Protests in Iran: Who is most afraid of whom?

Blanca Garrido Martín. Opositora a Carrera diplomática.


“No seas una dama, sé una leyenda”, esta cita se escribió como imagen de pie de foto de una foto publicada de una mujer iraní expatriada. Más de ochenta ciudades en Irán son testigos de estas protestas sociales masivas que comenzaron en septiembre de este año. Además, estas manifestaciones están encabezadas por mujeres. Las mujeres iraníes pueden querer dar la oportunidad a sus hijos de vivir en un país libre, o tal vez se ha vuelto insoportable vivir en un país donde los derechos de las mujeres han empeorado incluso hace más de 50 años.


“Don’t be a lady, be a legend”, this quote was written as a caption image of a published picture of an expatriate Iranian woman. More than eighty cities in Iran are witnesses of these mass social protests which have started in September this year. Furthermore, these demonstrations are led by women. Iranian women may want to give the opportunity to their children to live in a freedom country, or maybe, it has become unbearable to live in a country where women’s rights have worsened even more than 50 years ago.


A significant difference between these protests and the previous ones is the place where these demonstrations are happening. In the past, the revolt broke out just in the main squares of the principal cities, especially in the capital of the country. However, this time, they are taking place everywhere. There are protesters all over the territory and it seems that the government is short of power. They can’t manage this turmoil and they don’t know how to stop the dissidents. The starting point was the mandatory hijab, then, everyone who is against the system is joining the demonstrations, either because of corruption or because of the income inequality.

The question this essay will analyse is: could these protests lead towards a social political opening in Iran? This could signify a way to stop this rebellion on the streets and to show a bona fide action to the International Community, but this won’t happen except if they find themselves at an impasse. Who is most afraid of whom? On one hand, people in Iran fear the radical government because they have the monopoly of the use of force, and they are killing activists every day. On the other hand, it is certain that the government is afraid of people. Many Iranians have shared on social media how the military and other security institutions do not know how to deal with these situations. An ineffective monopoly of force could lead them to an erosion of political authority, the worst scenario for a dictatorship.

We have seen grandmothers taking their hijabs off and accompanying their granddaughters on demonstrations. They might have used miniskirts in the centre of Teheran when they were teenagers, 60 years ago. We have also seen an enormous banner showing the face of the current president, Ebrahim Raisi on fire. Young people are fighting back against the riot police. Women have taken the control on the streets: they are the leaders of these protests. Nevertheless, what’s going to happen next? Do people still fear the government? Just after one month of the outbreak of these social uprisings, more than 250 people were reported deceased, children among them. Sadly, it’s not the first time Iranians have expressed their grievances and the consequences were devastating for the citizens. Iranian authorities pursued survivors and victims’ relatives who called out for truth and justice.

Nevertheless, Iranian students and even workers continue to protest and go on strike despite the widening crackdown. It seems they will carry on until women’s rights are recognized. They are fearless because they don’t want to live anymore under the terror of a fanatical government. Furthermore, besides women’s freedom, the country has been struggling for decades against repression, economic misery, and government corruption. In this sense, many of those protesters are demanding reforms. That’s the reason why such a mass outcry is being heard.

Thanks to social media, we are able to see how the government is dealing with critical problems to hold this situation. It seems they are short on police officers and military corps. What’s going on with the security forces? Images circulating on Twitter showed a policeman with a tattoo on his wrist. In Iran, only two kinds of people would have tattoos, people who follow the Western fashion trend or people who have been in prison and Iranian police do not follow western rules. In addition, there are pictures of children wearing military uniforms. Regular military soldiers can be seen wearing masks so that they are not recognised. This seems to be paradoxical because the State is not going to prosecute them because they are following orders, or perhaps, are they afraid of being recognised by their own family or neighbours?

In this context, international analysts think that they’re recruiting street children, teenagers, and criminals. The International Community denounced the crackdown, but non-governmental organisations and other activist associations said that condemning is not enough. The Special Rapporteur of United Nations, Javaid Rehman, said that they had made “very strong calls for independent and impartial investigations”, with no response from Iran.
Concerning the previous question: could these protests lead towards a social political opening in Iran? The security forces’ crackdown show that the government has imposed a radical repression to the demand of women’s rights. The supreme leader wants to ensure his legality after his death and the continuity of the Islamic Law in Iran. The highest levels of the government are proud of settling an Islamic society where women cover their hair, and they look like good muslims. At present, we have not received any positive response from the Government that could demonstrate that Iran will change in the years to come. However, this could be possible if a social revolution that mobilised the society took place and led to the fall of the Government.

10 Mayo 2023

ISSN: 2340 – 2482


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Protestas en Irán: ¿Quién le teme más a quién? de Blanca Garrido Martín está bajo una Licencia Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial-CompartirIgual 4.0 Internacional .