Iran. Does the uprising threaten the theocratic regime? (2/2)

His demands are clear, but to succeed, the movement must expand and rally part of the army to him.

Azadeh Kian Professor of Sociology, Director of the Teaching, Documentation and Research Center for Feminist Studies, Paris Cité University

We are in a revolutionary process. It is no longer a movement like the 2009 movement for system reform or the 2019 movement against high living costs and rising fuel prices. It began with a collective protest by women against the sacred compulsory veil, the ideological foundation of the Islamic regime. Not against Islam nor against the veil in itself, but against this regime. Then, the discontent spread to political, economic and social demands against the mismanagement of the economy, corruption and the locking of the political system. It has won over young men and other generations, other social categories. It has spread throughout the territory. Unprecedented strikes are observed in the petrochemical industry, striking workers have been arrested. « We don’t want the Islamic regime! » » ; “Down with the dictatorship! » The slogans clearly state the rejection of this regime and of political Islam. This movement demands freedom of choice, democracy, social justice, that is to say, more or less the same demands that the rest of us had during the 1979 revolution.

Never has the gap been as wide as it is today between a very wealthy minority of a section of the population, in power or close to power, which has grown rich thanks to the oil windfall, and the overwhelming majority of the population, including the middle classes which have become impoverished. At least 50% of the population live below the poverty line, according to official figures. Young graduates have no prospects for their personal or professional future. The working classes had staked everything on their children, educated but unemployed. This engenders incredible anger. The parents of the schoolgirls and schoolboys, of the students who demonstrate and are repressed also feel concerned and they express their dissatisfaction. This does not mean that the regime risks falling in the short term, for the main reason that the armed forces remain loyal to it for the time being. I do not see, for the moment, any serious signs of disobedience or dissension among the generals and the Revolutionary Guards. Admittedly, a few regular army and police officers disagreed with firing at protesters. We have seen that the police forces are reluctant to shoot in the working-class neighborhoods of Tehran, whereas they do so in Balochistan or Kurdistan. While some ayatollahs are calling for more flexibility and action against poverty, the supreme guide refuses any concession from his ivory tower.

For now, this movement has no leadership. The uprising started a month ago. This is little compared to the forty-three years of the mullahs’ reign. But a political alternative to which the majority of Iranians adhere can emerge if the movement continues and if at least part of the armed forces adheres to it.

Led by women and young people, this movement could shake the regime provided it acquires leadership and brings the struggles together.

Roohollah Shahsavar Journalist, editor of Persian Letters

In the short term, there are no indicators pointing to an existential threat to the Islamic Republic. In the longer term, the historic uprising led by women and by new generations could seriously threaten it.

For the time being, the absence of leadership, apart from the advantage of complicating the task of the forces of repression, is the weak point of the wave of protest which is shaking Iran. It prevents him from having an agenda and a strategy. Those who are in the street want to put an end to the Islamic Republic, but they don’t say, they don’t know how, with whom, with what means. All these questions are not yet on the table. Moreover, this movement does not cross social classes. For the moment, it mainly concerns the upper middle class. Sometimes it takes the form of identity claims, winning over the working classes, particularly in Kurdistan where the young Mahsa Amini was born. Elsewhere, it will focus on cultural or lifestyle aspects. There is still no convergence of struggles, convergence of objective class interests. A first place of convergence can occur in relation to the nature of political power, against its authoritarianism, its system of repression and persecution.

In this historic moment that Iran is experiencing, two elements could seriously shake the regime. Young people in school who are on the streets will soon be adults. They will become a social force that could endanger this authoritarian regime if it persists in ignoring their demands. Then, women, today at the head of an unprecedented revolt (or revolution?). Their Woman, Life, Freedom movement did not come out of nowhere, it has been rooted in a process for decades. As the researcher Fariba Adelkhah, imprisoned in a prison in Tehran, has shown, women’s demands are partly the result of education policies carried out after the revolution, which have become “counter-productive” for those in power. Highly religious families benefited from equal opportunities. More and more women have had access to education and employment. They have acquired economic independence, and have made social and political demands. Fariba Adelkhah is herself the product. She is part, like the lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, of a religious, pro-revolutionary, educated and qualified family. These women were emancipated in two stages: from their family, after the revolution, then from the patriarchal system embodied by the regime, thanks to their studies and their work. It is they, mothers and their daughters, who are on the streets today. It is not insignificant that the Islamic Republic puts women like them in prison. Thus, theocratic power is in the process of losing, step by step, the social categories which supported it forty years ago and which guaranteed its stability. They are now becoming its opponents.

Women and Power in Islam, by Azadeh Kian, Michalon, 2019;

Nation-state and the making of gender, bodies and sexualities: Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, co-direction with Lucia Direnberger, PUP, 2019.


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