While the President of Iran was in New York to attend meetings of the UN General Assembly and delivered speeches about “fighting injustice” and Western imperialism, the streets in Iran continued to buzz, Wednesday, September 21, for the fifth day in a row. , in response to the death of Mahsa Amini, who has become a symbol of the oppression of women by the mullah regime, ignoring police crackdowns and restrictions on access to the Internet and social media, several Arab media outlets reported on Thursday.
Demonstrations that have rocked several cities across the country since last Saturday — as far as the holy city of Qom, southwest of Tehran, birthplace of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — have gathered momentum, according to the Middle East Eye (MEE) website. scale and are distinguished by the active participation of women, unprecedented acts of defiance and the mobilization of all sectors of society.
Women in the spotlight
“In images that struck the spirit with their strength as well as their rarity, Iranian women dance in the middle of the street with a veil in their hand. […] or proudly strolling bareheaded through the swarming streets of various cities in the country,” emphasizes the Lebanese daily newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour.
In one video that has gone viral on social media, we see women taking off their veils and throwing them into the fire to cheering crowds, a scene still unseen in this country under the Islamic regime since 1979.
Among the protesters was a 31-year-old woman. As quoted by MEE, she testifies:
“I saw that incredible moment when other girls twirled the veil in the air and shouted: “Woman, life and freedom.”
Elsewhere, violence was on the agenda: demonstrators set fire to police cars and burned a huge portrait of General Qassem Soleimani, a regime pillar killed in a US strike in Iraq in January 2020, and a parade of protesters resisting the law took to social media. law enforcement.
Authorities say 11 people died in the violence, including 4 police and paramilitaries, while the Oslo-based NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR) reported 31 deaths in six days.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an Iranian political journalist quoted by MEE said the current movement is different from those in the past. “Unlike previous protests, today people are chanting slogans and risking their lives for a cultural demand that is an end to the mandatory hijab and the oppression of Iranian women.”
“During the 2019 protests, grassroots people were in the majority. Today, people of all classes, with different thoughts, take to the streets. There are also many people who wear the hijab.”
“Loss of communication across the country”
Faced with the scale of the phenomenon and fearful of a snowball effect, the authorities have decided to restrict access to social networks such as WhatsApp and Instagram after videos of demonstrators demanding the overthrow of the regime were circulated, according to Al Jazeera.
“Significant internet outages were also reported across the country when one of the largest mobile operators was interrupted, leaving millions of Iranians without network access,” the publication added.
Meanwhile, British cybersecurity NGO NetBlocks reported a “nationwide loss of connectivity” and said the current outages were the “worst” since November 2019, when authorities deliberately shut down the internet during a protest that then rocked the country. Bloody repressions began. Result: at least 300 dead, according to NGOs.
These measures were taken due to “actions carried out by counter-revolutionaries against national security through these social networks,” as the Iranian Fars News agency justifies on its website.
“Without internet access, it’s harder for people to post videos on social media and rally other protesters or get credible reports of what’s going on,” Al Jazeera notes.
Faced with fear of rampant protest and violent reprisals that would follow the country’s internet shutdown, Iranians living abroad mobilized, going so far as to make a desperate appeal to billionaire Elon Musk to deploy his Starlink satellites and provide internet access. in Iran.
Lack of leadership
There have been several major protests in the country over the past two decades, including one in 2019, all of which have been bloodily suppressed.
Farah, a 43-year-old protester, believes that “the government itself makes the protests violent in order to have an excuse to suppress them.”
“Although this demonstration is significant in number and scope, it is unlikely to lead to a convincing result due to the lack of leadership and organization of mobilization,” the political scientist, quoted by Middle East, hides under the guise of anonymity. Eye.
“There is no clear goal. Some people want the obligatory hijab to be abolished, others want the vice police to be abolished, and still others want the Islamic Republic to be overthrown,” he adds.
“The system has no choice but to fight back. If he backs down, the consequences will be severe, and if he puts an end to the “vice police”, the next step will be to abolish the mandatory wearing of the hijab, which is part of the system’s identity. So he won’t back down.”