Why are there protests in Iran? Mahsa Amini’s death in custody after alleged hijab arrest sparks outrage

Protests across Iran continued despite government crackdowns and state media reports claiming the protesters had put an end to their rallies.

The protests were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in a hospital three days after she was arrested by Tehran’s vice squad and taken to a “re-education center” for violating the state’s hijab rules.

Since then, protests have taken place in more than 40 cities, including the capital Tehran, with dozens reportedly killed in clashes with security forces. At least 1,200 people were arrested, according to state-backed media.

Rallies that began with calls for justice for Amini’s death have grown into a larger protest, uniting a range of social factions and classes, many of whom are calling for the regime’s overthrow.

Here’s what you need to know about the protests:

What is different about the current protests?

Today’s protests are not dissimilar to earlier anti-government movements, but the core issues driving today’s mobilization are different, experts say, which arguably makes them more significant.

Previous waves of protests — in 2019, 2021 and more recently this year — were fueled mainly by economic grievances, says Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, the exchange’s founder and CEO & Bazaar Foundation in London, adding that this is one of the main reasons the protests have not spread to other sections of society.

“This is different because what people are really demanding is a more meaningful kind of political change,” Batmanghelidj said, adding that this movement has made it easier to “create solidarity between different social groups.”

Sunday’s protests are also piling up younger Internet-connected Iranians who didn’t know Iran before the Islamic Republic, said Sanam Vakil, senior research fellow for the Middle East and North Africa program at the Chatham House think-tank in London.

How safe does the government feel now?

The government doesn’t seem to be feeling any more vulnerable than before, said Trita Parsi, vice president of the Quincy Institute in Washington, DC. “And you can miscalculate here.”

Experts expect the protests to escalate. On Sunday, one of Iran’s main teachers’ unions called for a nationwide strike. Worker strikes are sensitive in Iran because they evoke memories of the 1979 revolution, when collective industrial action was a useful tactic that helped overthrow the Shah.

“I think it’s quite likely that we will see more strikes because the strikes have happened before [movement],” said Parsi. “They could end up reinforcing each other,” he said, adding that strikes could increase pressure on the government.

How likely is it that the government will make concessions, and what would the concessions be?

An end to the protests is more likely to be achieved through the use of brute force than through concessions, say analysts.

The government has blamed Western media for inciting the protests, alluding to foreign conspiracies. Analysts say this will determine how they are handled.

“If they see this as a security threat and not as a matter of political expediency, they are more likely to respond with the tools of their security apparatus,” Batmanghelidj said. “The government has much more capacity for repression than for reform at this stage.”

Vakil said even if the authorities make concessions through minor reforms, the bigger question is “how to get these young women to put their hijabs back on”.

A face-saving outcome would be a rollback of the vice squad, she said, adding that a complete abolition of the hijab law is unlikely. A referendum that allows Iranians to vote on the hijab issue could also help quell the protests, she said, raising doubts about it.

When does the government become vulnerable and how close is it to that point?

Despite ten days of demonstrations that have spread across the country amid the rising death toll, the protests remain leaderless, with some of the loudest and most visible supporters of the protests living in exile as the government has restricted internet access at home.

“This is an indigenous Iranian movement,” Vakil said, “and it is important to emphasize that ordinary Iranians in the country are the mobilizers of what is happening.”

A figurehead would be needed both to negotiate changes with the government and to lead the movement itself internally, Batmanghelidj said.

The protests have a wide range of grievances that go beyond the mandatory hijab and the brutality of the state security apparatus.

It also remains unclear whether there are members within the Iranian government who understand the challenges and are willing to push for significant changes within the existing power structure, Batmanghelidj added.

The CNN Wire ™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia company. All rights reserved.

https://abc7.com/iran-protests-mahsa-amini-iranian-women-internet/12268687/ Why are there protests in Iran? Mahsa Amini’s death in custody after alleged hijab arrest sparks outrage

Laura Coffey

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