“They get up and say, ‘That’s enough. I am ready to die to have a life worth living ”.

Protesters in the streets of Tehran on Wednesday. Related press

A 22-year-old woman emerged from the Tehran subway with dark hair covered with a black headscarf and body lines obscured by loose clothing when she was noticed by the capital homing patrol. They were members of the infamous Iranian moral police, enforcers of the conservative Islamic dress and behavior rules that had governed Iranian daily life since the 1979 revolution, and re-motivated by the hardlining president who took office last year.

By their standards, Mahsa Amini was inappropriately dressed, which could mean something as simple as a strand of hair sticking out of her scarf. They put her in a van and drove her to a detention center, where she was to undergo re-education. Three days later, on September 16, she was dead.

Now, after eight days of rage, joy and street battles, the most significant outburst of anger against the ruling system in more than a decade, her name is everywhere. Iranian protesters in dozens of cities chanted “women, life and freedom” and “d*ath to the dictator,” rejecting the theocratic rule of the Republic of Iran, targeting one of its most fundamental and dividing symbols – ailing supreme leaderAyatollah Ali Khamenei.

In several movies about the uprising that have ripped apart on social media, women tear scarves and burn them in street fires, including in deeply religious cities like Kum and Mashhad. In one, a young woman in a tool cabinet cuts her hair in front of a crowd of roaring demonstrators. In another, young women have the courage to dance bareheaded in front of the riot police.

“Death to the dictator,” chanted protesters at Tehran University on Saturday. “Death to a scarf! Until when do we have to tolerate such humiliation? “

Previous protests – against the rigged elections in 2009, mismanagement in 2017 and fuel price increases in 2019 – have been ruthlessly crushed by Iranian security forces, and this time it may not be otherwise. However, for the first time since the founding of the Republic of Iran, the current uprising has united wealthy Iranians coming from skyscrapers in northern Tehran with struggling bazaar sellers in its working-class south and with Kurds, Turks and other ethnic minorities. members of most of the Fars.

The sheer diversity of protesters reflects the extent of Iranian grievances, analysts say, from a morbid economy and corruption in the face, to political repression and social restraint – a frustration that the Iranian government has repeatedly unsuccessfully tried to suppress.

“The anger is not only about Mahsa’s d*ath, but most of all about the fact that she should never have been arrested,” said Shadi Sadr, a prominent human rights lawyer who has been campaigning for women’s rights in Iran for two decades.

“Because they have nothing to lose,” she added, “they get up and say,” Enough of this. I am ready to die to have a life worth living.

Information on the protests remains incomplete at best. Internet access continues to be disrupted or completely blocked, especially in widely used messaging applications such as WhatsApp and Instagram, making it difficult for Iranians to communicate with each other or share information about anxieties with the outside world.

But witnesses say the demonstrations, which spread to at least 80 cities on Saturday, are the most violent, virulent and bold they can remember, far more intense than the previous shocks of unrest. Desperate to destroy the forces ahead of the inevitable trial, videos circulated on social media and shared on The New York Times, protesters set fire to security vehicles and att*cked members of Iran’s fearsome paramilitary forces, killing them in some cases.

Information leaked with a delay of many hours also points to increasing repression. Authorities began to suppress demonstrations with violence, including live fire and tear gas. Dozens of people died. The Journalists Protection Committee said on Saturday that at least 17 journalists had been detained, including one of the first to report Amini’s hospitalization, and arrests of activists were increasing.

With Iran’s economy at its worst and Khamenei in bad shape, analysts say the government will delve rather than show signs of weakness. They say violence will only buy time, not long-term peace.

Top regime leaders “always said, ‘We are not going to make concessions because if we make one small concession, we will have to make more concessions,” said Mohamed Ali Kadivar, an Iranian-born sociologist in Boston. A college that studies protest movements in Iran and elsewhere. “Maybe they will push people off the streets, but since people want change, repression will not stop it. Even at the trial, they would just come home for a while and come back. “

Possibilities of pushback have dwindled in recent years, leaving Iranians only with protest as a means of calling for change. How much their political freedoms shrank became clear last year when the country’s leaders disqualified virtually all candidates except the supreme leader’s preferred candidate. the ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raisi, from the presidential election. In this process, they relegated what was once a forum for Iranians to debate political issues and elect their representatives, even if candidates were always pre-elected within the governing apparatus.

