Mahsa (Zhina/Jîna) Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, died while in custody on September 16, as a result of the brutality of Iran's religious morality police. She was arrested for not following the strict female dress code that the Islamic government has imposed as part of its systemic oppression of women for more than four decades.
Just a few hours after this atrocious crime, the news went viral on social media. People in Tehran, shocked by the news, started to gather around the hospital where Mahsa was taken by the religious morality police, in order to gain more information and express their grave concern over her death.
For fear of sparking a resurgence of anti-government protests, Mahsa's family were forced to bury her right away — one day after her death — in Saghez, her birthplace. Despite the heavy pressure on Mahsa's family and the strong presence of police at the funeral, a lot of people filled with anger gathered around and condemned the systemic violence that the clerical government imposes on women.
To honour Mahsa and signify the role of tyrannical state rules in forcing women to wear hijabs, women cut their hair off, removed their hijabs, and vowed that Mahsa's name would become a code for freedom and a symbol of solidarity among Iranians. This promise has become reality by the emergence of the nationwide outburst that has targeted the wobbly pillars of the Islamic republic.
Now that we are in the fourth week of this historic uprising, the hashtag #MahsaAmini has been tweeted more than 280 million times, and the roar of “Zan, Zendegi, Azadi” (Woman, Life, Liberty) reverberates on the streets of many cities.
Although uprisings are not unprecedented in Iran during the past four decades, the current one has some unique characteristics.
For the past four decades women have been actively involved in many social movements or protests that have challenged unjust laws, inequalities, systemic oppression, and widespread corruption within the state. However, this time women are not just involved — they also lead and inspire the uprising. The significance of such a primary role is appreciated more considering the barriers that the male-controlled society and governance system creates for women.
The young generation are the heart and soul of this uprising. They vehemently oppose the establishment. More than 80% of the arrested protesters are younger than 24 years old, and more than 24 children have been killed. In this bloody battle, these young people have fearlessly appeared, contrary to assumptions that they are too occupied by their own shallow world of social media, celebrities, computer games, and so on. This generation has destroyed the hopes of the regime and its strategies for brainwashing them.
Unlike the past, when men were often reluctant to actively oppose the government's religious rules forcing the hijab upon women, this time, young men in particular have strongly supported women in their fight for basic rights. Before, women were often asked to abandon their long-awaited justifiable demands with the excuse that attention instead should be focused on “high-ranking” social issues, like poverty, unemployment, ethnic and religious tensions, and so forth.
Today, public awareness has started to grow regarding the fact that fighting for women`s rights is closely linked to successful outcomes for other social struggles. That is why, now, men along with women are chanting “Women, Life, Liberty”, knowing that fighting for women's rights helps to pave the road to bring about positive structural changes in all areas.
Another outstanding achievement of the current protests is the reality that, for the first time since the Islamic revolution, Iranians, including the opposition groups inside and outside the country, are united, regardless of their class, gender, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, and age. They are targeting the central pillars of the Islamic republic, including Velayat-e-Faqih (the concentration of power and authority in the hands of the ruling clergy).
In contrast to the previous uprisings, the alternative of reforms within the system is not on the table anymore. Such reformist ideas, which argued for keeping the Islamic system and looked to reach agreement with the existing establishment, are no longer supported by the people. Students, workers, teachers, artists, sport and movie celebrities, and people from all walks of life are radically demanding the dismantling of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the building of a secular system that respects, cherishes, and brings prosperity for all diverse groups of people.
A very important element to this uprising is the vital role of technology. Despite very tight internet filtering, people use social media and all the available platforms, including text messages, to inform each other and mobilise people. Iranians outside the country made enormous efforts to speak out about what has been happening in Iran and are pushing politicians around the world to take a position and act against the Iranian government.
Groups like “Anonymous” and “Edalat-e-Ali” hacked several government websites, as well as Iranian state television, and encouraged people to continue their protests. Last week the key state telecommunication organisation was hacked, and, in the absence of the internet, five million text messages were sent to people informing them about the date of an upcoming protest.
Another unprecedented feature of these protests is that no individual, groups, or organisations have made a claim about taking the leadership of this uprising. All the opposition groups have supported the uprising without officially claiming any leading role in organising the protests. This has led to confusion among the government and the security forces, as in the past they knew who the leaders were, and they could arrest them, spreading a sense of hopelessness among the protesters and eventually supressing the uprising. Many believe that the spontaneity of the outbursts is a great advantage, and since the protests are not localised and spread around different suburbs of cities, this limits the ability of the police force to control all the areas at the same time.
However, it is also emphasised that an organisational structure should emerge soon to organise, mobilise, and plan tactics and strategy to lead to the revolution and victory of the people.
So far, 26 days since the start of protests, there have been some notable achievements to celebrate. Many believe that this uprising is the beginning of a revolution. We should recognise that the path to the victory is a rocky one. The state is armed from head to toe, and they will do whatever it takes to stay in power as long as possible. However, there are signs of exhaustion among police, and divisions within the system. Students, teachers, workers, and retailers’ unions have called for strikes and some parts of the oil industry have joined such stoppages.
It is too early to predict what direction this uprising will take, but I want to be optimistic and hope that this revolution will not be hijacked by those who are not truly representative of the Iranian people.
[*The author lives in Iran and is writing under a pseudonym.]