Iran: protesters still standing, despite repression

Demonstrations have been less frequent in recent weeks in Iran, but the protest remains lively after four months of protests, despite the regime’s fierce repression which has resulted in hundreds of deaths and four hangings.

On September 16, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died following her arrest by vice squad for violating the strict dress code for women in the Islamic Republic. If the breath of revolt that has gripped Iran since then has still not subsided, it now takes different forms.

“Revolutionary processes usually involve phases of relative calm and others of tumult,” said Ali Fathollah-Nejad, a political scientist at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.

With the “relative decline in the number of demonstrations”, Iran seems to be “at an impasse, neither the regime nor the demonstrators being able to impose themselves”, he continues. And to anticipate new overflows due to the economic crisis that the country is experiencing.

“With the considerable loss of value of the Iranian currency since the beginning of the year, one can expect demonstrations focused on the economy, which, as the past shows, could quickly become political”, analyzes Mr. Fathollah-Nejad, interviewed by AFP.

The number of strikes and other acts of dissent such as the writing of slogans or the destruction of government signs have thus increased, reports the site enqelab.info, which monitors the extent of protest activity.

– “More cautious citizens” –

“The national uprising is alive, although the way people express their dissent has changed due to the authorities’ deadly crackdown during the fall,” enqelab said in a statement sent to AFP.

According to the Norwegian NGO Iran Human Rights, at least 481 people have been killed and at least 109 people are at risk of execution in connection with the protests, in addition to the four already hanged. Tehran recognizes hundreds of dead, including members of the security forces.

The UN also counted 14,000 arrests during demonstrations whose demands initially focused on the end of the obligation to wear the Islamic headscarf for women. To then demand that the Islamic Republic created after the ousting of the Shah in 1979 end.

The demonstrations have simply “decreased” because “citizens are more cautious”, remarks Roya Boroumand, co-founder of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, an Iranian human rights NGO: “but they are not over.”

Witness the massive rally in January outside Rajaishar prison in Karaj, near Tehran, amid rumors of the imminent hanging of two death row inmates linked to the protests. Both men are still alive.

The grassroots movement has “changed the narrative that the Islamic Republic has imposed for decades on Iranians, who they are and what they want,” Boroumand said.

But nothing indicates that Tehran is ready to make any significant concessions. The crackdown may even intensify, as the appointment as head of the national police of Ahmad Reza Radan, a radical known for stifling 2009 protests against disputed elections, seems to indicate.

– “Mistrust” at the top –

A decision that can only increase Iran’s isolation from the West, as talks on reviving the 2015 agreement on its nuclear program have been frozen. Iranian authorities are also furious that the UN has launched a fact-finding mission into the crackdowns.

At the same time, Tehran has strongly approached the Russia of Vladimir Putin, another pariah state of the West, by delivering hundreds of drones to Moscow, which the Russian army has been using for months against Ukraine.

But the first divisions seem to appear within the authorities, while Tehran has not mobilized all its repressive paraphernalia, despite the bloodshed, according to observers.

Iran this month executed former deputy defense minister Alireza Akbari, who had obtained British citizenship after leaving his post, for spying for the United Kingdom.

An “unexpected verdict” that could point to a “power struggle” within the elite over how to handle the protests, remarks Cornelius Adebahr, a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Europe research center.

Alireza Akbari was seen as close to Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani and other figures who advocated for some reforms to address protesters’ grievances.

“There are signs of cracks” in power, abounds Ali Fathollah-Nejad. This execution shows that “mistrust has set in among regime insiders”, he insists.

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