Protesters in Iran Are Retreating. But How Long Will This Hold?
The massive protests that erupted across more than 150 cities and towns in Iran in September following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody appeared to end just as abruptly as they began around the beginning of the year. Also gone are the gatherings of tens of thousands of Iranians living abroad, from Berlin to Ottawa to Los Angeles. Cutting their hair and shouting “Woman, Life, Freedom” in support of a protest movement that posed the most significant threat to the Islamic Republic since the 2009 Green Revolution is no longer a practice among Western artists.
Protesters in Iran are Retreating….
Outside of the news, the regime is still being fought against through attrition. Fire started on billboards. Unclothed women can be seen staring down hijab enforcers, spray-painting on walls, or walking the streets. protests here and there in far-off provinces. But for the moment, the momentum is gone. This is how protest movements typically ebb and flow around the world.
The time between each uptick and subsequent decline in Iran is getting smaller. The government is aware that this is only a temporary reprieve. It has been making small concessions while fostering more fear and turning to diplomacy to regain some legitimacy in an effort to buy time and stability. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the 84-year-old supreme leader, will eventually succeed him, and this is the regime’s top priority.
It was a deadlock between “a young society weary of living under a bankrupt, socially repressive police state” and “a geriatric ruling theocracy incapable of reform,” according to Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Iranians have a median age under 30 of 30.
Just as circumstances came together to fuel the protests, a flurry of various factors resulted in this pause. The crowds dispersed after encountering mass arrests and deadly brutality, including police shooting protesters in the eyes on purpose. There were at least 500 fatalities. In an effort to spread terror, the authorities are also on an execution binge. Rapper Toomaj Salehi has been held in solitary confinement since his arrest in October. His fearless lyrics serve as the voice of a generation. After 10 days, his trial finally took place in two sessions with closed doors. The 32-year-old is accused of engaging in “corruption on earth” and could be executed. In his song, The Battlefield, he raps, “We see the light after this hell… neither suppression, laws, or executions can stop us.” The next spark cannot be predicted.
Early in February, exiled opposition leaders announced a coalition working on a charter for Iran’s future. In addition to Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Masih Alinejad, one of the most well-known opponents of the regime and the forced hijab, and Reza Pahlavi, the former crown prince of Iran, it appeared to be the first in decades to be a credible attempt to bring unity to a diverse diaspora. The coalition broke up within a month due to divisions between monarchists and secular republicans, which were stoked by Pahlavi’s rightwing, frequently violent entourage. The regime is also suspected of sabotaging the effort by using divide-and-conquer strategies.
Iranians have been demonstrating for many years, whether or not they have emigrated. However, for most street movements to be successful, external pressure, exiled opposition, or a combination of both is needed, including Iran’s own 1979 revolution. According to a well-known anti-regime activist, there is a great deal of disappointment in Iran. The message was, “We are dying inside, and you are fighting.” As other alliances form, they will take what they have learned from this one.
Iran was able to emerge from isolation in March at the exact moment the coalition was breaking down. After a seven-year hiatus, Tehran and Riyadh declared they resumed diplomatic relations. Resuming discussions with the West on the nuclear issue and the release of dual citizens detained in Iran. Tehran is hoping that this diplomacy will result in economic agreements or sanctions relief, which it can use to appease those who have been driven to the streets by economic hardship and keep them apart from the more activist and Generation Z protesters. But the diplomacy has only been verbal so far.
The regime is no more. It simply isn’t aware of it yet. After visiting Tehran during the protests, Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar, who lives and works in Germany, made these powerful remarks. It has been frequently predicted that the Islamic Republic of Iran will fall, but its perseverance for 44 years has defied all expectations. But something is fundamentally damaged. Every wave of protests in Iran feels energizing, building on the one before it. And Amini’s death’s first anniversary is coming up soon. Which factors will come together for the upcoming wave of discontent?