of the most radical anti-government protests Iran has seen in decades. Government security forces violently suppressed the uprising, killing more than 500 people, arresting some 22,000 and executing several detained protesters, according to experts and human rights activists.
Despite the repression, some signs, such as Khotan’s online store, show that the protest movement continues. Singers continue to produce protest songs, many women continue to let their hair flow freely in public spaces, and activists continue to spread anti-government messages on social media. But the repression carried out by the government in recent weeks, on the eve of the expected unrest around September 16, the anniversary of Amini’s death, shows how difficult it will be for this movement to survive.
While the legacy of the 2022 protests is an unfinished story still taking shape, here’s a look at the situation a year after Amini’s death lit a match in one of the Middle East’s most combustible countries .
Many Iranians remain rebellious
Even though the morality police have resumed patrols after a brief suspension, many women in large and small towns continue to forgo wearing headscarves in public.
And it’s not just women who defy the state-mandated dress code. Some men wear shorts in public – in violation of the country’s dress code – as a sign of solidarity.
“I once saw that two policewomen had arrested young girls because of their clothing and wanted to arrest them, but these two guys who were wearing shorts spotted them and intervened,” says Khotan, who no longer wears the scarf. “They managed to help the girls free themselves and found themselves tangled with the police.”
Pop singer Mehdi Yarrahi released a song last month called “Roosarito“, which means “your headscarf” in Persian, calling on women to abandon their veil.
In March, a group of teenage girls appeared in a TikTok post – bare midriffs and exposed hair – dancing to a Selena Gomez song.
Iranian government takes tough measures
It didn’t take long for authorities to arrest Yarrahi for her protest song or to arrest the teenage girls for their viral message. The girls were only released after reportedly recording a video apologizing for their actions.
Whether it’s artists, activists or journalists, the government’s crackdown has become even more aggressive as the anniversary of the uprising approaches. Family members of protesters killed by security forces have been arrested or intimidated into silence in recent weeks, according to Amnesty International.
In a single day in August, Human Rights Watch documented the arrest of at least a dozen women’s rights defenders and political activists.
“The repression has entered a new phase,” says Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran. “Executions have more than doubled, the government is purging universities of professors and student activists, and it is once again attacking (unveiled) women in restaurants and public spaces.”
Several university campuses became the scene of intense clashes between student protesters and security forces last fall. Teachers deemed supportive of the protest movement declared on social media that they had been fired or suspended from their positions.
Some believe the crackdown will intensify even further once media attention to the anniversary wanes.
“I fear that the repression will become more systematic once they see how the anniversary is going,” says Elnaz, 33, a former protester who continues to flout the rules of wearing the obligatory headscarf and asks that her name be family information is not used for fear of reprisals. “In such a scenario, it could become much more difficult to participate in acts of civil disobedience if all of a sudden the government starts depriving access to bank accounts, for example, or confiscating passports, or refusing the renewal of identity cards.”
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s bet on repression as a way to stay in power has paid off for other leaders in the region.
“It’s been proven to Khamenei time and time again that when your population grows, you should never give an inch because that won’t alleviate the pressure against you, it will embolden your opponents,” says Karim Sadjadpour, of the Carnegie Endowment for International peace. “The most recent example is the Arab uprisings of 2011 – Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, (Zine El Abidine) Ben Ali in Tunisia – two autocrats who promised their populations that they would reform and a month later they were driven out of power. Who hasn’t? “I’m not promising reform? Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Iran’s main client, and he’s still standing 12 years later.”
The United States continues to engage with Iran
The Biden administration reached a deal with Iran last month for the possible release of five American citizens imprisoned in Iran.
The deal is conditional on the United States releasing several Iranian citizens it is detaining and giving Tehran access to $6 billion in oil revenues frozen in banks in South Korea. The money was paid under a deal approved by the Trump administration that ultimately stalled due to a change in economic sanctions under President Biden.
Those funds are being transferred to Qatar, where U.S. officials insist they will be closely monitored to ensure they are used only for importing food and medical supplies to Iran , items that are not restricted by US sanctions.
It’s a deal that has frustrated many Iranians, particularly because the final stages of the deal coincide with the first anniversary of the uprising.
“In a way, the United States is stepping on the blood of all those who lost their lives last year,” says Khotan, adding that she is opposed to any negotiations with Iran on the renewal of a nuclear agreement. “The international community must further isolate the Islamic Republic instead of just complying with its demands.”
Wana News Agency/via Reuters
Iranians did not rally around a single opposition leader
Shortly after the uprisings began, with many prominent Iranian activists arrested and imprisoned, a group of opposition figures outside Iran formed what initially appeared to be a united coalition. They included Reza Pahlavi, the son of the former shah of Iran, Masih Alinejad, a human rights activist who was the target of an international kidnapping plot in 2021, Hamed Esmaeilion, whose wife and daughter were killed in a Ukrainian airliner shot down by the Islamic group. Republic in 2020, and several other notable personalities.
But that coalition collapsed almost as quickly as it was formed due to political inexperience, divisions among coalition members, and infighting among their supporters in the diaspora.
For those living in Iran, there was also a feeling that these figures who had spent years outside Iran could not fully represent them.
Protesters insist that not having a leader the government could target was to their advantage and helped fuel the unrest. But the strength of leaderless movements is also their greatest weakness: there is no person or party ready to inspire and galvanize large sections of society to propose an alternative system of governance.
“As we have seen in virtually every other country in the Middle East that has had popular unrest in which they have managed to overthrow dictators, it has not been a happy ending,” said Sadjadpour, who advised the Iranian opposition group. during its short lifespan. “It was the illiberal forces that took power. And frankly, that’s one of the lessons of the 1979 revolution in Iran, that it’s not enough to overthrow an autocratic regime. You have to have a vision concrete and organized for a more democratic and more democratic regime.” tolerant and responsible system.