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The Iranian situation in a nutshell

On 16 September, thousands of Iranians started protests against authoritarian and misogynistic laws. Mahsa Amini’s brutal death by the morality police was the straw that broke the camel's back. A brutal beating resulted in her death after she was arrested for violating the dress code for women. Iranian police are "brutally violently responding" against the protest, according to statements made by the Iran Human Rights organisation. There is an estimate of hundreds of arrests and injuries and at least 224 reported deaths. “The security forces will beat you up if you confront them”, they claim.

This is not by any means the first big protest in the country, but certainly the first and biggest women-led protest in its history. And this is relevant for many reasons. The way these riots are impacting the country and the Persian community in diaspora, suggests we might be witnessing a second Iranian revolution to defeat the apartheid authoritarian regime to which they have been subjected for decades. How did we get here? And most importantly, why is the Western media silent about it?

True Stories About Real People

On an Iranian afternoon in 1980, an explosive shattered a shop window as a young girl walked home from school. The child, who was only a few metres away from the explosion, sustained serious injuries all over her body from the glass which scratched her skin and, unfortunately, broke the fabric of the hijab she wore. Her first reaction was fear. Not because of the explosion but because she knew, at the age of eight, that she could get arrested if she showed her hair –even worse– she would end up in hell as her religion teacher had warned her hours earlier. This is the true story of Mary, a Persian woman now in the diaspora.

Today, almost four decades later, Mary’s daughter Yasmina is watching their people being killed live on Tik Tok while not being able to send them a Whatsapp message due to government data restrictions. But these are hopeful times, as she sees girls and young women burning their headscarves on the streets in chants of 'Women, life, and freedom'. A fight for all the Marys in Iran, because things were not like this in the past.

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 - Historical Context

After World War II, and under the control of British and Soviet forces, the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the most lucrative British energy monopoly internationally. This decision led to boycotts of the Iranian government on the international stage. Taking advantage of this moment, British and US intelligence services orchestrated a coup d'état against the Mossadegh administration in 1953 (Operation Ajax) and installed Reza Shah as the new Prime Minister. A politician easily manipulated to serve foreign interests.

Years later, Reza Shah dissolved parliament and launched the "White Revolution," an aggressive modernisation plan influenced by Western culture that, while it brought Iran high economic growth, also brought with it massive inflation and inequality. The imposed reforms generated deep resentment and hatred among the Iranian population in the 1960s and 1970s. By the beginning of the 1970s, arbitrary arrests of protesters against Reza Shah's government became increasingly violent and common. The US was actively supporting and financing Shah’s brutal dictatorship.

By 1977, the situation became even more complicated and intense. In that year, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a former Iranian philosophy professor exiled abroad and opposition leader, called for mass protests and strikes in Iran after government repression had reached unprecedented levels. A year later, with key industrial sectors virtually seized, along with cities filled with mass anti-government protests, Reza Shah had no choice but to flee the country. A month later, Ayatollah Khomeini arrived in the country with many promises of political reform and high popular support based on anti-Americanism values. The revolution had come to an end and the new revolutionary regime, though hopeful at the time, soon became a living hell for the population.

The Start of The Regime: US & Iran

In the aftermath of the revolution, Iran became the epicenter of a wave of religiously inspired activism and virulent anti-Americanism that spread throughout the region and beyond, establishing its first and only modern Muslim theocracy.

In the fall of 1979, US President Carter allowed the Shah to enter the United States for medical treatment. Revolutionary students, fearing a conspiracy between the Shah and the US, seized the US embassy taking 66 American citizens and diplomats. Khomeini backs the hostage takers, but 13 are released soon after, many of them women and African Americans, who Khomeini said were already facing "the oppression of US society." The U.S. and Iran broke off diplomatic relations in April 1980, and have remained so to this day.

Iraq, hoping to take advantage of the chaos in Iran, initiates a war in 1980. The Reagan administration provides Baghdad with intelligence and resources supporting Saddam Hussein. However, the Reagan administration also distrusted Saddam so it played both sides, secretly sending arms to Iran as part of the Iran-Contra scheme, supposedly in exchange for Tehran's help in freeing U.S. hostages held by Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, one of Iran's proxy forces.

Years later, In 1987 and 1988, the U.S. and Iran engaged in a series of hostile actions in the Persian Gulf as part of what became known as the Tanker War. In the midst of it, a U.S. warship mistakenly attacked an Iranian civilian airliner as an attacking fighter jet, killing its 290 passengers. Amidst it, Ali Khamenei, who had been one of the regime's top officials after the 1979 revolution, headed the 1988 massacre of political prisoners. Following this event, in 1989, Khamenei became Supreme Leader. Khamenei is ultimately responsible for all human rights violations as of this date throughout Iran and for terrorist meddling in other countries, as he is the most powerful official of the theocratic regime with the final say on all state affairs. In his own words: “Have we abolished the death penalty? No! In the Islamic Republic, we have the death penalty for those who deserve it. If they are connected to the MEK, what should we do? They are sentenced to death and we execute them. We are not joking about this.”

The Nuclear Deal

In 2002, the United States accused Iran of a clandestine nuclear weapons program, which Iran denied. Thus, the UN, the US and the EU imposed several rounds of sanctions against the government of ultraconservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In September 2013, a month after Iran's new moderate President Hassan Rouhani took office, he and U.S. President Barack Obama spoke on the phone, the first high-level conversation in more than 30 years. In 2015, after intense diplomatic activity, Iran reached a long-term agreement on its nuclear program known as the JCPOA, of which the United States, United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany are parties. Under the agreement, Iran agrees to limit its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

However, in May 2018, the Trump administration abandoned the nuclear deal, reinstating economic sanctions against Iran and threatening to do the same to countries and companies that continue to buy its oil. In response, Iran begins a counter-pressure campaign and eventually begins withdrawing key commitments from the nuclear deal.

On January 3, 2020, General Qasem Soleimani, Iran's top military commander, was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Iraq. Iran vows "severe revenge" for his death and withdraws from the 2015 nuclear deal. Expert analysts suggest Iran could have the capacity to build a nuclear bomb any time soon, which is why Joe Biden, current US president, has resumed dialogue in 2021 with the Iranian government to seek reinstatement of the nuclear deal, evidence of Washington's fear of a nuclear-armed Iran.

A Universal Human-Rights Movement

How do Iran's foreign policy and diplomatic relations with the US relate to its domestic politics and current events? Some believe the West's lack of support for the Iranian cause is due to concerns about who will control Iran's nuclear technology and structure after a regime change.

On the other hand, a stronger regime response could threaten the agreement and international "stability". Reflecting the Arab Spring, European politicians may fear more disturbances in the region. However, certainly, Iran is on a much better footing to replace its regime with a more liberal political system. People in Iran are well educated and quite pro-Western, thanks in no small part to the many exiled friends and family members living in the United States and Europe. This successful diaspora community, with amazing women like Mary and Yasmina, will surely be ready to help rebuild the homeland they fled. The protesters may not be able to topple the regime, but they can certainly undermine it, and they may have done so.

On a final note, many western groups have supported the right to freedom on the issue of the hijab, ignoring that in this region it is used as a weapon to discriminate against and punish those who resist. It seems rather comfortable for liberal activists to advocate this idea from the comfort of their own countries. Therefore, we must thank and support Iranian women for starting this revolution with such courage and power and hope that transformation will come from within. From men that will perhaps feel the pain of seeing their sisters killed in the line of duty.


Edited and Reviewed by Tanish Bagga.


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