Iran’s Pre-Revolutionary Spirit: Is This the Beginning of the End of Khamenei’s Regime?

Global Challenges

Iran’s Pre-Revolutionary Spirit: Is This the Beginning of the End of Khamenei’s Regime?

Posted on: 23rd September 2022
By Multiple Authors
Kasra Aarabi
Iran Programme Lead
Jemima Shelley
Researcher, Extremism Policy Unit

On 16 September, Mahsa Amini was murdered by the Islamic Republic in Iran. During a visit to the capital with her brother, she was violently detained by the “morality police” for wearing her hijab improperly. Within hours of her arrest she had fallen into a coma and eventually died in hospital two days later.

Despite eyewitness accounts of torture, the regime has denied all allegations instead making false claims that Mahsa had a history of heart problems – something her family wholeheartedly rejects. Mahsa’s body was covered in bruises and her CT scan shows skull fractures from multiple blows to the head. What happened to Mahsa exposes the reality of life under the Islamic Republic. And the Iranian people have had enough.

Over the past week, Mahsa’s killing has triggered nationwide anti-regime unrest. As we speak, uprisings have reached 19 of Iran’s 31 provinces, including the small island of Kish – an unprecedented occurrence.

Women are at the frontline leading the call for change. They have defiantly been burning their hijabs and cutting their hair, in what has become the symbol of anti-regime dissent. For them, compulsory hijab has come to represent the chokehold the regime has over the Iranian people. The hijab is not just a piece of cloth in Iran, it is a key pillar of the regime, just as integral as anti-Americanism and antisemitism.

“Death to the Islamic Republic” can be heard throughout the streets of Iran. Ignore the regime’s lobby in Washington, DC; Iranian people are not calling for the system to be reformed from within. This is about outright change – a cry often heard on the Iranian streets.

In the past five years, Iran has experienced a new wave of nationwide unrest that is distinctively anti-regime. Crucially, this began in the winter of 2017 when the United States was still part of the nuclear deal and had not reimposed sanctions. Again, ignore the regime’s lobby – this is not about Trump or the withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

Each time the Iranian people have taken to the streets, the regime has brutally suppressed dissent with unbridled violence. Despite the regime’s attempts to hide the evidence with nationwide internet shutdowns, the most visible manifestation of this was the protests of November 2019, otherwise known as “Bloody November”, where the regime killed 1,500 civilians in just a few days. This all took place under a “reformist” president – make no mistake the reformer-hardliner dichotomy is merely a ruse. This should have been clear when Javad Zarif – Iran’s former foreign minister – justified the compulsory hijab and killing of homosexuals on “moral grounds”.

While the West was mesmerised with the likes of Zarif, who attempted to mask the reality of the regime like a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing, President Ebrahim Raisi has shown its true face. Raisi, otherwise known as “The Butcher of Tehran”, was a member of the “death committee” that oversaw the executions of as many as 30,000 Iranians and is currently sanctioned by the US and Europe. De facto appointed by Khamenei, Iran’s 83-year-old supreme leader, Raisi has been brought on to “purify” Iranian society from non-Islamic influence. This has led to the further empowering of the hardline Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is the foundation of the Raisi administration – and their first targets are women. As interior minister and IRGC commander Ahmad Vahidi, who is on an Interpol list for his role in a terrorist attack against a Jewish Cultural Centre in Argentina in 1994, declared, “If the Islamic Republic is going to be harmed, it will be from women”. Vahidi is right – Iranian women will ultimately overturn the gender apartheid that exists in Iran.  

Despite Raisi being on a sanctions list for gross human rights violations, he is attending the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. Simultaneous to the “Butcher of Tehran’s” arrival in New York, a violent crackdown has begun in Iran – resulting in injury and death. Yet, the Iranian people are not backing down.

The international community must take steps to stand with them. World leaders have a platform at UNGA, where they can show support for the Iranian people. US President Joe Biden has declared that the US “stands with the brave women of Iran” – other world leaders should follow suit. They also have the power to demand the Iranian regime’s expulsion from being appointed to the UN’s top women’s rights body. With the breakdown of the nuclear talks, the West needs to rethink its strategy. Given the regime crackdown, sanctions relief for Khamenei’s Islamic Republic will only bolster the forces oppressing the Iranian people. If there is one thing that Ukraine has taught us, placating the demands of a dictator does not work.

For the first time in history, we could be witnessing the makings of a revolution led by women, not men. Is this the beginning of the end of Khamenei’s regime? While the international community is yet to choose a side, the Iranian people stand with Mahsa and all those who have lost their lives at the hands of the Islamic Republic. While the regime may be able to violently quash the protests this time around, it will not be able to suppress the Iranian people’s determination to reclaim their nation from this regime. As the slogan on the street goes, “We will fight, we will die but we will reclaim our Iran”. A pre-revolutionary spirit is in the air.

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