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Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Prepares for New Protests as the Anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s Murder Approaches

Filed under: Iran

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Prepares for New Protests as the Anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s Murder Approaches
Mahsa Amini died in a coma on September 16, 2022. (Twitter/Tablet Magazine)

Eleven months ago, nationwide protests rocked the Islamic Republic of Iran and shook the Velayat-e Faqih1 ruling system that places clerical rule over the state. The protests ignited on September 16, 2022, after the killing of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman from Saqqez. Amini (Jina) was visiting Tehran when Iran’s morality police detained her for breaching the country’s mandatory headscarf law. She was severely beaten and days later died in police custody. Following her killing, demonstrations broke out in Iran’s Kurdish northwest region, known to Kurds as Rojhalet. Other oppressed minorities in the Baluchistan and Sistan regions joined in, and soon after, like wildfire, Iran was rocked by substantial nationwide protests, unleashing a massive show of opposition to Iran’s authoritarian clerical rule. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets demanding justice for Amini and calling for the regime’s overthrow.

Many of Iran’s observers predicted the regime’s eventual demise due to the Amini uprising’s nature. The protests were different from previous protests in Iran, said Yassamine Mather, editor of the UK academic journal Critique and an expert in Iranian politics, “In 2009, the majority of the protesters were from the middle class. In 2022, protesters were from the working classes and lower sections of the middle classes. This means we are seeing larger numbers involved in the protests, and the demonstrators are younger and braver than in 2009. They don’t seem deterred by attacks from the security forces.”2

The Amini uprising was broad-based and inclusive, crossing ethnic and class lines. Persians from all walks of life came out alongside Iran’s non-Persian national and ethnic minorities: the Kurds, Baluchi, and Ahvazi chanted “Death to the Dictator” and “Death to the Oppressor,” in reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In a rare show of defiance, protesters targeted symbols of the clergy of Velayat-e Faqih; they tore down portraits of Khamenei and, in Khamenei’s birthplace in the Shia holy city of Mashhad, they even set his statue on fire. Other protesters marched toward the house (now a museum) of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and they set the house on fire.3 The ruling leadership faced its biggest survival challenge for the first time in more than 44 years since the cleric-led regime took power in Iran in 1979.

Cartoon: Amini’s hair is choking Ebrahim Raisi
Amini’s hair is choking Ebrahim Raisi, the president of Iran. (Nasrin Sheykhi, Twitter)

Within hours of the first protest, at Amini’s funeral in Saqqez, Kurdistan, Iran’s ruthless Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was deployed to all cities and towns across Iran. Hundreds of protesters were shot dead, thousands were injured, and more than 30,000 thousands were detained while awaiting sham trials. On December 8, 2022, Mohsen Shekari, 22 years old, was the first protester executed by public hanging.

Germany’s foreign minister condemned the killing and said the government of Iran’s “inhumanity knows no bounds.4“ Soon afterward, 100s of protesters were sentenced to death due to the uprising. The Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) estimated that 537 protesters, including many children, were killed in IRGC’s brutal crackdown.5 However, the actual death toll is believed to be much higher. An Amnesty International 48-page report, titled “Iran: Killings of Children during Youthful Anti-Establishment Protests,” released on December 9, 2022, gave a detailed account of a cruel campaign of intimidation against grieving families. The regime withheld the bodies of murdered loved ones unless their families committed to writing to grant media interviews in which they give false accounts absolving the government of any responsibility. The regime also placed restrictions on burials, such as preventing funeral ceremonies, forcing families to bury loved ones in remote places, or forbidding sharing images of their murdered relatives on social media. Those who did not abide by the regime’s restrictions were subjected to arbitrary arrests, torture, and rape.6

Dr. Sanam Vakil, the Deputy Director and Senior Research Fellow at the Chatham House think-tank wrote after the nationwide protests broke out, and despite the protests’ magnitude, she did not think the protests posed an existential threat to the regime because the system in Iran has a monopoly of force.

Dr. Vakil wrote, “Throughout Khatami’s presidency, the deep state began to assert itself beyond its security and economic base, gradually interfering in politics to stymie internal dissent, such as that seen during student-led demonstrations in 1999. Post-Khatami, Iran’s government used the same playbook to quell the 2009 Green Movement protests and the 2017–19 economic protests and to constrain successive presidents’ agendas. Today, without a doubt, the deep state is again leading the charge to crush the currently underway protests.”7

While Dr. Vakil was right that Iran’s deep state would do whatever it took to ensure the regime’s survival, she acknowledges that the regime emerged wounded and is facing a new reality. A new generation has been born after Amini’s killing, a generation that “despite government repression, the persistence of the protests and myriad groups coming out to express grievances — women, students, labor entities, ethnic groups, youth groups — reveals the breadth of dissatisfaction within Iran,8“ Vakil said.

