Iran: Why are we protesting in the streets?

Our long read is a report direct from Iran: What are people`s demands and protests, and how are they different from those before? 

“To see and comprehend this difference and to know this movement. First, you need to know the driving forces behind these protests. You need to know what people in Iran are demanding, what they are protesting, and what they want to gain. One of this movement’s peculiarities could be its driving forces’ vastness. This movement is unique because it is converging and gathering all those demands and protests with people who fight for them together because they all have understood that their needs won’t be met individually, and what they are protesting against won’t be stopped if they act alone.”

Almost a month ago, Mahsa/Zhina Amini, an ordinary Iranian girl from Kurdistan Province in Western Iran, came to Tehran with his family to visit family members, something familiar that might happen worldwide. She went out with his brother to see the city. There happened something that is reserved only and only for people living in the Islamic Republic of Iran: She was arrested by the Guidance Patrol for not wearing a proper Hijab despite his brother’s efforts to convince or beg the Guidance Patrol to let her go as they were not from Tehran and didn’t know the city. Hours later, the shocking news was being heard in the town and on social media that a girl had been beaten up by the Guidance Patrol so bad that she was now in a coma in a hospital close to the Patrol Centre. Soon came the news that everyone was afraid to hear: Mahsa/Zhina Amini was dead, or more accurately, the police killed Mahsa Amini.

People gathered around the hospital immediately to show their anger and frustration; it was just a couple of girls at the first minute, but soon it got bigger and bigger, and the police closed the streets around the hospital to nip the protests in the bud. As Mahsa was a Kurdish girl, it was evident that the first protests would come from Western Iran, in cities like Sanandaj, Saqqez, Paveh, and … . Mahsa`s funeral was held with the respect and presence of crowds from all western cities, with kilometers of cars parked near the cemetery. After two days of protests in Kurdish cities, Tehran came to their help with demonstrations in Keshavarz Blvd, Centre of Tehran, and in line were the other cities, big and small, which were joining the line of protesters.

It all began to show anger and frustration. Still, it rapidly got radicalized and developed into a revolutionary movement engaging about one hundred cities around Iran, even towns famous for being a fortress of the Islamic Republic Regime. While at the very first moment of this movement’s infancy, it expressed anger towards the guidance patrol and harassment of women in Iran, it changed into a vast movement of the youngest generation in Iran defying the whole regime and its leader, Khamenei. Many cities are now the stage for protests with scope, depth, and characteristics peculiar and different from all the previous demonstrations in Iran. This is not the first time that we have witnessed such upheavals in Iran; in fact, those who have been monitoring the situation in Iran anticipated it to happen during the summer because if you take a closer look at the case, you can see that it is more like a warehouse full of gunpowder, waiting for the ignition. But this wave of protests is fundamentally different from previous ones, the slogans, visions, demands, and strategies that we have, sections, classes, trades, and age groups that have gathered under these comprehensive demands, and last but not least, its structure, nature, and form is different from any of its kind in recent decades.

Since the eight-year-war between Iran and Iraq, we have had tremendous waves of protests which used to repeat every ten years, then two years, and now it can be just months. There have been many protests, movements, upheavals, and revolutions worldwide in recent decades. But some things are different here in this new wave of protests, making it like no other one in Iran or other countries.

Suppose you have monitored Iran’s Iran political, socioeconomic, and psychological situation here, with concrete facts and the real feelings and demands of various sections of the society. In that case, you could be able to see that there are different tendencies, needs, protests, and groups of people all gathering together to transform into a body of gathered protesters of various fields and sections which will move on as a movement and on the contrary to protests against one single issue, like Hijab, or the inflation, or the protests to the rigged elections, Movements like this act as an umbrella for all protests, take them all in, melt them in, and mold them all together in the form of a revolutionary movement in which all people are united, they share the same ideals, the same demands, and the same visions. 

When dispersed and separated, protests join together to form a movement; it won’t die quickly and cannot be cracked down like before. There are many demands, like gender equality, freedom of speech, LGBTQ rights, human rights, requests for secularism, corruption, economic crisis, government octopus hands all over the lives of people, nuclear strategy, foreign relationships, support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Houthis, channeling our resource towards their puppet organizations in other countries to disrupt their political life in favor of their interest, National interest being ignored in the strategies, inequality in education, currency losing its value every day, police brutality and nepotism. This list could go on for pages, but these are just samples of our demands and protests in the streets. When people with these demands had had their efforts in separated movements for decades, and all their efforts were in vain, leading to change, their leaders in prison or fleeing the country, they all understood that we have to gather together and find a straightforward goal, one simple vision, that could encompass all our demands and express all our protests. That goal and vision are created here in this movement: Fight to remove Islamic Republic Regime from Iran.

