The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

Mahsa Amini’s death has sparked violent protests across Iran. The regime’s crackdown on protests has led to the death of 92 people. Despite heavy crackdowns, clashes between protestors and security forces continue nationwide.

The protest movement has tapped into a deep well of grievances, including social restrictions, and political repressions. Protestors are demanding fundamental change. Because of intensifying crackdowns, rallies have turned progressively more violent. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has warned that no one will be allowed to break the law and cause disorder. Despite warnings, protestors have only become more brazen.

Unexpectedly, the protests have morphed into a broader anti-regime campaign focused on women’s equality, but also fueled by wider discontent. Since the 1979 revolution, Iranian women have become second-class citizens. The hijab represents all that is wrong with Iran, so Iranian women have taken to burning their hijabs.

However, while Amini’s death was the spark, economic despair, corruption, isolation, and inflation are the kindling. Many Iranians have lost faith in the regime as election after election has failed to deliver economic and social reforms. In fact, each election produces worst outcomes.

The protests have drawn supporters from various ethnic groups. Amini was a Kurd and unrest first erupted in Kurdish areas. Iran blames armed groups based in Iraqi Kurdistan for the unrest. In late September and early October, the Revolutionary Guard Corps launched military strikes killing 13 people in Iraqi Kurdistan.

In Balochistan, Iran fears a larger rebellion among minority Baloch people. The poverty-stricken region is a flashpoint for clashes with drug smuggling gangs, as well as rebels from the Balochi minority and Sunni Muslim extremist groups. Very recently, 19 people, including an Iranian colonel, were killed during clashes. There were also protests in Ahwaz, which contains a large Arab minority.

As expected, the crackdown has drawn widespread international condemnation. The United Nations has called for an independent investigation into Amini’s death. Amnesty International issued a strong statement saying the regime knowingly killed protestors who expressed their anger at decades of repression and injustice.

And true to form, Iran blames the United States and the West for exploiting the unrest to destabilize Iran. Without any evidence, Iran’s supreme leader accused the United States and Israel of planning the protests.

54 countries have signed a statement calling for Iran to refrain from using force against the protestors. The Biden administration has said Amini’s death is unforgivable, and Iran is accountable for human rights abuses. President Biden moved to relax sanctions on Internet communications to support the free flow of information.

Certainly, the demonstrations have revealed broad public discontent. But that hasn’t deterred the regime from resorting to force against the protestors. It will continue cracking down to save itself.

Iran has shown great capacity for violence when its legitimacy is being challenged. Tehran is determined not to show any weakness. While the regime has used every tactic available to put an end to the protests, more can be done to isolate Iran internationally.

The protests will continue but the fall of the regime is highly unlikely. They will eventually be quelled. An effective challenge to the regime depends on the emergence of a coherent alternative. There is no evidence of that happening. Most of the political actors within the government stand behind the supreme leader and the president. Additionally, the military currently shows no sign of jumping ship and supporting the protestors. The protests are by and large made up of unarmed civilians and they will be jailed or killed.

And given the regime’s track record, it is prepared to go to great lengths to violently respond to any challenge to its rule.

Sohail Mahmood is an independent political analyst focused on global politics, U.S. foreign policy, governance, and the politics of South and West Asia.