The Iranian regime is facing a persistent domestic crisis, as the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the senior cadre of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seem reluctant to make fundamental changes to their core policies.
The nationwide uprising across Iran is now entering its fourth month and shows no signs of abating despite the regime repeatedly stepping up efforts to crack down on dissent. This has been the case ever since the first protests erupted after Mahsa Amini was arrested and fatally beaten by morality police in mid-September for allegedly violating the regime’s dress code.
The regime’s latest escalation took place earlier this month when Mohsen Shekari became the first protester to be executed, followed shortly by Majidreza Rahnavard, who was hanged from a crane in public as a warning to others. That warning was reinforced by state media, which published the names of around two dozen others for whom death sentences were either pending or had already been handed down.
It should come as no surprise that the charges in question are vague in virtually every case. The case against Shekari alleged only that he had wounded a security guard, and although Rahnavard was accused of killing two members of the Basij militia, there is no evidence that either man’s conviction was based on anything other than forced confessions, likely elicited by torture.
Among the pending executions, several appear to stem from protesters simply blocking roadways. This is among the most prevalent acts of defiance in the uprising, and its newfound association with the death penalty is clearly intended to terrorize the public.
Yet, far from shrinking away from this association, protesters appear to be confronting it head-on. In recent days, photographs and video have gone viral on Iranian social media showing a woman carrying out a mock hanging of herself in Mashhad, the same city where Rahnavard was executed the previous Monday.
The protester’s gender calls attention to the female leadership that has been evident in this uprising since its beginning, setting it apart from other uprisings in recent years.
The role of women in the protests is made all the more remarkable by the fact that it includes teenage girls refusing to wear the veil in school, resisting government authorities who invaded campuses to demand compliance, and destroying images of the regime’s founder and its current supreme leader, the display of which is mandatory in classrooms.
The Iranian mullahs seem to be living in a different world and cannot come to grips with the fact that the overwhelming majority of Iranians want them out.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Naturally, university campuses have also been hotbeds of protest over the past three months, with every institution becoming involved at one time or another, and some being subjected to brutal government crackdowns and mass arrests. Similar crackdowns have taken place much more out in the open in the streets of major cities, while the breadth of student participation reflects the overall diversity of the uprising as a whole.
According to information gathered by the Iranian opposition group the National Council of Resistance of Iran, residents of almost 150 cities and towns have become active in the protest movement, which includes all 31 Iranian provinces. Every major ethnic and religious group has been unified behind slogans such as “death to the dictator,” which convey the public’s demand for the ouster of the entire ruling system.
This unity among protesters also spans social classes and three distinct generations, including the 2010s generation, which corresponds to a time when illicit access to unfiltered internet and foreign media was becoming prevalent throughout the country.
Young Iranians have grown up with a strong awareness of what life can be like under a democratic system with ingrained civic freedoms. This has naturally amplified the contempt for religious dictatorship which has been evident among the public since the immediate aftermath of the 1979 revolution. Over the course of four decades, the divide between the people and the ruling elite has become so wide that it can no longer be bridged. The current uprising is the clearest proof of that. Dozens of Western lawmakers, in the US, Canada, UK, Belgium, Italy and Ireland among others, have expressed support for that movement.
The dictatorship seems clearly to be on its way out. The Iranian people will see to it. But the international community can help to hasten that outcome by going beyond mere condemnation of the clerical regime, and taking concrete steps to isolate and weaken it at the outset of a fourth month of domestic unrest.
Nonetheless, the mullahs seem to be living in a different world and cannot come to grips with the fact that the overwhelming majority of Iranians want them out. Just as there is no reason to suppose that the uprising will recede, there is no reason to suppose that the organized resistance movement will not continue to grow, both at home and abroad.
— Dr. Majid Rafizadeh