Protests Grow More Frequent as Young Iranians Demand More Freedoms, Experts Say,
The recent death of a young Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, while in the custody of Iranian authorities has sparked a massive wave of protests – both online and in the streets.
There are echoes of the past in this new wave of protests along with a very clear demand for freedom and bodily autonomy, three Duke scholars said Thursday in a virtual media briefing. (Watch the briefing on YouTube.)
ON FREQUENCY OF PROTESTS IN IRAN
“Over the past five years, Iranians have increasingly taken to the streets to protest. Protests over rising gas prices in November 2019. Protests over low-quality water in July 2021. Protests over the removal of bread subsidies in May 2022. And now protests over the death of Mahsa Amini and mandatory hair covering, and also freedom, in September of 2022. This is really increasing in frequency and I think it shows that Iranians are outraged with grievances that won’t soon go away.”
ON REASON FOR MORE FREQUENT PROTESTS
“Over 60 percent of the Iranian population is young. Less than 30 years old. So, this is a very young population. The demands of the Iranian youth are exactly the same as the demands of other youths in other countries. The Iranian government (comprises) hardliners. Their goals are far from Iranian youth and the Iranian population. So, these protesters, most of them, almost all of them are young people. They experience a lot from the past protests. They were detained or imprisoned in these recent protests. With this rich experience, their family members are supporting them much more than before.”
“And also, their favorite national heroes, athletes, and artists, are in the same way.”
“They are so brave. They’re in the street. They’re chanting. This is not only about freedom for women. It’s freedom for the country.”
“In 2009 they chanted, ‘Where is my vote?’ In this protest, they’re chanting, ‘Where is my life?!’
“They need freedom of a ‘style of life’. This mandatory style of life that the government tries to force on the Iranians – one of the particulars is about hair covering for women. This is exactly about freedom.”
ON IRAN’S CLAIM TO BE AN ISLAMIC GOVERNMENT
“I think there’s a different understanding of Islam between Iranians and their government. The governments are hardliners or fundamentalist Muslims. The majority of Iranians are not, and disagree with this interpretation of Islam, or this practice of Islam. Most of Iranians, I can say, are traditionalists or reformists, but not fundamentalists. Less than 10 percent of Iranians are advocates of this regime and could be called something like fundamentalists.”
“I do not think this (protest) is anti-Islam. They practice Islam as they understand. But they support a democratic, secular regime for the future of Iran. So I think the demands of most of the Iranians, the majority of Iranians – I think more than 75 percent of Iranians today – try to find a secular, democratic regime for the future of Iran.”
“This is the ruling of the minority over the majority.”
ON WHETHER REGIME CHANGE IS POSSIBLE
“I think this is the question of many Iranians and many protestors. The desire of Iranians, the majority of Iranians, is regime change. We can see it in their chanting and their slogans.”
“When we ask of ourselves, is it possible today in this protest? I think this is idealistic. This protest is a step forward. We are closer to freedom for Iran, closer to a better future for Iran. But we should understand the reality of this regime.”
“This is a revolutionary, young, authoritative, non-competitive electoral regime.”
“Since 2020, this is a non-competitive, electoral, authoritative regime in the name of Islam. Before that, we had two candidates in the presidential election. One from the reformist or moderate side, and one from the hardliner side. But since 2020, the leader decided to have a non-competitive election. This is the election we had and (current Iranian President) Ebrahim Raisi came to office.”
“Iranians tried all the ways to reform their government. The government blocked all the ways of reforms. That means there’s no way for the people, except coming to the streets and protesting and making demonstrations.”
“They tried to reform legally to change the president, to change the parliament members. I can say the majority of Iranians do not have any representatives in the Iranian parliament. The president is not representative of the majority of Iranians.”
“This regime is supported strongly by Russia and China. Those are their allies in the region. This regime is among the most powerful regimes in the region. So changing it is not so easy.”
Negar Mottahedeh is a professor of gender, sexuality and feminist studies in Trinity College of Arts and Sciences at Duke. She has written books on the history of reform and revolution in Iran, and the uses of various media in protest.
Mohsen Kadivar is a research professor of Islamic studies in the Department of Religious Studies at Duke. He was imprisoned in Iran for his political activism and has been in exile from the country since 2008.
Bruce Jentleson is a professor of public policy and political science at Duke University. He served as senior adviser to the U.S. State Department Policy Planning Director from 2009-11.