I explained the driving forces behind the protests in Iran for each subject, like the economy or the environment. Each one of those issues has been active for decades, with lots of people in jail because of joining them. But the encouraging sign we see now is that every person engaged in those separate movements of protests has correctly understood that they can be cracked down on easily, and their leaders could be arrested quickly. Their visions and manifest could face falsification and disinformation in the media, so the movement will be sidelined and fade away in a short time. That is the scenario we have witnessed in many campaigns. Protests of teachers, pensioners, environmentalists, social workers, labor workers, bus drivers, truck drivers, students, and more and more of them all got cracked down with various tactics the government has mastered during past decades.

To see and comprehend this difference and to know this movement. First, you need to know the driving forces behind these protests. You need to know what people in Iran are demanding, what they are protesting, and what they want to gain. One of this movement’s peculiarities could be its driving forces’ vastness. This movement is unique because it is converging and gathering all those demands and protests with people who fight for them together because they all have understood that their needs won’t be met individually, and what they are protesting against won’t be stopped if they act alone.

All people you see in the street protesting, tweeting, or posting on social media, doing artwork, and songs, distributing papers inviting others to join them, or trying to make their cause known to the world, have joined this movement for at least one of the abovementioned reasons and demands. For many, it is all the reasons, not just one. They are not in the streets because of individual demands and only political causes; they are fighting for the very existence of their nation as they see that in lethal danger. The critical fact here is that people have understood that their demands, whatever it is, cannot be met individually and separately, so the only way to reach their goal is to gather all those demands and visions together, have them transformed into one plan called REVOLUTION! which embodies all their needs, and follow that to the victory.


For our Environment and nature

A couple of days before the killing of Mahsa Amini, it was announced that Urmia Lake was taking its last breaths. One of the biggest of its kind, standing there for thousand years, playing a pivotal role in the region’s ecosystem, this lake is being wiped out from the map. It is not only due to climate change and global warming; Islamic Republics’ actions, inactions, decisions, and performance have a far more significant role in this disaster. A lake of about 150 km long and 55 km wide is almost gone in a decade, while many Iranian activists, environmentalists, and political, social, and civil experts have warned about it. The Islamic Republic has taken a strategy of deaf ears towards warnings and criticism, ignoring professional ideas and professionalism, and having enormous contempt for the environment and the hazards looming over it. Even right now, there are environmental experts in jail in Iran charged with espionage and working for enemy states,

“We believe that the Islamic Republic regime has inflicted much pain on us, the people, the culture, the economy, and industrial development, and has destroyed our country in many fields. Still, they all could be revived with long and short-term planning; the economy will thrive once again, our industry will be on the right track in a couple of years, and our foreign relations with other nations will be restored. Still, the damage they are inflicting on the environment is not something that can be repaired. The forests cannot be revived in our lifetime. We have lost lots of them, some to the unprofessional industrialization plans, some destroyed to open space for building towns and villas for rich people, and lots of them gone by fire. They could be saved, even those under fire, but the government didn’t provide local people who were there fighting the fire with empty hands with the proper tools; they rejected the calls for sending special helicopters to extinguish the fire, so the fire went through thousands of kilometers of ancient forests in western mountains of Iran. Local people were killed trying to fight the fire without the necessary tools.”

As the feminist uprising continues across Iran, artists continue to produce incredible art that is inspired by this movement. This poster is by Rashin Kheiriyeh from one the main slogans of these protests: Woman, Life, Freedom. From @NegarMortazavi (journalist & Commentator | Host @IranPodcast

These incidents, which are not scattered or individual but happen many times every year, happen because the environment and our living ground have no place in the priorities of the regime; they never take this issue seriously, so the budgets for protecting forests and the environment shrinks every year while the funding for the problems significant to the government is fattened. It could be seen much easier if you know that the helicopter was not dispatched to fight the fire in Iran, but they were sent abroad for the regime’s adventure in neighboring countries.

