Why the revolutionary movement in Iran won’t lead to a decline or failure

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

Saeb Karimi writes from Tehran, Iran, Jan 11th, 2023 on why no decline or failure of the movement in Iran is imaginable.

Iran`s revolutionary movement, sparked with anger after the murder of Mahsa Amini in Iran`s morality police custody for not wearing the proper Hijab, and mostly known for its famous slogan of “Women, Life, freedom” has gone beyond one hundred days and entered its fourth month. I have tried to explain the roots and causes of this eruption in other pieces.  During the past four months, Iran has witnessed the most stormy and action-packed periods in its contemporary history. The effect of this period on the politics and society in Iran is so profound that it is safe to claim that today`s Iran is not even comparable to Iran before September 2022. 

Like any other movement, the revolutionary movement in Iran has had its rise and fall with days of spectacular demonstrations or events, or days which had no events or movements, which caused fear and hope to replace each other several times in the minds of activists and observers. The calm days with no special events created concerns for many activists that this movement might lead to a decline or failure step by step. This a concern that might seem legitimate if you just follow the news of demonstrations, not the situation underneath the society. Opposing them, I strongly believe that this movement is not destined to decline or fade away, and it won’t be silent, except for a short period. If you go deeper in observing this movement, and its roots and causes, you can see the fundamental differences it bears with all previous opposition movements in Iran or other similar cases in the region or the world.

First – What wipes away the fears and possibility of the decline of the movement is the fact that there are several independent and varied driving forces behind it. Generally, it is a norm that protests or economic demands, or national sentiments. The problem with this model is that these movements could be weakened, misled, or deceived much easier, as the ruling government needs to work on one or a few driving forces to weaken or misled them. The “Woman Life Freedom” movement in Iran has numerous independent and diverse drive forces varied in geographical, political, social, economic, religious, ethnic, and class/professional fields.

What we have seen in the past four months is that except for special days of nationwide and widespread demonstrations, It is usually specific cities or regions that act as the protagonist, to hoist the banner and keep up the struggle. When Tehran is somewhat calm with the special conditions it faces due to being the capital and the stronghold for the regime, the Kurdistan region, and its people are the main driving force of the revolution when they come to the streets and do not let the government rest a bit. When other cities are silent, Zahedan becomes the epicenter of revolution every Friday when about one hundred thousand people pour into the streets of Zahedan after their Friday Prayers; Zahedan is the driving force of revolution on Fridays! So far, not a single day has passed without demonstrations or protest events in at least one city or region. It`s as if when other cities are taking a breath, one region becomes the flag bearer. The vastness of Iran, along with the depth of discontent and revolutionary sentiment, has made it impossible for the government to suppress all regions and cities at once, and at any moment, [at least] one city or region has always been protesting.

Revolutionary movements usually come with a class background or are identified with a particular social class in society, one might be for the urban middle class, the other one for the bourgeoisie, or the working class. In the cases like this, it would be much easier to suppress, deceive or mislead them, make compromises with their leaders, or as the last resort, create deep cracks in the society by arousing other classes or sections of the society against them. But the revolutionary movement in Iran cannot be traced back to a particular class or section of society. Demonstrations in big and small cities of Iran are not limited to poor, rich, or middle-class neighborhoods, on the contrary, they are held simultaneously in all those neighborhoods with people from different classes joining the demonstrations and protests. It`s not just people from a particular section of society protesting the situation, in fact, the whole society, with all classes and sections, is united in this movement, something that could only be seen in national and anti-colonial movements of the 20th and 19th centuries.

In this situation, if the protests calm down, or strikes are ended, another class or section will take the lead. When the urban middle class is not marching on the streets, oil workers in the south go on strike; when their strike is broken by forces, businesses in the bazaar go on strike; when their strike ends, truck drivers take their place and stop the transportation in the whole country; and when others are silent, students in all cities are there to hold events and attend demonstrations in campus and streets. Each one of these classes and sections of society, various trades and professions, and age groups, all together, are proven to be independent driving forces of this revolutionary movement. 

And the heroes and protagonists of the movement, Iranian women, as half of our nation, are one of the most powerful, and never-stopping driving forces of this revolution. They are present in all classes, sections, and trades, they form the most progressive and courageous lines of protestors wherever they are, at a demonstration, a protest event, or a strike. 

