Protests in Iran: the transformation of a movement in the face of repression

An unveiled woman stands on the roof of a vehicle as thousands march towards Mahsa Amini's hometown in October 2022.
An unveiled woman stands on the roof of a vehicle as thousands march towards Mahsa Amini's hometown in October 2022. Copyright AFP PHOTO / UGC IMAGE
By Eva Kandoul & Ilaria Federico
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Eight months after the death of Mahsa Amini, a war of attrition has begun. Street protests are waning due to police crackdowns but Iranians continue to resist.


In Iran, a wind of revolt is still blowing. According to Farhad Khosrokhavar, Sociologist and Studies Director at the School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences in Paris (EHESS), the public's anger is still visible but it has changed form. 

"It manifests itself in a more sporadic and individual way," he said.

"It is no longer accompanied by demonstrations in the street".

Faced with the Iranian regime's brutal repression, the resistance was forced to adapt. 

"Street protests have gradually stifled. But the feminist dimension of the movement continues. Women refuse to wear the veil in the street", continued the Franco-Iranian researcher who maintains Tehran is having difficulty quashing the resistance.

Today, the revolution in Iranian society is entering a new phase. President Ebrahim Raisi's regime has resorted to another form of repression: the closure of banks and stores that receive non-veiled women and the installation of surveillance cameras. 

"But all these measures have proved ineffective," Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the director of the NGO Iran Human Rights, told Euronews. The crackdown has failed to "restore the situation to what it was before the death of the young Kurdish woman (Mahsa Amini)" he added.

A secondary international issue

The crisis has taken the international community by storm: "In recent months, the leaders of EU countries, but also the United States, have sanctioned those responsible for human rights violations committed in Iran. These are commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, police commanders, regional officers," explained Cornelius Adebahr, an Iran specialist at Carnegie Europe.

"Their assets in the European Union are frozen and they are forbidden from entering the European Union."

But for some, the measures adopted by the international community remain insufficient. "These sanctions are very very timid, the main reason perhaps is that for the moment there is still no alternative accepted by the majority of protesters", Azadeh Kian, a Franco-Iranian sociologist from the University of Paris, said.

Is regime change possible?

"You can't expect the regime to be overthrown overnight," Kian continues, an Iran expert and the author of Women and Power in Islam. 

"Many political opposition groups have formed. They need time to try to hear each other's positions and perhaps move towards a coalition to eventually overthrow the regime," she continued.

Iranian youths around the world have also taken a stand: "Millions of people have mobilised in Canada, the United States, and Europe," Khosrokhavar explained. The formation of opposition in the Iranian diaspora is a driving force for eventual regime change. 

"It gives them legitimacy, that could convince parents and grandparents to join the movement," he continued.

If the revolution did not topple the regime, its political impact could be major in the longer term. "This movement has laid the groundwork for future participation by most of Iranian civil society" he concluded.

"This is not over," researcher Cornelius Adebahr said. And other uprisings could happen "as soon as an opportunity arises", assured Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of the NGO Iran Human Rights. "The countdown began the day they killed Mahsa. 

According to Amiry-Moghaddam, "it is only a matter of time" before a new revolution takes hold.

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