Iran has always been a dry country with limited water sources. Still, we have managed to come for thousands of years in this condition because we used the experience of our ancestors, the expertise of scientists, and knowledge of geography and the environment to manage the vital question of water. But the balance between consumption and resources has been disrupted due to ignorance and improper management for four decades. No Lagoon remains in Iran, and its whole existence is not in significant danger; Anzali Lagoon in the north, Bakhtegan, Gavkhouni, and many other examples are already dead or taking their last breaths, like Lake Urmia. No one can claim that these disasters are just a result of global warming because we can see that other countries face the same crisis. Still, they overcome them with wisdom and expertise, but in Iran, they are ignored to the last moment, and any calls for warning or demands for attention are curbed, and people or prosecuted or put to jail for that. Water-consuming industries are devouring all the water remaining in rivers which must be left for the environment, agriculture, irrigation, and drinking; most of the rivers are in terrible condition, as industrial and municipal wastes are poured directly into the rivers and lakes, destroying the life in them and poisoning the land they reach. That happens because the government has even the slightest concern for the environment and its people. With no reasonable scientific program and plan for our water resources and consultation, soon there will be Water conflicts all over Iran, with neighboring cities and villages fighting each other for the water share, which could lead to a disaster in our homeland.

The Islamic Republic of Iran does not comply with any form of control or management of air and water pollution. As they are the inspector of their performance, they feel no need to follow the least of standards. The power plants burn Azote, and factories near cities pump the air pollution to the cities they are located next to. The petrol produced domestically does not conform to their standards, so air pollution in big cities has become a crisis for decades. At the same time, the revolutionary government came to power after the 1979 revolution. It sentenced the last Mayor of Tehran to death because of his incompetency in tackling the air pollution issue.

For Gender Equality

Women`s question has always been present in the political discourse in Iran, a country with one of the oldest women’s movements in the world, in which fundamental human rights and gender equality have been ignored and violated. Despite the efforts during the second Pahlavi era (1950-1979) and the modernization of society in those years, women and their questions faced a backlash with the 1979 revolution and the ruling government that came to power. There were protests and demonstrations in the first years of the Islamic Republic’s existence and after rulings against Women`s and human rights. Still, all got cracked down by the government and its supporters. Women’s rights and demands are so crucial in Iran that reformists try to win support by claiming to be fighting for women’s rights. But what could be seen on the ground was gender inequality empowered and women’s rights violated yearly and more severely.

Sarina Esmailzadeh, 16, beaten to death by Iranian security forces for protesting for women’s rights in Iran.

Iranian women are treated as second-class citizens in Iran, deprived of their fundamental rights, without any hopes for improvements or positive change in their status. Women in Iran cannot seek protection from the government if they are abused or their rights are violated, as their primary suppressor is the government. One might say that there are articles of law in Iran protecting women, but things are different on the ground regarding implementing those laws. According to the rules in Iran, women cannot leave the country on their own decision as they must have the approval of their husband, father, or legal guardian. Even obtaining a passport would not be possible without that approval. Women are not considered guardians or parents for minors, so they cannot open a bank account for their children or register them in legal matters. The blood money and insurance payback paid by insurance companies to women is half of the amount set for men. Women`s rights in marriage are ignored completely as women cannot choose the location of their life, file for divorce like men, or take custody of their children after the divorce or demise of their spouse. Domestic violence has another face in Iran, as the laws and official institutions pave the way for more violations of women’s rights in the form of a domestic breach instead of offering support and protection to them.

Nika Shakarami, 16, killed after burning her headscarf in protest.

Now and then, we hear about honor killings in Iran, another form of this violation. Women and girls are beaten, strangled, beheaded, stabbed, and killed in the name of honor and good reputation if their brothers, fathers, or even cousins suspect them of having a relationship with men, and those who commit such inhumane cruelty do not face the consequences. Women are seen as so low in the eyes of the ruling class that during the past four decades, only one female minister has been chosen, and women are not considered eligible even to run for the presidency. Women in Iran are deprived of their rights, dignity, opportunities, safety, and everyday life. They know this cannot change by some modifications to the laws or changes in the governments, as all these oppressions are rooted in the regime. They experience and live this injustice in society, their workplace, families, and schools. Women in Iran are governed by men as if they are an object.

Iranian schoolgirls have been leading the protests

They have to abide by the rules for clothes, behaviors, and appearance. The guidance Patrol responsible for the killing of Mahsa Amini, is a source of PTSD for all women in Iran as they roam around the city and stop any women who do not wear proper hijab and arrest them. This is not confined only to the official patrols and police; according to the Islamic Sharia and the “Invite to a good deed and dissuade from bad deed” law, anyone could stop women in the street and tell them off if their clothes and behaviors don’t suit their standards. There have been many quarrels and skirmishes between women and those who allow themselves to interfere in their lives, and when women try to defend themselves, they are arrested by police. Despite fighting for decades, women in Iran have not succeeded in taking their rights and taking down the injustice against them.

