Why Iran's Mahsa Amini protests are a turning point

Protestors and exiled Iranian activists who spoke to The New Arab expressed both hopes and trepidations about the trajectory of the uprising. Still, they all agreed the unrest could be different from previous episodes.


Could the Iranian protests prove to be a turning points? [Getty]


Twelve days into deadly, widespread protests across dozens of cities in Iran triggered by the death of 22-year-old woman Mahsa Amini in police custody, the slogan of "woman, life, freedom" has morphed into "death to dictatorship".

Protestors and exiled Iranian activists who spoke to The New Arab expressed both hopes and trepidations about the trajectory of the uprising, but they all agreed the unrest could be different from previous episodes.

Nader, a 38-year-old resident of Kerman - the birthplace of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force who expanded Iran's influence in the Middle East, and was killed in Baghdad by US strike in January 2020 - says that for the first time in recent memory, the protests have lasted for twelve consecutive days and nights.

“In 1999, 2009 and 2019, there were electoral and economic protests, but they did not last long. This time, even after cutting off the internet, they could not stop people", he said. "The graffiti against the regime also started appearing in Kerman; at night, protesters write death to Khamenei, and in the day, the government cleans it up," he added.

Iranian women are leading the protests side by side with men. The immediate spark has been the heavy-handed enforcement of the Islamic dress code on women: Amini had been arrested for wearing 'improper clothing' by Tehran's so-called morality police and then died in a hospital after spending three days in a coma. The authorities have been accused of assaulting her but the Iranian government said that Mahsa Amini's death was due to pre-existing a health condition and accused foreign plotters of inciting 'riots' in the country.

At least 76 protesters are thought to have died during the anti-government protests.

Beyond the enforced hijab issue, many Iranians also feel let down by decades of rigged elections, economic mismanagement, and theocratic rule. Their protests are also reverberating around the world from London to Rome and from Syria to Canada. The name of Mahsa Amini has been hashtagged more than a hundred million times.

Masih Alinejad, a US-based advocate of Iranian women's rights who shares around the clock videos of the protesters to millions of followers, believes that the situation has reached a turning point. She says that the West should stop the nuclear talks with the Iranian government: "Don't keep dictators and stop negotiations with the killers of Iranian women", she has appealed to the Western powers. The Iranian women's rights activist said that the protests are primarily against the repressive regime. She thinks the regime could be on its last legs.

"It is a lie that they say that the Islamic Republic is not going to fall. The reality is that the Akhunds' - Shia religious scholars - regime is taking its last breaths. The people have made their decision. The protesters are not going to leave the streets and will not hesitate to overthrow the oppressors," she added. Shirin, a 32-year-old resident of Mashhad - the birthplace of Khamenei, supreme leader of the Islamic Republic - who is one of the protesters on the streets, says that the Iranian people are frustrated and have nothing to lose anymore.