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Taking a dive into the protests sweeping Iran

Protests continue in Iran: looking into what happened
Protests continue in Iran: looking into what happened

Image source: CBC

Protests continue to erupt across Iran even as the government crackdowns and state media say the protesters have ended their demonstrations.

The trigger

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 deputy team detained her and took her to a “re-education center”.

The reason for the arrest was that Amini violated the rules of the state hijab.

The protests

Since then, protests have broken out 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 rallies originally started as a call for justice for Amini’s death, but evolved into a broader protest-the unification of factions and social classes demanding the overthrow of the regime.

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How the protests differ from the past

The recent protests are not too different from previous anti-government movements.

However, according to experts, the fundamental problems of today have made the situation more relevant.

Esfandyar Batmangelidj, founder and CEO of the Stock Exchange & Bazaar Foundation in London, said the first waves in 2019, 2021, and earlier this year were driven by economic problems.

He also said it was one of the main reasons why the protests had 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 made it easier to “generate solidarity among different social groups.”

The protests also brought together young Iranians with internet access who did not know Iran before the Islamic Republic, according to Sanam Vakil.

Vakil is a senior research fellow for the Middle East and North Africa program at the 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, she also says they may misunderstand the situation.

Experts believe that the protests will only increase.

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 resource for bringing down 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 to the conflict

Analysts believe the protests will end with the use of brute force rather than concessions.

The Iranian government has accused 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 if the authorities made concessions through minor reforms, it would lead to the larger question of how to get young women to put their hijab back on.

She says it would be a face-saving outcome if the government overthrew the vice squad.

Vakil thinks it is unlikely that the hijab law will be completely abolished.

She also suggests that a referendum allowing Iranians to vote on the hijab issue could help quell the protests, but doubts that will happen.

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How far is the government from becoming vulnerable?

Protests have continued leaderless, even as protests have spread across the country for ten days and the death toll is mounting.

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.”

Batmanghelidj says having a leading figure is necessary to negotiate change with the government and lead the movement.

The protests carry the weight of several complaints, including the mandatory hijab and the brutality of the state security apparatus.

It remains to be seen whether there are any members of the Iranian government who understand the stakes and are willing to push for a significant change in the existing power structure.


What you need to know about Iran’s raging protests

Opinions expressed by Portland News contributors are their own.