The wave of protests in Iran sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 17 continues to this day. The number of people killed is unknown but it would be close to 200 and possibly even more.
In fact, this is one of many crises Iran has experienced over the years. For example, in 2009, many Iranians who believed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had only been elected to a second term as a result of irregularities and election rigging took to the streets.
In 2019, they were back on the streets due to the sharp increase in fuel prices.
Each time, they were confronted with a muscular and murderous intervention by the security forces.
The current crisis has three main characteristics.
– Women are in the foreground. Amini became a victim and the symbol of what she was not meant to do as a woman. Iranian morality police detained Amini because, in their judgment, she was not wearing her headscarf properly. Many demonstrators are now burning their headscarves and their slogans show that their patience has reached its limits.
– Amini was ethnically Kurdish and there is a big Kurdish angle to the current crisis. The riots started in his hometown and spread across the country. The Western press is particularly keen to highlight these aspects.
– The protesters in the streets are mostly young people, including Generation Z. (Iran has 85 million inhabitants of which 24.11% are between 0 and 14 years old and 62.3% between 15 and 54 years old ).
Even though each group has their own specific reasons for not being satisfied with the regime, they have common ground on a majority of issues built on the basis of expectations and disappointments.
On the home front, political oppression, corruption, economic mismanagement and abuses of all kinds are very present. In fact, these are the main reasons why Iranians rose up against the Shah’s regime and overthrew it in 1979. The actors have changed, but the essence is the same.
Economically, inflation, a very weak currency, a percentage of the population living below the poverty line and the loss of wealth are among the major problems.
It should not be forgotten that it is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of proven reserves of natural gas and oil. These still valuable assets are even more valuable at a time when most of the industrial world is looking for alternative gas suppliers.
The sanctions have a lot to do with the current economic difficulties facing Iran, but blaming them would be misleading.
In terms of international relations and foreign policy, Iran is a major regional player. He has ambitions; regional, nuclear and other.
Iran is at the center of what is called the “axis of resistance” against Israel. This and the position it holds in the Shia world, the so-called Shia belt stretching from Iran to Lebanon, the deep involvement in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen are worrying to many in the East and West.
The Iranian regime must have been concerned that the current crisis would be different from previous ones in the country’s history.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called Amini’s family and promised a full investigation. The Speaker of Parliament spoke of the need to reform the approach to the morality police. The parliament created a commission of inquiry.
All this can be considered positive. But in the end, the official inquest report said “Amini died of illness rather than beatings” and protesters continue to be met with brute force and more repression.
A regime of this kind cannot be expected to yield easily. This regime, like all others like it, is convinced that any concession or move that could be perceived as a concession would lead to the weakening of absolute power, ultimately leading to a total loss of power.
The Iranian regime’s reflexes are the same in all countries where rulers and regimes are uncertain and dangerous and their preferred method of control is oppression and the use of force. Look at what happened in Syria and how Iran acted there.
One of the regime’s most remembered self-protection measures dates back to 2021, when Khemani took steps to ensure that his candidate, Ebrahim Raisi, won the presidential elections. These measures included banning any candidate who might pose a challenge to Raisi.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Basij Resistance Force and Morality Police are the ideologically stalwart bodyguards of the system. They have identified their life with that of the regime while they live from this system. If the system disappears, they will lose all that.
Under Khamenei’s direct command, Iran’s security apparatus seems determined to protect the system at the cost of going to extremes.
It must also be said that the regime continues to have its staunch supporters. Not all Iranian women burn their headscarves.
Iran accuses the West of inciting the protests. He argues that this is one of many conspiracies against Iran by the enemy. Certainly, Iran has many enemies, but the crisis can in no way be attributed to this alone.
The Iranian regime swears not to allow chaos and disorder. But the fact is that it is essentially their way of governing and their actions that have led to what they call chaos and disorder.
At some point, there is always an incident that results in an explosion of negative energy in society. This is not unique to Iran.
The street riots in the United States when George Floyd was killed by police were a revolt against endless racial prejudice and discrimination. Street riots in France on several occasions also fall into the same category.
I remember hearing Iranian officials at the time claiming that these protests and riots were purely due to the system and attitudes in those countries. The same Iranian authorities claim that the crises in Iran are the result of outside intervention.
Iranians who take to the streets to challenge the regime are demanding change. Many want to get rid of it. They have courage but there is no emblematic figure as a leader and no organizing political structure.
On the other hand, some Iranians who are not satisfied with the way the country is run, do not want to change the regime but to improve it. It is the reformers from within the system that the conservatives probably hate and fear even more than the other group.
The West in general supports the protesters but nothing beats their support for Ukraine.
This is not surprising in many ways. Imagine a crisis of such magnitude in Iran which would have effects beyond its borders, especially at the time of everything that is happening in Ukraine and with Russia.