The anti-Iranian government protests continue, and with greater intensity and international support. It is now mid-November and the protests were triggered by the death of a 22-year-old Iranian woman while in custody of the morality police.
As expected, the reported death toll in the violent crackdowns has risen despite attempts by the Iranian government to cut internet access to restrict the work of journalists and human rights groups. A human rights group based in Norway says that the death toll has risen to at least 304 people, including 24 women and 41 children. Journalists themselves have been branded as enemies of the state.
Some 41 journalists have been arrested (and a number freed since then) since September.
The active involvement of women is no doubt due to the fact that an innocent woman, who was not considered an activist by any standard or definition, died while in the custody of police. Amini died on Sept. 16, or almost exactly two months ago, after she was arrested by Tehran’s morality police for allegedly not complying with hijab (head covering) regulations. Eyewitnesses reported to journalists that Amini appeared to have been beaten inside the police van while being taken to the detention center. She however appeared to have been conscious when police brought her to the detention center, or “brain dead” as reported by an international news agency.
Amini had traveled from the Iranian western province of Kurdistan to Tehran to visit relatives when she was arrested on Sept. 13. Kurds constitute a large minority in Iran, numbering about nine to 10 million. Discrimination against Kurds and other minorities has been a long-standing issue in Iran which has triggered violence.
The protests are said to pose one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s clerical rulers since the 1979 revolution.
Once docile Iranian women are now at the forefront of the struggle for freedom and respect for human rights. One such person is top Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti who posted a picture of herself on Instagram without a headscarf to express her support for nationwide anti-government demonstrations, according to a Reuters report. The report adds that Alidoosti’s post is another sign that the protest movement is gaining support from all layers of Iranian society.
Alidoosti is best known internationally for her role in The Salesman which won an Academy Award in 2017. The Salesman was adjudged the best foreign language film during the Academy Awards in 2017. Its theme on immigration apparently got the nod of Oscar judges just at the time that US President Donald Trump was vigorously pushing his anti-immigration agenda during his chaotic presidency.
The pro-reform artist held up a sign in the Instagram post which read, “Woman, Life, Freedom” in Kurdish, a popular slogan in the demonstrations, according to Reuters. It further reports that Alidoosti, who is not a Kurd, wrote a poem in her Instagram post: “Your final absence, the migration of singing birds, is not the end of the rebellion.” It is one of many Instagram posts critical of the government. As of the writing of this column, Alidoosti has not been arrested by Iran’s clerical rulers.
Actresses seem to enjoy a certain amount of “protection.” Since the start of protests in September, Reuters says that at least five female Muslim actresses have posted pictures of themselves without the compulsory hijab in solidarity with the demonstrations in which women have played a leading role.
Iranian officials, who have blamed Amini’s death on pre-existing medical problems, say the unrest has been fomented by foreign enemies including the United States, and accuse separatists of perpetrating violence, according to Reuters.
Mention of the US (and impliedly other Western and even possibly, Gulf, nations) brings to mind scenarios related to regime change in a country wracked by internal strife. We are only too familiar with regime change precipitated by a number of converging conditions. There have been many instances of regime change all over the world. Alexander Downes (PhD, University of Chicago, 2004), an Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University, says that 120 leaders have been successfully removed through foreign-imposed regime change between 1816 and 2011.
Foreign-imposed regime change is, of course, different from leadership changes that occur through domestic processes such as a peaceful or violent revolution, a coup d’état, and foreign invasion. But even then, those domestic processes are usually assisted quietly at different levels of government by foreign powers, especially in the diplomatic front. One recalls the conversation that occurred among President Ronald Reagan, Secretary of State George Schultz, Senator Paul Laxalt of Nevada and other key US defense and state department officials when a decision was made to withdraw support from Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. and the strongman was advised to “cut and cut clean” in February 1986.
The stickiest problem with regime change outside of the traditional legitimate and fair electoral processes is who shall take charge or take over the new government. A charismatic leader who manages to take over under violent circumstances will usually not only reconstruct or reorganize government but even undertake a change in ideology. A change in ideology triggers further institutional change: either the promotion of a free press or its destruction; either defense of the principle of freedom of assembly or its suppression, etc.
Cuba is an example of such a change. Fidel Castro brought his country quickly into the Russian orbit after years of rule by the Batista regime, backed by the US. Eastern European countries that undertook regime change in the late 1980s and shortly after the dissolution of the USSR in the early 1990s, shifted from communism or leftist authoritarianism to the democratic rule or market economy with which we are familiar.
The Iranian crisis has one particular quality which has not escaped the notice of those closely observing the developments in a government ruled by male clerics. The involvement of women in a society where women’s rights have been brutally suppressed is particularly noteworthy and critical. In addition to the crisis, which has assumed some kind of “gendered complexion,” other sectors have also become vocal in their support of the protest movement. The captain of the Iranian national team to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, has openly aligned himself with the protest movement, and presumably other members of the squad are standing beside or behind him.
If there will be any temporary let up to the protests in Iran, the World Cup may be the only event of international significance to create such a pause.
Philip Ella Juico’s areas of interest include the protection and promotion of democracy, free markets, sustainable development, social responsibility and sports as a tool for social development. He obtained his doctorate in business at De La Salle University. Dr. Juico served as secretary of Agrarian Reform during the Corazon C. Aquino administration.