DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Protests in Iran over the death of a 22-year-old woman detained by the country’s vice squad have expanded to a third week, even after authorities disrupted the internet, rioting troops deployed and alleged enemies had attacked Abroad.
That repression script has worked in the past, but the spontaneous demonstrations over Mahsa Amini’s death persist and continue to change. In a recent incident, high school students chased a hardliner while famous politicians and… actresses abroad now cut their hair with scissorsfollowing in the footsteps of Iranian female protesters who have done the same.
The longevity and metamorphosis of the protests pose a new threat to Tehran, one unseen since the 2009 Green Movement protests brought millions to the streets.
The seemingly spontaneous and leaderless protests – fueled largely by the middle and upper classes – share the same strengths and weaknesses as those of more than a decade ago. Iran’s theocracy eventually crushed them over time. Whether it will do the same now remains to be seen.
Getting a true picture of what’s happening in Iran, a country of more than 80 million people two and a half times the size of the US state of Texas, is difficult even in quiet times given government restrictions.
Now that is even more difficult. Authorities have detained at least 35 journalists and photographers since the demonstrations began on September 17. according to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists. Most of the information comes from only seconds long video clips for activists to upload to the internet.
The protests started at the cemetery of Amini, an Iranian Kurdish woman detained by the itinerant forces of the Iranian vice squad. Ever since the election of the tough president Ebrahim Raisi last yearmorality patrols have become more aggressive, with videos circulating of officers manipulating young women over their clothing or undoing the mandatory headscarf, known as hijabs.
The Iranian government insists Amini was not abused, and state television broadcast footage of her collapse at a police station and grooming. However, no video of her arrest or transport to the police station has surfaced, even if Tehran started equipping police officers with body cameras five years ago. That, as well as a prompt funeral reportedly demanded by security officials, fueled anger in her hometown of Saqqez, some 460 kilometers (285 miles) west of Tehran.
In that demonstration and subsequent demonstrations across the country, protesting women rolled over their headscarves and shouted “Death to the dictator!” in Farsi. in a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
It’s a dangerous cry in a country where accusations of being a “mofsed-e-filarz” or a “corrupter of the earth” through political dissent could result in a death sentence in Iran’s closed-door Revolutionary Court.
The full breadth of the demonstrations and crackdown remains unclear. An Associated Press count of reports in state-run and state-linked media shows that there have been at least 1,900 arrests in connection with the protests. Demonstrations have been reported in at least 50 cities and towns.
State television last suggested that at least 41 people had died in the demonstrations on September 24. In the nearly two weeks since, there has been no update from the Iranian government.
An Oslo-based group called Iran Human Rights estimates that at least 154 people have been killed, although that includes an estimated 63 people killed in violence in the eastern Iranian city of Zahedan. Iranian authorities have described the Zahedan violence as involving unnamed separatists, although Iran Human Rights said the incident began as a revenge attack on rape allegations against a local police officer.
In the meantime, Iran has also carried out cross-border attacks on Kurdish separatists in Iraq and has maintained that the demonstrations are a foreign plot — all apparently designed to distract from widespread anger over Iran’s mandatory hijab.
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and the chaotic years that followed, demonstrations have been a common occurrence across the country. Many focus on local issues rather than national political changes, such as: farmers angry over the drying up of the country’s water resourcesteachers wanting higher salaries or retirees angry after losing their retirement savings in much-criticized privatization moves.
Student protests hit Tehran in 1999. In late 2017 and early 2018, economic protests swept the country. And in 2019, there was anger at the government abolishing gasoline subsidies in the same way led to nationwide demonstrations.
But unlike those previous three waves, this time hardliners control every lever of power in the Iranian presidency, judiciary and parliament, meaning they can’t blame anyone else. The same happened during the 2009 Green Movement demonstrations. fueled by the crackdown on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad amid widespread allegations of electoral fraud.
The 2009 demonstrations also targeted urban areas and saw mostly middle- and upper-class protesters. Similar groups of people have taken part in the current protests, with witnesses saying they have not heard any of the economic chants from the most recent rounds of demonstrations. Iranian celebrities and football stars have also spoken out.
However, there are still clear differences between 2009 and today. Millions of people took to the streets during the 2009 demonstrations. So far, the current protests have not roused such large crowds in one go.
The 2009 demonstrations also continued for months before slowing down, finally ending in 2011, when authorities arrested their leaders during the Arab Spring protests. The current demonstrations have yet to reach the four-week mark, although crucial moments lie ahead.
Perhaps most importantly, Iran is bracing for Saturday, the start of Iran’s week, when university students would resume classes in person. According to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, security forces fired tear gas and shotguns at students demonstrating at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran on Sunday. That university and others went to online classes for the rest of the week.
If the demonstrations continue in classrooms and streets across Iran, Iran’s harsh government will have to decide what to do next. So far, however, there is no sign that they will return.
EDITOR’S NOTE – Jon Gambrell, the Gulf and Iran news director for The Associated Press, has covered each of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Iran, and other locations around the world since joining in 2006. the AP. Follow him on Twitter at www. .twitter.com/jongammbrellAP.
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