Major General Hossein Salami
Major General Hossein Salami, the commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC): The enemy suffered a crushing defeat during last year’s riots, describing them as the “most severe, most dangerous, most serious, most unequal, and most massive global battle” waged against the Islamic Republic. (Tasnim)

On a large scale, one can argue that the IRGC succeeded in crushing and controlling the Amini protest movement, but the flame of the uprising still casts its shadow and worries the clerical regime. On August 1, 2023, Hossein Salami, the IRGC’s commander-in-chief, told a national Basij officials conference that the “most powerful, dangerous, serious, and widespread struggle” was still lurking. Salami called for “preparedness and vigilance,” asserting, “The solution to [in reference to the anniversary of Amini’s death which can reignite a new wave of protests] is prevention,” he said.9

Hengaw Organization for Human Rights recently released reports of increased IRGC activities in Iran’s Kurdish region, indicating that the IRGC’s chief is “delivering” on his promises of “preparedness and vigilance.” Hengaw reported that on June 15, 2023, “several military helicopters belonging to the IRGC were flying over Sanandaj, Mahabad, and Sarvabad [Kurdish cities that were the epicenter of anti-government protests]. Over the past few weeks, the IRGC has substantially militarized the region by deploying military personnel, artillery, and armored vehicles in Kurdistan, and establishing multiple new forward operating bases in border areas.”10

Another alarming development is the number of politically-motivated executions that have risen sharply in Iran over the past few months, suggesting more violence leading up to Amini’s first memorial anniversary. Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), said that the increase in executions has occurred in the wake of the Amini’s uprising, adding, “The international community must be clear with Iranian authorities that continuing its killing spree will result in an extraordinary intensification of the Islamic Republic’s political and economic isolation.11

Iran Human Rights (IHR) reports that since the beginning of 2023, at least 434 executions have occurred.12 Another heart-breaking report from Hengaw verified that since July 2023, at least 20 prisoners have died in Iranian prisons, some killed under torture and others after being denied medical care. Thirteen of them were Kurds, and four were Balochi prisoners.13

Hengaw recorded that 61 prisoners were executed in July alone, and “more than 52% of executed prisoners were Kurdish, Baloch, or Azerbaijani-Turkish prisoners.14

With the Amini anniversary nearing, the IRGC “prevention solution” has also sharply increased detained people. “During July 2023, at least 225 citizens were arrested by Iranian government forces in Iran, and this figure has increased with 57 cases, equivalent to 34%, compared to June 2023, when 168 citizens were arrested.”15 Again, most detainees come from Iran’s oppressed minorities, with 58% being Kurdish citizens, followed by Balochis. These arbitrary arrests include 29 women and seven children. Four children were Baloch children, two were Kurdish, and one child was arrested in Tehran.” Add to the list of arbitrary arrests “at least eight journalists and media activists and seven artists and actors were arrested by Iranian government institutions in different cities of Iran.”16

These harrowing reports indicate that the regime is worried and, as usual, is deploying brutal repression to quell dissent. Azadeh Pourzand, director of the Siamak Pourzand Foundation, described the nationwide protests as a “quest of a people for an ordinary life, dignity, and quality of life.” She added that the regime has “lost all legitimacy in the international arena” and is “only buying extra time.”17

Cartoon by Emad Hajjaj. (Twitter/CartoonMovement.Com)

International media outlets have more or less stopped reporting about Amini’s story, the stories of all the people of Iran, and their painful journey in the quest for freedom and dignity. The regime’s brutality and terror have crushed and controlled the Amini protest movement in large parts of the Islamic Republic of Iran. But today, as we are nearing the first anniversary, it must be noted that despite the repression, there are still pockets of resistance in some Persian cities and continuous protests in the Rojhalet and Baluchistan-Sistan region. The Amini uprising has left a profound legacy of bravery the world has not seen in modern times. Hundreds of thousands of unarmed protesters, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, poured into the streets. Brutal security forces killed hundreds, but Iranians kept protesting month after month.

According to the Javan Daily, a conservative newspaper affiliated with IRGC, “93% of the protesters are no older than 25.”18 Iran’s Statistical Center reported in late 2022 that “77% of Iranians between the ages of 15 to 24 are neither working, being trained, or studying – up from around 31% in 2020.”19

Mahsa Amini is dead, but 93% of the protesters who are no older than 25 years are still alive, and they make up most of Iran’s population. Amini’s killing gave rise to a new brave generation. According to Pourzand, it is a generation seeking “dignity and better life.” “These young protesters were heard across Iran chanting clear political messages to the Mullahs and their (IRGC) killing machine: “Woman, Life, Freedom;” “We are all Mahsa; We Are All in This Fight Together;” “We Don’t Want the Islamic Republic;” “Iranians Die but Will Not Be Suppressed;” and “Mujtaba, [Khamenei’s unpopular son] We’ll See You Die Before Becoming a Leader;”20 and “Not for Gaza, nor Lebanon, Will I sacrifice my life for Iran.”21

Although the Amini uprising failed to topple the regime, this was not the end. The nationwide protests that rocked Iran for months reveal the extent of dissatisfaction within the Islamic Republic and that Iran’s biggest section of the population, the young, will not allow the clerics to rob their future. Indeed, the regime looks increasingly like it is living on borrowed time.

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  1. Velayat-e faqih—or guardianship of the Islamic jurist—is system of governance that has underpinned the way Iran operates since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. At its most basic, the theory of velayat-e faqih, which is rooted in Shia Islam, justifies the rule of the clergy over the state. Velayat-e faqih is at the crux of Shia Islamism and is fundamental in understanding not only how the Iranian system operates but also how Tehran can influence religious and political Shia networks beyond its borders.↩︎















  16. ibid↩︎