For the right Foreign Policy

Freedom seekers who fought for the 1979 revolution were tired of the dependence of the Shah`s regime on western countries, especially with the capitulation laws in Iran, which left any American citizen who committed a crime in Iran to escape justice. One of the main slogans of the revolution was “not the eastern, Not the western, only the Islamic republic”. It was supposed to be the foundation for the new government`s foreign policy: independence, dignity, and national interest. But what we see in action is completely different.

There are two parts, both vital to the regime`s foreign policy, which have been backlash and protests from people. First, Iran`s meddling and interference in other countries’ domestic affairs, and second the suffocating dependence on Russia and China, with blind opposition to the western world and international organizations.

The Islamic Republic has been meddling in the domestic affairs of Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and many other nations. Vast amounts of people`s money is being spent on proxy organizations in the middle east to influence their political life, bring Islamic Republics allied into power, destabilize the region, and prevent peace negotiations and agreements from taking place. The militia in Iraq, armed financial support to the Houthis in Yemen, heavy support for Hezbollah at the expense of Iranians` welfare, the logistical, financial, and armed support for the Taliban, and meddling in the Palestine-Israeli conflicts through proxy organizations like Hamas, which devours lots of money which could be spent on Iran`s infrastructure, oil industry, welfare, and health care. The support that the Islamic Republic offers to the proxy organizations and terrorist and militia groups in the middle-east has left our people in the worst economic situation since the 1979 revolution, even worse than the conditions in the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq. The International society has not left these meddlings unnoticed and heavy sanctions have been imposed on Iran`s economy, crippling its economy and industry, all for the adventures of the regime, while ordinary people have to endure the hardship.

Some might assume that the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is based on its ideology of Islamic expansion or spreading the voice of their Islamic Revolution, but if you look closer, you will see that this is not the case; the Islamic Republic of Iran is acting solely based on Russia and China`s regional and international interests and strategies. What we Iranians see is that our foreign policy is being decided in Moscow and Beijing, not by our own governments; we see that our government is the puppet for Putin`s regime. The Islamic Republic is among the very few UN members that vote against human rights or sovereignty resolutions that have the support of almost all countries because they receive orders from Moscow and Beijing. Iran`s foreign policy is dictated according to Russia`s strategies for the region, like supporting Putin`s regime in its war against Ukraine. No other nation, except for Belarus, has supported and helped Russia in its aggression on Ukraine, but the Islamic Republic is risking everything just to come to the help of Russia.

We Iranians are protesting in the streets, risking our lives to join demonstrations against the government because we want to have a new government that seeks our national interest in foreign policy decisions, a democratic government that respects the sovereignty and dignity of our neighboring countries, does not meddle and interfere in the domestic political life of any countries, does not support terrorist organizations, rebels, and militias, and cooperates with other nations to create peace and stability in the middle east and world.

For Democracy and freedom of speech

This is not wrong to say Iran is one of the most repressed countries in the world. We have the least freedom of speech in Iran, a situation that might seem like an apocalyptic motion picture to most western viewers. The Islamic Republic holds a tight grip on all aspects of life in Iran, that includes everything that an ordinary citizen might face in her daily life. Democracy in governing is a long-gone term, while the elections have all turned into a farce with very few candidates who have proved themselves as insanely loyal to the regime running for parliament or presidency. This is so strict that even members are parliament are banned from running for office again, or long-time loyal politicians are ordered not to run for the presidency.

Media is under a highly organized and sophisticated censorship and monitoring management. The slightest criticism of the government is not tolerated and so censored. The only broadcasting entity in Iran is the governmental broadcasting corporation, which has lost its credibility and viewers. The political programs on this National TV are full of misinformation and disinformation campaigns, whitewashing the atrocities of government and spreading lies about anything that doesn’t serve their interest.

Any kind of organization, or a place where people gather together, must be under the control of the government. No matter what you want to do, train tour leaders, talk about cinema, or even run a charity, like Emam-Ali, the biggest non-governmental charity organization in Iran, which was disbanded by judge’s order and its leaders were arrested simply because it was non-governmental. A group of environmentalists has been in jail for more than three years, and one of them got killed under custody. Any efforts of workers, teachers, or students to form a union or syndicate received a heavy crackdown immediately. To summarize the situation, I can say that there is absolutely no space for actions, organizations, or the least freedom of speech in Iran today if you are not a loyal supporter of the government.

