How the protests in Iran compare to the 1979 revolution

At least six people were killed in clashes across Iran on Wednesday as the Islamic Republic’s leadership faces the greatest threat since the 1979 revolution.

Anger has been building across the country following the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who was arrested three days earlier by Iran’s morality police and accused of wearing an inappropriate hijab.

Iranian protesters in New York
People shout slogans during a protest for children in Iran November 10, 2022 at UNICEF headquarters in New York City. According to news agencies, 43 children have been killed in the ongoing protests.
Leonardo Munoz/Getty Images

Tuesday marked the first day of a three-day strike by shopkeepers in Iran, which coincided with the third anniversary of a crackdown on a protest against fuel price hikes.

Khosro Kalbasi Isfahani, a journalist with BBC Monitoring, tweeted that shops were shutting down in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, which played a “key role” in the 1979 revolution that toppled the former Iranian regime ruled by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

One of the country’s most important markets, Tehran’s Grand Bazaar was a center of pro-revolutionary sentiment and finance, and a link between the clergy and bourgeois merchants supporting the 1979 revolution.

“If you compare 2022 to 1979, there’s definitely the role of the bazaar and its symbolism and what it represents to join the movement, but what’s equally important is the virtual one,” he said Nazenin Ansariwhich refers to the role social media plays in trying to bring about change compared to 43 years ago.

Ansari is editor of publications for the global Iranian community Kayhan London and She said there was “the element of fear” that deterred dissent against the regime.

“You can write this time [the protests] on the importance of social media,” she said news week. “People are really connecting and finding their voice and taking it to the streets of Iran.”

Communication restrictions have impacted landline, mobile, and internet usage. However, videos and images still manage to make their way onto platforms like WhatsApp, showing the defiance of those who oppose the regime.

A clip shared on Twitter by Khosro Kalbasi Isfahani on Wednesday showed a woman throwing her hijab into the flames of a bonfire. Demonstrations initially against restrictive rules for women have turned into full-throttle anger at the regime.

Ansari said young people between the ages of 15 and 30 are “the engine” behind the unrest. They “turned into freethinkers” who managed to use social media to plan and organize. “Now they’re out on the streets protesting, and their strength and tenacity has really inspired the rest of the age groups,” Ansari added.

“These children learned the language of the Islamic Republic and the revolutionary passion, but now they say, ‘We’re doing this for ourselves, not for you anymore.'”

The success of the 1979 revolution was partly credited to the military’s declaration of neutrality when the Iranian army refused to put down the protests. The creation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a parallel security institution to the national army offers protection to the regime and its leaders.

“In 1979, the Shah’s regime did not want to use violence,” said Ansari. “The clergy have said over the years this was their narration: ‘We’re not going to do the same, so we’re going to crack down on you.'”

Protests erupted at dozens of universities and bazaars across the country on Tuesday, with steelworkers in particular in the central Iranian city of Isfahan also laying down tools.

Ansari said the participation of steel workers in Isfahan and shopkeepers in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar showed that “this time with the strikes, the shopkeepers” are against the regime.

“While various aspects of this uprising differ from the 1979 revolution, there are also striking similarities,” Shahin Gobadi said. He is spokesman for the Paris-based People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK), which seeks to overthrow the regime.

“People of different ages, from all walks of life and different ethnicities are united in an unprecedented way with one goal – the overthrow of the ruling theocracy and the establishment of a democratic republic.”

Right-wing activist HRANA news agency said Wednesday that at least 344 people, including 43 minors, have been killed in the unrest, which is entering its 10th week. It is estimated that more than 15,000 people were arrested.

At least 20 protesters face death penalty charges, Norway-based Iran Human Rights said, citing official reports.

Hana Yazdanpana, spokeswoman for the Kurdistan Freedom Party [PAK]a nationalist and separatist militant group of Kurds in Iran, said that “in the urban uprising … the number of participants was greater than ever.

“It is true that the Tehran market went on strike in 1979 and had a major impact on the overthrow of the Shah’s regime and the victory of the 1979 uprising,” she said news week.

“Khomeini and them Achunds (spiritual and religious leaders) claimed this victory for not changing the principles of the state and not recognizing the rights of nations,” Yazdanpana said.

“If Tehran continues to strike, it will accelerate the process of defeat and the collapse of Khamenei’s regime.”

news week has asked the Iranian Foreign Ministry for comment. How the protests in Iran compare to the 1979 revolution

Rick Schindler

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