Iranian Opposition Calls on West to Help Citizens Overthrow Tehran Regime
LONDON: After a month of nationwide protests, sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s notorious morality police, there is growing belief that the militant clerical regime, in place since the Islamic revolution of 1979, is living on borrowed time.
Amini’s death on September 16 sparked a powder keg of pent-up frustration in Iran over falling living standards and discrimination against women and ethnic minorities, sparking the biggest wave of mass protests since. the 2009 Green Movement.
A month later, unrest continues, spreading to at least 80 cities despite a “ruthless” crackdown that has left more than 200 people dead.
Such is the scale, fury and determination of the protests, there are now many Iran watchers and social movement scholars beginning to speak openly about the possibility of regime change.
It would certainly not be unprecedented for a nonviolent protest movement of this magnitude to succeed. According to research by Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, nonviolent protests are twice as likely to succeed in this vein as armed conflict.
Examining hundreds of campaigns over the past century, including the Philippines in 1986, Georgia in 2003, and Sudan and Algeria in 2019, Chenoweth found that it took about 3.5% of the population actively participating in campaigns. such protests to ensure serious political change.
The influence of Chenoweth’s work is such that the phenomenon has been dubbed “the 3.5% rule”.
Roham Alvandi, associate professor of international history at the London School of Economics, believes that “something fundamental” has changed following the protests, which could be “the beginning of the end of the Islamic Republic”.
Immediately after Amini’s death, protests focused primarily on the morality police and their strict dress code for women. Videos of these early protests shared on social media showed women removing and burning their headscarves in acts of defiance.
Soon, however, the protests focused on a range of other grievances, from falling living standards following crippling Western sanctions to the denial of basic rights to ethnic minorities.
However, it was the decision of workers at the Abadan and Kangan oil refineries and the Bushehr petrochemical plant to join the protests that galvanized the belief that the regime might be on its last legs.
Strikes played a crucial role in Iran’s 1906 and 1979 revolutions, Alvandi told Arab News, saying they could now be used to ‘cripple the Islamic Republic and show the impotence of the state in the face of this movement “.
Sanam Vakil, deputy director and senior research fellow for the Middle East North Africa program at Chatham House, agrees with this assessment, telling Arab News that a series of strikes comparable to those experienced in 1979 could be a “key ingredient, crippling the economy and showcasing a broader base of support.
However, Vakil says there are several factors that could determine the success of the move. Chief among them is leadership.
“The movement’s strength and weakness is its lack of clear leadership,” Vakil told Arab News. “It is a strength because without a clear structural organization and leader it will be difficult to eradicate it completely, but these components are also very necessary if this movement is to be a real challenge for the regime.”
And while the 2009 and 2019 protests were larger in terms of the number of people taking to the streets, analysts have pointed to the intergenerational nature of the movement and the large number of cities and regions taking part.
“It’s not often that school children tell the Iranian president to get lost,” Vakil said.
Yassamine Mather, an expert on Iranian politics at the University of Oxford and editor of the academic journal ‘Critique’, believes that this broad base of support spanning many segments of Iranian society is a key force that raises the possibility of a change of regime.
“It is also a strength that they have gone beyond the hijab and tackled other issues – repression, political prisoners, the high price of basic foodstuffs, unemployment or lack of jobs. security and corruption,” Mather told Arab News.
“And then there is support from oil workers in specific areas, like Assalouyeh, as well as support from sugarcane workers in Hafttapeh, an Iranian teachers’ union, and sections of the legal profession. In Tehran, lawyers demonstrated this week.
“Not to mention that many of the protesters are young. In some cases, they are school children, so they are not easily frightened. It helps that the regime has failed to launch any sustained or successful pro-government counter-protests.
Mather also pointed to an apparent sense of growing disunity at the top following former Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani’s decision to publicly deviate from the regime’s line that US and Israeli intelligence efforts had fabricated the protests. .
Speaking to an Iranian news site, Larijani said an “extremist” government policy on the hijab had sparked an extremist backlash among the Iranian public and called for greater tolerance.
“Reformists within the regime trying to distance themselves from extremists, some calling on security forces to side with ‘people protesting’, probably came a bit too late,” Mather said.
“The fact is that the protesters are distancing themselves from the regime itself and the slogan ‘death to the dictator, be it Khamenei or the Shah’ is now very present.”
Iranian opposition groups in the Diaspora are closely watching developments in Iran, but fear that the regime may collapse without a fight.
Elham Zanjani, a member of the Women’s Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, told Arab News that it was “certainly possible” that the protests would lead to regime change, but far from inevitable.
“The vast majority of the Iranian people are against the regime, they chant ‘Down with Khamenei’, ‘We don’t want the mullahs or the Shah’, and they have no doubt that what they seek, freedom and democracy, separation of religion and state, etc., will not come about with this regime in power,” Zanjani said.
“But the regime’s terrible potential for repression cannot be underestimated, as it showed in November 2019, killing more than 1,500 protesters in five days.”
Indeed, sheer brute force may well be enough to stifle the movement.
“There is also the problem that there is no obvious alternative or strategy for who or what would replace the current regime,” Mather said. “Mixed into that, you have the ability of security forces to kill, injure and arrest protesters.”
Help from outside powers is also likely to taint the movement and lend weight to the regime’s claims of a foreign plot.
“The support of Western governments – this is also a potential weakness as it invokes ideas of ‘color revolutions’ and notions of foreign interventions in an attempt to divide Iran into smaller regional states,” Mather said, making reference to the fragmentation of the former Soviet Union. Union in the 1990s along predominantly ethnolinguistic lines.
For Zanjani, however, international support remains an important factor for the eventual overthrow of the regime. Such support should include punitive measures to prevent the regime from employing further oppressive measures against peaceful protesters.
“We have to overcome, one way or another, this evil repressive power,” Zanjani told Arab News.