Iran: How the current mass protests differ from previous unrests?

Iran: How the current mass protests differ from previous unrests?
Update: 26 September 2022 14:20
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Thousands in Iran took the streets in 80 cities to demonstrate against the suspicious death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was killed in the police custody

The protests in Iran began after the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody in the capital city of Tehran after she was arrested for allegedly violating Iran’s hijab law. Amini on Sept.13 was arrested by Iran’s morality police [Gasht-e-Ershad] - a unit enforcing the laws on Islamic dress code in public - for wearing her headscarf too “loosely” and hours after detention, fell into a coma. Three days after hospitalized, Amini died on Sept.16. According to Iranian police, she died due to a heart failure, but her family says she was subjected to torture, suffering a fatal blow to the head.

Following the death of Amini, thousands took the streets for the largest anti-government protests in Iran since 2009. Spreading to as many as 80 cities, women were at the forefront of the demonstrations, waving and burning their headscarves.

Iranian authorities escalated a violent crackdown on the protestors, killing dozens, arresting activists and journalists. Iran’s state television said 41 people have been killed during the unrest, but human rights activists say the death toll is far beyond the official figures.

Amnesty International last week urged international community for urgent global action against the Iranian crackdown on protests. 

Internet access also disabled in the country.

How the latest demonstrations differ from the previous uprisings?

Unlike the 2009 protests, which was ignited over the allegations of election fraud, the latest demonstrations focus on the security forces. Reports include beatings of the police officers and firebombing of a local morality police headquarters.

According to Miriam Berger, a reporter covering the Middle East for the Washington Post, Iranians are in the streets for various reasons. Some demand justice for Amini and call for the abolition of the compulsory hijab, she said. Although it is a punishable act, many protesters take off their headscarves in public, even some burning them and publicly cutting their hair, chanting “women, life, freedom,” Berger reported.

However, Amini's death also became a symbol of “nationwide anger over poverty, repression, clerical control and government impunity,” Berger said. They even yell “death to the dictator” against Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran.

The current wave takes courage from the previous protests but this time, women are leading the protests and they are finding different ways to challenge the regime, analyst Mohammad Ali Kadivar said on Friday.

Different segments of the society, such as artists, businesspeople and athletes, have spoken out this time to support the protests which is something that did not happen in the previous acts, Kadivar said. The protests are not just about the economy like the previous ones and this may be the first time in decades that people stand up in solidarity with the Iranian women, he said. Additionally, these protests crossed ethnic divisions and spread nationwide, Kadivar said.

What does the Iranian state media say?

The Iranian state-media on the other hand, approaches the protests from a state-owned perspective.

While everyone in Iran feels sad about the tragic death of Amini, the peaceful and legitimate protests were “hijacked by hoodlums and trouble-makers,” according to Hiba Morad from the PressTV.

She claimed that the objective of these demonstrations is not justice or accountability but instead to “wage war against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” and this is why the incident grabbed the headlines of the Western media in order to revive the calls for regime change in Iran.

Xavier Villar from the PressTV also said that the Western powers see the Islamic Republic of Iran as “a sort of hell on earth,” and do not believe or trust the official statements of the Iranian authorities, because the Islamic state has “single-handedly challenged the hegemony of Western powers.”

Villar went on claiming that the 22-year-old woman’s death was natural.

Iranian opposition’s stance

The main reformist party in Iran, the Union of Islamic Iran People's Party called for the abolition of the mandatory Islamic dress code for women. The party also called for an "official end to the activities of the morality police" and "authorize peaceful demonstrations."

Exiled Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi of Iran, the son of the deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, called on Iran’s security forces to join the protestors to stand against the “repression machine” of the Islamic Republic. He said that the military forces should be a shield for the defenseless people. Pahlavi also called on the protestors to form a united front and select a leader to interact with other countries.

Western reactions to internet disability

“We took action today to advance Internet freedom and the free flow of information for the Iranian people, issuing a General License to provide them greater access to digital communications to counter the Iranian government’s censorship,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter on Sept.23, following the internet restrictions by the Iran government. 

Replying Blinken, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that he is activating Starlink, a satellite internet service.