Six months after the death of Mahsa Amini, has the protest moved the lines in Iran?
Despite relentless repression by the government, multiple daily details testify to a profound change in society.
On September 16, 2022, like wildfire, the news of the death of a young Iranian Kurd at the hands of morality police shook Iran. Mahsa Amini triggered, by her martyrdom, a wave of protest unprecedented in the history of Iran – yet rich in revolts. Six months later, the regime’s repression killed around 500 people according to NGOs, and led to tens of thousands of arrests.
However, the regime has shown no sign of compromise. The announcement of the abolition of the “morals police” was ultimately only a decoy. In February, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei announced that he would pardon 80,000 prisoners – just the tip of the iceberg. The repression continues. Again on Tuesday, activist accounts alerted to the arrest of five young Iranian women filmed dancing without a headscarf on a world tube in Tehran. Will Mahsa Amini’s electroshock have had an effect on the conquest of freedoms in Iran?
“For me, the revolution has settled in the street“Says Maryam*, 40, a teacher at the University of Tehran, who assures us that the tide has turned in the Iranian capital. This change manifests itself in very simple, almost innocuous things: an exchanged smile, a look crossed with another woman with uncovered hair… Because Maryam herself has dropped the veil, aware of the risk she is taking. “Six months ago, I would never have imagined seeing so many fashionable little tops or pants on the street!“.
“The other day while taking the taxi, the driver insisted on offering me the ride. He said to me, alluding to my hair: “thank you for making our city more beautiful”“. At the university where the forty-something works, wearing the veil is compulsory, but no one mentions it to her among the students who discuss it with her.much more freely than before“. “I think the very foundations of society have been shaken, and these things can’t be undone“Abounds Anon, 42, businessman in Tehran. “In the streets the women have become much more daring, it’s quite fascinating to see“.
acts of resistance
Another sign of change: by taking Iran Air, the national airline of the Islamic Republic of Iran, for a trip in December, Mayriam and her sister were able to board with their heads uncovered. “The veiled stewardesses gave us a sideways glance, but that was it. Three months before, it would have been unimaginable!“. In Rasht in Guilan province, Masi, 25, was at firstterrified» as soon as she left her home without the veil, but reassured herself by noting the evolution of the looks on her. “Little by little, some started to tell me: your hair is very beautiful! Things you never heard before. It encouraged me.”
The massive street rallies of the first months have withered away. “Social movements of this type always have ups and downs, but they do not die outexplains Mahnaz Shirali, an Iranian sociologist and political scientist. Acts of resistance are taking place every day, everywhere. Watch the testimonies at the fire festival“. On Tuesday, Iranians across the country celebrated, according to a 2,000-year-old Persian tradition, the “last tuesdayahead of the New Year’s due six days later. “This celebration was not like other years“says Maryam.
“People went in front of the houses of the protest martyrs. AT near my house, a young boy in his prime died. The whole neighborhood gathered in front of his house to dedicate the fire to him“. Videos also surfaced on social media showing the crowd shouting: “Freedom, freedom!», or even throwing scarves into the fires with the slogan «women of freedom“.
A more insidious repression, a generalization of courage
A wind of freedom? “It should not be assumed that the regime is giving in in any waywarns Iranian sociologist Mahnaz Shirali. “He just can’t, it’s out of his DNA». The threats continue – again on Tuesday, the regime announced that it would cut off the telephone line of any woman who did not wear the veil correctly. “Once more explicit and official, repression has become vicious“. The degree of violence has reached an unprecedented peak, estimates the sociologist. “Civilian army agents arrest people in homes. They arrest a young man, kill him, empty his organs, and then leave him in the street, just like that. We had never seen so much barbarism in Iranian society“.
Faced with this established terror, the sociologist underlines the courage of the Iranians who continue to defy the regime. “Admittedly, more and more women go out without the veil, but they do so by breaking the rules and exposing themselves to sanctions that have not disappeared. It is wrong to say that they have acquired freedoms, it is simply about courage“. This is the other change triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, according to the political scientist: the generalization of the challenge. “If transgression in Iran was already commonplace since the 1990s, today, young people have taken courage, and are more likely to challenge the regime every day.“.
Maryam shares this analysis. The fear remains there of course, with each step outside, and the teacher always keeps a hat in her hand, a feint that many Iranian women use. “As soon as we see a policeman, hop, we put it on“. But the impression of a united people galvanizes her. “We’ve all been very close for six months. We know that no one is going to save us. We tell ourselves: “Let’s forget God, he won’t save us, let’s also forget the other countries, the West. It’s just us“.