Iran: Revolt or Revolution


19th December 2022

Beginning to read this you are probably already familiar with certain names or slogans: Zhina (Mahsa) Amini and „Women, Life, Freedom“ (Jin, Jiyan, Azadi). But who was Mahsa? Why this slogan? Is it an uprising or a revolution, happening before our eyes in Iran?

The failure of the Revolution of 1979, following the establishment of a theocratic regime is undeniable. The regime is the result of historical misfortune, namely an oxymoron, a contradiction in itself: Islamic Republic: Could a republic be theocratic? Can a theocracy be democratic? This regime never wanted and was never able to moderate the antagonisms of the iranian society or to regulate them. It aggravated and worsened them. It always tried to create a new crisis to cover up the last one. It engulfed the society in a more than medival reaction. It practically installed a sexist Apartheid against half of this society: the women. The fight for emancipation of women isn’t new. Bibbi Maryam Bakhtiari was an important figure in the constitutionalist revolution of the Iran(1905-1906). She commited herself to the rights of women and stood against a reactionary Mullah, named Sheikh Fazlollah Nouri. But the emancipation of women had to jump many hurdles, never really being allowed to be acteurs and societal developments not considering them. Reza Pahlavi, founder of the Pahlavi Dynasty, whose son got overthrown 1979, wanted to forbid wearing the islamic veil. He issued a ban for Hijabs in schools, universities and official institutions.Following this, millions of women decided - or got forced by their fathers, brothers or husband – to stay in their houses. Six years later the ministry for “culture”, of the same monarchy, denied women without Hijab access to schools, universities and official institutions.

Ayatollah Khomeini took over the leadership of the revolution in 1979. He had the financial support of the Bazar Merchants (the Trade Bourgeouisie), that was very important back then. He was also backed by the organizational network of mosques, that the Schah (King) left in peace, compared to all other left, marxist or even nationalist oppositions, he had oppressed. Still Khomeini was aware that he couldn’t overthrow the regime despite the financial and organizational support. He promised everybody including the women whatever they wanted to hear, for example, that the hijab would not be obligatory. This promise didn’t last long. On the 11th February 1979 the Schah Regime was overthrown. On the 8th of March 1979 Khomeini declared: “Women have to go out with the islamic Hijab...I was told that women in institutions walk around naked”. The women’s resistance followed soon. On the same day on the occasion of the 8th March and the next five days on the streets against the Islamic Hijab Rule. Calling “Freedom is universal!” and “We didn’t do the revolution to develop backwards!”

In the four decades of its threatening existence the Mullah regime continuously expanded it’s misogynistic arsenal. It put out massive recourses for oppression, parts of it specifically against women. The Ershad Patrol („Leadership“), also called Morality Police is a mainly misogynist tool of repression, driving around in white and green vans manned with four police officers, two of them women. Their Budget for the Year is Two and Half Times higher than the Budget for medical emergencies in the country. Because of non-transparent statistics it is not possible to put up reliable information about the amount of persecution. But Feminists put out these numbers eight years ago: 2.910.798 Ordercalls, 225.134 Written commitments in the Vans to respect the hijab and 18.171 Court cases. Most of the Women in Iran decline the Law for the obligatory hijab.

Zhina (Mahsa) Amini was a 22-year old kurd, who travelled to Teheran on the 13th September. A Van of the Morality Police stopped her in front of a Metro Station, not because of a missing Hijab but because of her ill fitting headscarf, that let a Lock of Hair visible - for decades this is a form of resistance among young people. Zhina’s brother told them: „Don’t take her, we are strangers here“ Every word in this sentence has an important meaning. Here is a brother, defending his sister, while the regime demands of men, to enforce archaic religious Rules in their female relatives. He also told them: „We are foreigners“, The regime views Kurds as dangerous foreigners.

Kurds are for example forbidden to candidate for elections, since legally everyone has to be Shia but most Kurds are Sunnis. Kurds, as well as Baloch, Aseris, Arabs and most of the other ethnic groups living in Iran don’t even have the right to practice their language in their schools, institutions and so on... Persian is the only official language. And it is quite likely that the police officers beat Zhina even hard after they arrested her, as they noticed her accent. Zhina died three days later in the hospital, according to the police, although maybe early, since she received deadly blows to the head before being admitted to the hospital. The shock about Zhinas death was so big, that protests formed in front of the hospital. Social Media exploded with the Hashtag #Mahsa_Amini (in persian), breaking alltime records on Twitter. The regime, alarmed from the scales of the protest, tried it’s best to keep Zhinas funeral in the Kurdish city of Saqquz very quiet, but failed completely. Hundreds of people gathered. Two important things happen on the graveyard: The women take of their Hijabs and let them wave in the wind and a small group of participants chant: „Women, Life, Freedom“ (Jin Jiyad Azadi) in Kurdish - A slogan that became popular in Rojava, where women of the YPJ defeated the Islamic State (Daesh).

