Q&A: Pouya Alimagham on the protest movement in Iran

Right now’s protests in Iran have been cited as the most important risk the Islamic Republic has confronted because it seized energy in 1979. Ignited over the regime’s obligatory veiling of ladies and the latest loss of life of Mahsa Amini whereas in morality police custody, the rebellion is rooted within the Iranian individuals’s lengthy battle for freedom, says Pouya Alimagham Alimagham, a historian of the fashionable Center East.

In his analysis, Alimagham, an professional on Iran, Iraq, and the Levant, explores such themes as revolutionary and guerrilla actions, imperialism, “Political Islam,” and post-Islamism. His e-book, “Contesting the Iranian Revolution: The Inexperienced Uprisings” (Cambridge College Press, 2020), explores the political motion that contested the 2009 presidential election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the way it challenged the regime’s legitimacy to its very core.

On this interview, Alimagham, discusses the historic context behind the present motion, compares it with different uprisings in Iran, and explains what this might imply for the nation’s future.

Q: Is the present protest motion the most important risk the Iran regime has confronted since seizing energy in 1979?

A: I’ve learn the present protest motion described as the most important problem because the clergy seized energy in 1979 after the Iranian Revolution, in addition to the most important problem because the Inexperienced Motion protests in 2009, when an rebellion erupted after widespread allegations of election fraud through which the state declared its most popular candidate and incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, because the “winner.”

In sheer numbers, the Inexperienced Motion was far greater. On simply sooner or later, June 15, 2009, 3 million individuals gathered in Tehran to protest the state — this sum doesn’t embody protests throughout the nation on the identical day. We have now but to see protests of that magnitude within the rebellion right now. What’s markedly completely different between 2009 and now’s the continuity of the protests right now. The rebellion in 2009 transpired on daily basis for a full week till it was pushed underground, solely to resurface on particular political holidays to resume the battle. Iran has holidays programmed into its political calendar through which the state encourages individuals, usually its supporters, to return out and stroll in line with the federal government to mark particular events. One such instance is the Nationwide Day In opposition to World Vanity, which marks the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Iran on Nov. 4, 1979. When the Inexperienced Motion was briefly suppressed and was unable to prepare protests each day, it could use the quilt of such political holidays to emerge and reignite the protest motion. It carried on in such a way for months, till Feb. 11, 2010 — one steady week-long rebellion morphed into a number of unfold out on Iran’s calendar.

Right now’s rebellion, whereas smaller in the intervening time, has been a steady, every day motion — regardless of the federal government’s greatest makes an attempt to violently put it down. As of now, the loss of life toll is about 4 occasions larger than the casualty fee of the Inexperienced Motion, which was bigger and longer however extra sporadic.

Q: What units this protest aside from different protests in Iran together with the Inexperienced Motion, which is the subject of your e-book?

A: There are essential similarities and variations. For one, each began over a difficulty and instantly morphed into one thing a lot greater. In 2009, the protests had been initially in regards to the election outcomes, however rapidly started to focus on your entire state that ratified the election outcomes — the preliminary slogan of “The place is my vote?” in June 2009 gave technique to “This month is the month of blood, Sayyid Ali [Khamenei] might be toppled” by December of the identical 12 months.

Right now’s protests began over the obligatory veiling of ladies and the loss of life of Mahsa Amini in morality police custody, and likewise turned about far more, comparable to concentrating on your entire state for implementing such draconian insurance policies.

Each actions had ladies martyr figures. The Inexperienced Motion had Neda Agha Soltan, whose loss of life was captured on digital camera on June 20, 2009, and have become one of the vital televised deaths in historical past, and right now’s rebellion has Mahsa Amini. A key distinction is that whereas gender and political points had been additionally essential to 2009, gender points have risen to be on par with political points, and girls and ladies are on the very forefront of the rebellion. That’s, the slogan for the protests right now is tellingly, “Girls, Life, Freedom.”

I believe there’s additionally an essential continuity between the 2 moments. Analysts typically discuss with the Inexperienced Motion as a “failure” for failing to abrogate Ahmadinejad’s election “win” or failing to overthrow the state that ratified the election outcomes, however there have been different essential successes. One such success is that the Inexperienced Motion each shattered the political taboo of difficult the cornerstone of the Islamic Republic state, the Rule of the Jurisprudent, and broke up the state’s monopoly over its Islamic and revolutionary symbols of legitimation. In that vein, the Inexperienced Motion began by contesting the election outcomes, then it contested the sources of the state’s legitimacy. In doing so, it undermined the state’s ideological foundations. The motion ended with a complete negation of the state. Each protest motion since 2009 has picked up the place the Inexperienced Motion was put down — concentrating on the state as a complete. In that vein, one of many slogans of right now’s rebellion is a modification of a Inexperienced Motion rally cry, “This 12 months is the 12 months of blood, Sayyid Ali [Khamenei] might be toppled.”

Q: How is the regime responding, and what does this inform us about the way forward for the regime?

A: The regime has doubled down with repression, because it did when activists challenged it in 2009, 2017-2018, and right now. It sees compromise as exhibiting weak spot. It has such a notion due to the historical past of the Iranian Revolution, by way of which this authorities was born. Within the revolution, the Shah dithered between compromise and heavy-handedness. Typically using each approaches directly. As an example, the Shah amnestied political prisoners, which gave momentum to the revolution as activists interpreted the amnesty as proof that they may web political outcomes in the event that they continued on their trajectory. On the identical time, the Shah carried out a army authorities and martial legislation, which prompted additional revolutionary ire and a brand new goal for mobilization.

The Iranian state right now, then again, is aware of this historical past and has by no means compromised within the face of protesters. In 2009, it affirmed the election outcomes and cracked down on demonstrations. In November 2019, when it eliminated a gasoline subsidy that sparked protests, it didn’t backtrack and killed scores. Right now, it likewise has sought a safety answer to protesters as an alternative of a political one. That isn’t to say that compromise is unimaginable, it simply signifies that given this historical past, it’s not possible. It’s value mentioning that nonetheless unlikely it’s for the federal government to compromise, it could very nicely be too late even when it does. Iranians have been reeling underneath the heavy boot of the federal government’s authoritarianism for too lengthy and will not settle for such compromise, even when it was forthcoming.

Q: Lastly, are you able to briefly present a historic context for right now’s protests in Iran?

A: Right now’s battle is a part of a protracted family tree of revolutions through which generations of Iranians have sought a extra consultant, democratic, accountable, equitable, simply, and humane authorities.

Earlier moments in Iranian historical past have been aborted, comparable to when Imperial Britain and Tzarist Russia intervened throughout Iran’s Constitutional Revolution greater than 100 years in the past, or when the CIA-MI-6 overthrew the democratic-elected authorities of Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq, Iran’s first true experiment with democracy, in 1953.

The Iranian Revolution of 1978-79 was about freedom and independence. It achieved the latter, however faltered miserably when it got here to the previous. Right now’s rebellion is rooted on this previous because it seeks to rectify its shortcomings; Iranians proceed to battle for freedom.


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