Second – While  people`s anger over the cold blood murder of Mahsa Amini in police custody is what sparked the protests, there are long-term and deep causes and roots behind the suppressed energy which erupted with that incident. We’ve seen through history that movements that are formed by sudden and explosive sentiments or anger of people due to an incident are easier to crack down or fade away by themselves in a couple of days, as anger or other sentiments might disappear sooner or later, it is also easier for the government to calm them down with a few concessions or sacrificing some agents. Also, it is noted that when only anger and excitement are leading a movement, there won’t be room for wise decisions, self-criticism, growth, and modification of methods and tactics. But the revolutionary movement in Iran hasn’t been a wave of protest like that at all, it has been growing ever since, it has criticized its leaders, methods, and tactics, and it has changed its methods and created room for criticism and wise decisions.

Third – I explained in detail the demands and causes behind the revolutionary movement in Iran before. There have been movements in history that had a single demand, or made a range of demands, like economic reforms, the resignation of a certain politician, changes in particular laws or regulations, or increase in wages or decrease in taxes. The “Women, Life, Freedom” movement but carries a wide range of demands, in various fields and areas. The economic situation in Iran is a mess, more than half of the nation is living below the poverty line, our currency is losing value daily, and so are our savings and salaries, nepotism, kakistocracy, and mismanagement are rampant throughout the government and public offices, our environment is being destroyed while the government doesn’t feel the duty to protect it, water sources are vanishing, almost all cities face water crises, air, and water pollution is killing thousands each year, students and expert leave Iran on the first opportunity they have, the trade regulation have created economic and industry mafias in all fields, the whole economy and industry is in the hands of very few who are affiliated with the government or the IRGC, and there’s no room for fair competition, the monopoly in the media and entertainment has left no space for artists and entrepreneurs in this field, all Tv channels are state-owned and no private TV, radio, or VoD channel or network is allowed, freedom of speech is a dream in Iran and the slightest criticism of the government of its officials leads to detention and trial which ends in imprisonment of journalists, no gathering, organization or union is tolerated at all, even charities are closed and their leaders detained, no political or trade party, group or organization exists except for those related to the government or the IRGC, the judicial system is the most corrupt and biased in the country with no hope for justice for people, women are treated as second class citizens with all laws and regulations against them in fields of employment, marriage, inheritance, and civil laws, they are not allowed to control their body, sexuality or their clothes, LGBTQ rights are violated and prosecuted, minorities are oppressed in Iran, they are not included in the government or public offices, their regions are kept backward with no industry or employment for their youth. The list could go on for days, but these are amongst the most important ones I remembered. People who are protesting in the streets are demanding one, a few, or all of the abovementioned issues, and the government is not willing or capable of responding to any of them. Iranians know this fact, and consider a revolution the only solution to their demands.

Fourth – Iranians have tried to oppose the government many times during the past half-century, but all their efforts face a brutal crackdown from the government and silence of the international community and even those countries that claim to be respecting human rights the most. Seeing the crackdown inside, and the friendly relationship of the western government with the Islamic Republic of Iran, led Iranians to believe that this regime is an impregnable fortress. This disappointment and loss of hope were so deep that the only option left for them was supporting the reformist politicians, which led to a high turnout in elections and great votes for reformist presidents and members of parliament. The failure of reformists to create substantial changes in the lives of Iranians proved that the only way to create change in their lives is through a revolution; they believed in the necessity of a revolution.

The ever-empowered waves of protests since the 1998 protests, the 2008 and 2009 movements which brought millions into the streets, 2018 and 2019 waves of demonstrations which were the most progressive and revolutionary of all the previous ones, showed one reality to Iranians, the reality that the fortress that they believed to be impenetrable, was not as powerful as they thought, and it could be brought down with their unity. It was the moment that we believed in the possibility of a revolution. 

When two beliefs of the necessity and the possibility of a revolution, come together, they make a fundamental change in the mindsets of people, their desire, expectations, and activities. As the demands and slogans of this movement have shown, people in Iran have come to the conclusion of the necessity and possibility of a revolution to ensure their freedom, welfare, and prosperity, and the dream of a revolution seems alive and tangible to them.

Seeing a movement of this magnitude continues its growth and progress despite the heaviest crackdown possible, combined with disinformation campaigns against it, proves that it is not due to anger or excitement in reaction to an isolated incident, restricted to a particular class, section, or trade in the society, or confined to a particular geographical region, and it fights for a wide range of demands which the ruling government cannot respond to. Such movements might have a short period of calm and less activity, but that is temporary, and at least one of the various driving forces of the revolutionary movement is activated at any given time. It can be said that the main concern for this movement must be for the next stage, which is the transformation from a movement to a new revolutionary government, that provides the opportunity for counter-revolutionary forces to infiltrate and mislead the revolution at the most critical point of its life.


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