The protests continued for more than a month after Zhinas death. Hundreds of Thousands of women took of their Hijabs during the demonstrations or burned their headscarfs. “Women, Life, Freedom”, getting chanted at Zhinas Funeral, spread in different cities in Iranian Kurdistan and then like a wildfire in more than a 131 cities, with active protests. Furthermore every nationality translated these three words into their language: Arabic, Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Baloch, Luric,... The Islamic Republic, always trying to divide them, never expected the death of a young Kurd evoking this amount of solidarity between people of different cultures and nationalities. The Mullah-Regime always created a crisis, to cover up the one before, but loosing this time. It denies the death of Zhina through deadly blows to the head, declaring she’d had a chronic disease.

Protests are growing and the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) started bomb Bases of Kurdish groups and parties in Kurdish Iran. The Baloch People on the other side of the country, protesting in solidarity with the Kurds got massacred heavily - at least 91 deaths, just on the 30th September. The students united, protesting along side Kurds and Beloch People in Teheran, but they get locked into the Universities. To distract even more, a massive fire was laid in Evin Prison, one of the most secured prisons in the world with hundreds of political prisoners incarcerated. They claimed regular prisoners being responsible for this.

Previous Uprisings, especially the ones of 2018 and 2020 had their origin in raised prices for food and fuel. They only lasted a couple of days and got crushed badly. Amnesty International counts more than 350 deaths in 2020 and Reuters lists more than 1500. The current protests reached the 2nd month and continuing. The movement seems to adjust to the complete or partial shutdown of the Internet, choosing different forms of organization, something not happening previously. The people demonstrate sporadically, without announcements, while the protesters in the actual movement announces events in one or several cities, that (don’t?) actually happen. A couple of protesters us other tactics, too. For the quite important city of Ahvaz the date of Friday was announced, but the whole city was in movement a day earlier.

While in previous revolts predominantly the poor population participated in the towns and suburbs, this time other classes join. Solely in Teheran the demonstrations in the extremely poor areas in the south of the metropolis, are as numerous as the ones in the richer areas in the north. No movement was ever as broadly supported by artists: the number of revolutionary songs, paintings and video productions of the current movement has never been as big as now. Very young students and especially high school students are huge parts of the movement, more than ever. They practically demonstrate every day, attend classes without Hijab and take to the streets afterwards, throwing the torn out school book pages of Khomeini on the ground.

Workers lay down their work and go on strike, not for much needed pay rises but to protest against the political oppression. Workers of non government oil companies, a key industry in Iran, already went on strike. The regime arrested more than a hundred of them. Their mobile Internet was shut down to prevent them from writing messages. Even water and electricity in their camps and dormitories was shut off. Even though the people are working in areas of the country where temperatures climb up to 50 degrees sometimes. Another feature of the current movement is the international Solidarity, never happening before at this level.

The oppression is extreme. According to a paper, published from an NGO for human rights, 215 people in Iran got killed in connection with the protests until 18. October, the 31. day of the Movement. 27 of them where under 18 years old. The number of injured people is going in the thousands, the numbers of (random) arrests is unknown. Just in Tabriz the secret service arrested
1700 People preventively because of calls for protest and the historic meaning of this azerbaijani city.

So Uprising or Revolution? Let’s quote the answer of Djaafar Azimzadeh of the local, but forbidden “Free Union of the Workers of Iran”. He got arrested several times during his workers activism. On 17th October he published and article with the headline “Uprising of the Iranian People, a big, historic Revolution: “The world is witness of the formation of the biggest revolution of the 21st century in Iran (...) This revolution will have massive impacts on it’s way, not just in Iran but in the whole middle east and world wide (...) It is a revolution for freedom and equality (...) This revolution is the revolution of the women, children and young people, workers, teachers and pupils in the digital age and the world wide exchange of information (…)” ■

Nader TEYF
Groupe Commune de Paris de la FA

(Minor translation editing by Organise)

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