Can the revolt in Iran turn into victory for the people?

Youth in the street, is the state screwed up? Large-scale demonstrations have been invading Iranian cities on a daily basis since September 16. That is the date of death in hospital of Mahsa Amini, 22, three days after her arrest in Tehran for non-compliance with the dress code for women in the Islamic Republic, who must cover their hair.

Twelve days, without interruption, to defy the violent repression of the police, which has already killed around 60 people according to official figures, and more than 75 according to the NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR). In addition to the use of weapons, sometimes live ammunition, the authorities cut off the Internet in an attempt to stifle the cries of the population, which demands the fall of the authoritarian regime. Not enough to deter young people determined to live in freedom.

New deep anger against the Islamic Republic

Iran has already experienced large-scale mobilizations in 1999, 2009, 2017-2018 and even 2019-2020. But for Mahnaz Shirali, a sociologist specializing in Iran and author of Window on Iran (The Peregrines) interviewed by 20 minutes, it is a completely different momentum that leads the streams of citizens to the streets today. In 2019, she said, it was mostly lower social classes, protesting against rising fuel prices amid economic crisis and recession. But today, it is a protest “of another scale and of another duration”, because “this time, it is not only a part of society that is marching, not only those whom the we called the “barefoot”, but the youth came from all social backgrounds, she explains. They all recognized their fate in that of this young woman, and that had a triggering effect on already fertile ground, ”adds the specialist.

But for Amelie-Myriam Chelly, Iranologist researcher at the Center for Sociological Analysis and Intervention (CADIS) and author of Iran, autopsy of political Shiism (ed. du Cerf), expressions of the deep anger of the people have already taken place without succeeding. In 2009, for example, with the Green movement, the fall of the regime seemed attainable. However, it ended in a bloody repression with more than 150 dead, thousands of arrests, including those of opposition figures, and accusations of torture.

Moreover, the current protest is unique in that many women are participating in it, expressing their anger, burning their hijab and cutting their hair. These same women oppressed by the morality police, who arrested Mahsa Amini for a lock that was sticking out of her veil. But it’s not just women who are fighting for their rights, as men are demonstrating alongside them. “A solidarity between men and women that did not take place before”, underlines Mahnaz Shirali. For Amelie-Myriam Chelly, if the presence of so many women “represents a lot of hope for the Iranian population, it is not necessarily what will allow things to be reversed. This is not what is most formidable for the regime in place, ”she believes.

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The revolt until the revolution?

What form could a people’s victory take then? The coming to power of Ebrahim Raïssi, in 2021, resulted in a conservative turn. A part of the population then dreams today of the end of the compulsory wearing of the veil, of a relaxation of the policy of morals. But this eventuality “remains impossible as long as the Islamist Republic is in place, affirms Amelie-Myriam Chelly. It’s part of his DNA.” Beyond the veil, if a majority of the population “dreams of a change of regime, we are currently more in a desire to internationalize the movement”, she adds.

For Mahnaz Shirali, there is no ambiguity, the answer lies at the very heart of the chanted slogans: “The veil is a pretext, our goal is the fall of the regime”. And even if it is impossible to predict the future, “hope is always possible, anything can happen in such a spontaneous and extremely profound crowd movement”, develops the sociologist.

Especially since this youth is determined in addition to being “trained”. “She has access to new technologies, to social networks, finds ways to access the Internet despite the cut thanks to VPNs. And manages to resist the soldiers of the Islamic Republic very effectively. They can no longer bear to have the medieval laws of Islam imposed on them”. “The Islamic Republic is going through the worst crisis it has ever experienced,” she says. A regime that risks sinking into ever more violent repression “even if it knows it is desperate”, adds Amelie-Myriam Chelly.

For what alternative?

If all political opposition is today reduced to silence, according to Mahnaz Shirali, the young people, educated, cultivated, have the means to take control of the country “whose ecosystem, the economy, have been destroyed by a band of kleptocrats “, she accuses. The Iranian state is aging. However, even if the regime is made up of elderly people, “there will always be an old person who will take the place of another”.

“No regime can resist the will of its people. But will it fall today or tomorrow? “Asks Mahnaz Shirali finally.

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