The protests that have been ongoing in Iran for the past two months are not expected to lead to radical changes to the nature of the Iranian regime in the short or even medium term. However, the protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, which have turned into a social movement, have begun imposing their demands for what the society and state should look like. Most alarmingly for the regime, it is not limited to a particular age group or nationality- it has become a generalized movement, the likes of which have not been seen in Iran since 1979.
A tweet by Iraqi researcher Hayder al-Khoie last Tuesday, which was quoted by the Washington Post, attests to the fact that a civil, political, and cultural revolt is emerging in Iranian society. “Just landed in Tehran. It doesn’t feel or look like a revolution is underway, but there have been massive sociopolitical changes: women now casually walk in public with no headscarves. Morality police likely to be defanged, at least temporarily, and maybe gone for good.” His tweet shows that what began two months ago in Tehran is more than a protest movement but has not become a popular insurrection. Rather, it is a civil disobedience movement, both above and below the surface.
Iranian women are refusing to take orders, and so mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters have mutinied with them. That means extended families, neighbors, friends, and colleagues have also joined it, forming what resembles an ideological civil disobedience movement worrying and waning the regime. More dangerous is that a week after the joint security campaign of the Baseej, IRGC, and the apparatuses of the ministry of interior was launched, during which it cordoned off universities and established security offices inside them to contain the students rebelling against the regime’s laws, it has yet to quash their movement. Meanwhile, the streets and cities of Iran remain tense, meaning that the back and forth between protesters and the regime might go on for long enough to threaten the regime’s stability.
Indeed, the standoff between the regime and protesters entered a critical stage on Saturday, but the clampdown has yet to achieve its objectives. It has not deterred Iranian women from openly disobeying the regime’s laws and removing their headscarves in the streets, nor has it pushed the oppressed minorities in Iran, like the Kurds, Arabs, and the Balochis, to retreat and stop protesting and striking. It has not reduced the scale of Azerbaijani participation either. With a deep and influential presence in state institutions, the Azerbaijanis, with their consistent involvement in the protests, have crystalized a regional mutiny against the central government in Tehran.
Meanwhile, the deployment of security forces throughout the neighborhoods of major cities like Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, and Tabriz has reduced the number of protesters, failing to end the protests.
For this reason, we could see the regime not only escalate its crackdown on protesters but also adopt a different approach this time if the protests persist. The regime could try to deflect the crisis abroad, and if it does, this would expose that it is facing a deep, fundamental internal crisis. Since last month, the regime has been accusing foreign actors of being behind the chaos. However, since last week, it has been pushing the idea of punishing the actors, meaning it could retreat to the front if repression fails.
Talk of a border crisis around the Azerbaijani region of Naqshjahan, the assaults on northern Iraq, and the threatening neighboring countries with punishment, are little more than attempts to deflect its crisis abroad- come what may.
And so, as Iranians rebel, the regime is trying to squash their movement by pushing the crisis outside the country’s borders. Meanwhile, countries near and far and undergoing major changes. Projected election results and the new alliances taking shape around the world are not looking good for Iran. They could leave several hostile powers intervening against Iran if it were to attack its neighbors, especially since such a step would affirm that what we are seeing in Iran is a harbinger for civil disobedience that could potentially be a prelude to change.