Raisi opposed a return to the 2015 nuclear deal with the United States, which imposed restrictions on the development of Iranian nuclear weapons in return for the lifting of sanctions and economic openness. His choice, coupled with a declining economy, left Iranians in despair, who longed for better opportunities, greater social freedom, and closer ties with the rest of the world.

“The reason the younger generation is taking this kind of risk is because they feel they have nothing to lose, they have no hope for the future,” said Ali Vaez, Iranian director of the International Crisis Group, noting that the protests were now regular. function in Iran.

By continually blocking reform, he added, the country’s leaders “have created a situation where the people no longer believe that the system can be reformed.” “I think people would be willing to tolerate a milder version of the Islamic Republic, but they just cemented their position and created this situation. It turned Iran into a tinder. “

The headscarf, known as the hijab, is a particularly inflammatory issue: the law requiring women to wear loose robes and cover their hair in public has for decades been a pillar of ruling theocracy and a lightning rod for reform-minded Iranians. on the first protests against ayatollahs after the 1979 revolution by women who did not want to be forced into hiding.

During Raisi’s predecessor, reformist Hassan Rouhani, the moral police were discouraged from enforcing the often draconian laws against women, especially the requirement that they wear the hijab properly in public while completely covering their hair. This led to young women showing more hair, even in pious conservative cities like Kum. Unmarried men and women were allowed to go to public places, while modern western music resonated in western cafes in exclusive northern Tehran.

However, the country’s conservative leaders viewed the fall in standards as a threat to the republic’s theocratic foundations. Raisi called in July for full implementation of conservative dress codes, saying that “the enemies of Iran and Islam” are targeting “the religious foundations and values ​​of society,” the official news agency IRNA said.

During the summer, the Iranian morality police, which are patrolling public areas for violations of Islamic rules, stepped up enforcement of hijab standards, and three cafés in the Qum center were closed to accept customers with their heads uncovered. In a video that was widely circulated on Iranian social media in July, a mother threw herself in front of a van, taking her daughter for violating the hijab rules and shouting, “My daughter is sick, please don’t take her away.”

The reaction to Amini’s d*ath was so strong that the religiously conservative Iranians spoke out alongside the liberal ones. On social media, women who wear the hijab by choice have launched solidarity campaigns challenging strict law enforcement, and a prominent religious leader said the moral police are only pushing young women away from religion. Even tightly controlled state media outlets have acknowledged the problem by broadcasting at least three debates in which reformers’ voices were rare.

Authorities denied any use of violence against Amini. They claimed that she suffered from a basic medical condition which her family had questioned and that she had had a heart att*ck in detention. But for many Iranians, photos of her lying on a hospital bed with a bloody face told a different story.

While Raisi has promised the investigation with a slight nod to fury, Iran’s response to the protests has been adamant. As in previous uprisings: bullets, tear gas, arrests and blood.

In 2009, millions of urban, educated Iranians flooded the streets of cities across the country, furious over what they believed was election rigging by their leaders to guarantee a hardliner president and thwart reforms. The elite Revolutionary Guard and Basij’s paramilitary forces opened fire, killing dozens and arresting many more, and eventually the Green Movement was suppressed.

From 2017 to 2018, protesters in dozens of cities demonstrated against high inflation and a weak economy. They met with force again. In 2019, the government spiked gasoline prices, sparking weekly protests from Iranians who are fed up with thinner wallets, corruption and repression. According to Amnesty International, the authorities killed at least 300 people in the ensuing repression and slowed the pace of the protests by blocking or disrupting internet access.

Now the interruptions in internet access are back. To help Iranians access the internet, the Biden administration mandated technology companies on Friday to offer secure platforms and services in Iran without risking violating US sanctions that normally prevent it from doing business with Iran. It has also led to green exports to Iran of private satellite Internet equipment, such as the Starlink service offered by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

But the Iranians may stand too much of a chance.

“I don’t think they will be able to control these movements at some point,” Vaez said of the ruling authorities. “But from now on, the system must lower its iron fist and try to nip that movement in the bud.”

This article originally appeared in New York Times.

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