Weeks ago, massive protests erupted in Iran against the killing of student Mahsa Amini, after she fell into a coma following her arrest in Tehran by the morality police for allegedly not complying with the rules of wearing the hijab.
These protests resulted in the killing of hundreds of protesters and the injury of thousands and the arrest of dozens, among them were children between the ages of 12 and 19. The Iranian authorities also disrupted the internet in an attempt to prevent the spread of news and clips documenting the security forces’ repression.
The protesters quickly burned the pictures of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, founder Imam Khomeini and the memorials of Qassem Soleimani. In addition, the revolutionary slogans that filled the streets, home balconies and public transportation, schools and universities united, leading to the burning of security headquarters of the Basij forces (the arm of the Revolutionary Guards specialized in suppressing the opposition).
Marches were also launched in the United States, France, Canada and several other countries around the world in solidarity with the protests in Iran, which were sparked by Amini’s death.
Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi accused the United States and its allies of being behind these protests and destabilizing the country, after the United States failed to impose sanctions on Iran, as he claimed.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei spoke about the “enemies’ involvement in riots” in Iran, and that these “riots” are not spontaneous, stressed that the protests were “planned in advance”, accusing the United States and Israel of being behind them.
The past decades witnessed several protests in Iran for various reasons. In 2009, more than three million people participated in a silent march in Tehran to protest against the re-election of “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad”, and the slogan of the protesters at that time was “Where is my vote?”. In 2017, huge protests were launched due to the deteriorating living conditions and the high unemployment rate, and their size was greater than the protests that erupted in 2009.
What distinguishes the current protests from the two previous ones is that they are huge and comprise several groups of society, as the protesters were not limited to certain social groups, but included all major segments of society. They included also a large number of Iranian cities, which means that it is a comprehensive revolution against the regime.
Just As happened in Egypt and Tunisia during the Arab Spring revolutions, young people – especially those under the age of 25 – led the protests, as their participation exceeded other age groups.
The prolongation of the protests requires attracting wider segments of Iranian society, especially the country’s productive forces such as workers and employees of public administrations and institutions. It was reported that some employees of the security forces refused to implement orders to shoot the protests. If this news is true, it will be considered a turning point, as it is possible that other number of employees of the security forces will join the protests against the regime.
The death of “Amini” was the spark that unleashed these protests in a country suffering from difficult economic conditions, rampant corruption, and the repressive policy of the regime and the domination of clerics. The protests also came at a time of political uncertainty in Iran, sparked by rumors about the health of 83-year-old Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and discussions over his nomination of a successor.
The economic crisis hitting the country is deep and very difficult, and there is no doubt that international sanctions against the Iranian regime for its behavior have exacerbated the crisis. Corruption has also created a huge gap between most segments of society and those belonging to the regime’s circles with its various institutions and degrees. It is well known that the regime’s senior religious, security, and politicians possess imaginary wealth beyond description, while most of the people suffer from successive economic and living crisis. Another aspect of the crisis is Iran’s financing of its expansionist policy in the Arab region through militias spread in many surrounding countries. This policy is costly, especially since Iran’s military spending is large in comparison to the country’s development needs.
The revolution against the rule of the mullahs is the gateway that will take the Iranian people towards the modern era, and the fall of Khamenei does not mean a coup against a ruler and his replacement with another as usual, but rather means the demise of hundreds of years of religious thought that has nothing to do with Islam.
Just as the Islamic Revolution changed the country 43 years ago, the current revolution – so to speak – which raised the slogan “Women…Life…Freedom,” will not only change the shape of Iran, but may also strike the final nail in the coffin of political Islam.
The internal situation is the source of the greatest threat to the Iranian regime at present. The setbacks on the external fronts will affect its plans to dominate the region, but they will not lead to its downfall. The escalation of the protests will increase the internal rift, which will pose an existential threat to the Iranian regime that is now adopting a policy of gradual escalation, which will reach the excessive use of violence, a step that this time may have very negative consequences for the regime and exacerbate the situation. The regime may resort to escalation of the situation regionally to divert attention from its internal situation, and it may do so either by pushing the Houthis to launch attacks on ships in Bab al-Mandab or the Red Sea, or by resuming the Revolutionary Guard boats’ attacks on ships in the Arabian Gulf region. There are many escalation options that Iran may resort to at this stage, which requires the countries of the region to be vigilant and cautious, and to deal wisely with them to prevent Tehran from achieving its goal. The fall of the Iranian regime is possible despite the great difficulties faced by the people in achieving this, and if that happens, a positive shock will occur that will change the entire scene in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and lead to the emergence of a new Middle East.
As for the future of these protests, there are two scenarios. The first is that the Iranian regime will succeed in suppressing the demonstrations, which is the most possible scenario, but the cracks in the regime’s structure will be clear and President Ibrahim Raisi will lose morally and popularly in all cases. Second, the protests continue for a future period. In this case, the meanings of the protests will be transcended to become an objection to the entire regime, and their repercussions will be serious on the legitimacy of the Iranian regime.
Whether or not they succeed in bringing about change, the popular September 2022 protests that followed Amini’s death, and the way they drew Iranians of all demographics together, will surely be enshrined as a proud moment in Iran’s history as it shook the regime and its pillars, broke the barrier of fear, and struck the prestige of both religious and security institutions.