Prisons in Iran are full of intellectuals, authors, musicians, environmentalists, sportsmen and women, political activists, social workers, charity workers, teachers, university students, translators, lawyers, labor activists, and people who have refused to censor themselves and have protested against this oppressive atmosphere. In spite of the lawful freedoms explained in the constitution, the slightest difference of ideas with those of the leaders is not tolerated.

Iranians have been fighting for freedom for over a century. It started with the constitutional revolution of 1905-1911, which limited the king`s power and established a parliament in Iran for the first time. The same ambitions of freedom and democracy lead people to overthrow Shah`s regime after half a century of Pahlavi’s rule in Iran. But unfortunately, the 1979 revolution was hijacked by Islamists and they have been taking liberty from Iranian society inch by inch ever since. This oppression and totalitarianism have reached a level that even those who have been a member of this government are removed from the elite class for the smallest criticism or signs of disloyalty.

Iranian society is being suffocated by dictatorship and censorship, and now Freedom and democracy are one of the most important ambitions of people in the street who are fighting for their future. The current uprising seeks to overthrow this dictatorship and establish a national democratic government run by democratically elected officials, protects the fundamental democratic rights of its citizens, cherishes human rights, and takes freedom as an integral part of the governing system. We want a government that represents our demands and interests instead of the ideological visions of a hardliner minority. We wish to have a democratic society in which everyone with different beliefs and ideas is able to live in safety and no one is prosecuted, restricted, harassed, or imprisoned for their beliefs.

For our Economy and welfare

Iran`s heavily governmental economy started a path of privatization in the early 2000s. But, like anything else, corruption and nepotism found their place in this process. The result was a so-called private sector in the economy that was completely in the hands of IRGC members and those directly linked to this organization. Billion dollars of national wealth were stolen and embezzled in this process, making loyal government members richer than before, destroying the industry, and laying off thousands of workers.

Incompetent management, heavy corruption, nepotism, and conflict of interest created a situation that has made Iran a time bomb waiting for the right tick, the tick that was heard by Mahsa Amini`s brutal killing in police custody. We have the most population under the poverty line since the 1979 revolution, the highest inflation, even higher than the eight-year-war era, ever-increasing unemployment, pension funds going bankrupt, factories closing, and an economic situation that has left millions of people in poverty and financial hardship. This situation has turned masses that were once staunch supporters of the Islamic Republic for subsidies and support they used to receive against them.

You have to add the gruesome burden of the sanctions imposed by the United States, European Union, and other western states, which along with the incompetent management and policymaking, have deteriorated the conditions in Iran, leaving millions of people fighting to make ends meet on a day-to-day basis while they do not have the simplest meals per day. The government disinformation campaign tries to introduce western sanctions as the main reason for the economic hardship people are suffering from. But no one believes this propaganda anymore, and people are asking for a normal and non-aggressive foreign policy that makes Iran a regular nation-state like others without sanctions and embargoes. Iranians know that although these sanctions have been imposed by western states, the real culprit is the Islamic Republic government, not the western states.

It might be one of the very few instances in which we witness all classes of society united against a government. Rich and poor are asking for a revolution because each section of society has demands and interests that can only be met with a revolution that overthrows this government. What they are fighting for is a transparent economy and market, free of militia and military meddling, joining the international economy and markets, with a real thriving private sector.

The reasons and causes behind this revolution cannot be summarized in a short article, as there are lots of other reasons, like police brutality, judicial justice, minority rights, ethnic discrimination, and the religious renaissance. To explain each and every one of them might need a book, but I tried to explain the most important ones in the lines above. Those brave men and women who are protesting in the streets, fighting for their FUTURE, might have one, some, or all of the abovementioned ambitions in mind, but they are all united in one objective, that is the democratic revolution because they believe that at this moment in the history, what they have at stake is more than just democracy, and fear for the future of their country. Iranians view this protest as a matter of existence now.

Comments (3)

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  1. Squigglypen says:

    Brave women.

  2. Dougie Strang says:

    Thank you Saeb, for this window of insight into life in Iran. We receive very little news about what’s happening, here in the West, because of the media black-out. I hope positive change is coming for you and the people of your country.

  3. SleepingDog says:

    Presiding over environmental degradation and destruction, terrorising and dehumanising women, it looks like the Islamic Republic of Iran is a dead end. Two major global threats are climate change and nuclear war. I appreciate that this complicates foreign policies regarding Iran, but are sanctions effective and just when asking countries to transition to a renewable energy regenerative economy? This from a year ago:
    Sad to read about Lake Urmia and those environmentalists dead or in prison too.

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