'Not a protest, a women's revolution': Iran's diaspora mobilises

Analysis - Iran protest/diaspora- illustration
6 min read
10 October, 2022

Three weeks after the death of Kurdish-Iranian woman Jina Mahsa Amini, anti-regime protests in Iran show no sign of abating.

The 22-year-old died on 16 September in custody after being detained by the country’s morality police.

Despite a violent crackdown by Iranian authorities – at least 185 people have been killed according to the Iran Human Rights group – the demonstrations continue to spread, spearheaded by women.

In the streets, schools, and universities of the country, chants of ‘death to the dictator’ and ‘women, life, freedom' can be heard by young Iranians who have emerged as a powerful voice of dissent.

“The escalation of protests on the streets of different cities in Iran shows that the people are determined to overthrow the tyrant regime of the Islamic Republic,” Sima, 23, from Tehran told The New Arab.

“It is the end of 43 years of authoritarian rule in Iran.”

"This is not a protest, but it is a revolution, the women's revolution"

Following Amini’s death, Iranian authorities claimed that she suffered from underlying illnesses and had died from a heart attack, a narrative rejected by both Amini’s family and protesters.

Other young women and girls have been killed during the protests, with rights groups saying Iran has been forcing family members to make televised confessions absolving authorities of their deaths.

In one of the bloodiest incidents during the protests, Iranian security forces killed over 80 people in the southeastern city of Zahedan in Sistan-Baluchestan.

“The resistance of people and the peak of protests after three weeks shows that this is not a protest, but it is a revolution, the women’s revolution,” Sima told The New Arab.

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She said since 8 October protests have continued across the country, from Tehran to Mashhad and from Kerman to Esfahan.

“The people are determined this time and will not rest until the change of the regime and the end of dictatorship,” Sima added.

The continued surge of protests has defied the killing, arrests, and suppression of demonstrators by authorities, which have if anything only served to further mobilise Iranians.

But this story of defiance is not restricted to the streets of Iran - from London to Los Angeles and from Toronto to Rome, the Iranian diaspora is aligning their voice with those on the ground.

In Toronto, an estimated 50,000 people demonstrated in solidarity with Iranians and in protest against the Iranian regime in early October, one of nearly 150 solidarity protests worldwide.

People hold signs and chant slogans during a protest against the death of Iranian Mahsa Amini and the government of Iran on 2 October 2022 in Istanbul, Turkey. [Getty]

This solidarity has also extended to the virtual space, where Amini’s name has been hashtagged more than 200 million times.

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) and a women’s rights activist, said the general reaction of the Iranian diaspora and others in solidarity across the world has been extraordinary.

But she believes it would be a betrayal to the protesters if Iranian diaspora groups or individuals try to claim credit or monopolise these events.

“The hijab is a symbol of the regime's core identity. The struggles are existential for both sides, the young protesters and the regime,” she told TNA.

"The people are determined this time and will not rest until the change of the regime and the end of dictatorship"

Anderlini thinks that the international community should suspend current JCPOA talks, as engaging with the regime can be seen as legitimating it at a time when it faces a domestic crisis of legitimacy.

“The world should know that the situation isn’t normal. I pray for the safety and future of our young generation on the streets of Iran,” she said.

The protests have also led to global diplomatic reactions. Last week, US President Joe Biden said that he stands with “Iranian women and all the citizens of Iran who are inspiring the world with their bravery”, adding that further costs will be imposed on “perpetrators of violence against peaceful protesters”.

Canada on Friday also announced plans to permanently ban entry to 10,000 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for Iran’s “heinous state behaviour” against demonstrators.

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Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, meanwhile, said last Monday that "the Iranian leadership should notice that the people are unhappy with the direction that they have taken," leading Tehran to summon the British ambassador.

The EU said it is also weighing sanctions over Iran’s crackdown on protesters.

Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, last week responded by calling the country's protests "riots" and said they had been engineered by “America and the occupying, false Zionist regime, as well as their paid agents, with the help of some traitorous Iranians abroad”.

But despite the defiance of Iran’s regime, Iranians in the diaspora are determined to push for change and express their solidarity.

Hamed Esmaeilion, who lost his wife and nine-year-old daughter in January 2020 when Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 was downed by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) air defences killing 176 people, said the global reception to Iran’s protest was unbelievable.

A woman cuts her hair outside Vancouver Art Gallery, during a solidarity protest for Mahsa Amini on 25 September 2022 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. [Getty]

"We were surprised when the protests started. We had prepared for ten thousand people in Toronto, but it was unbelievable. Many thousands of people took to the streets and declared their support for the Iranian people," he told The New Arab.

He highlighted the power of social media in mobilising supporters abroad and demonstrating solidarity with Iranians on the streets protesting.

"Social media was not only effective in mobilising people, but also attracted the attention of politicians, and we saw that later Canada imposed sanctions on the authorities of the Islamic Republic, and pressure on the Iranian regime increased throughout the world."

Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel laureate and a women's rights activist, said that the people of Iran want a secular and democratic government. She added that the slogan of ‘women, life and freedom’, can only be fulfilled in a secular structure, not under the banner of oppression and religious tyranny.

"I wish that one day a government will be established in Iran where everyone will see themselves in it"

"I am not satisfied with the reaction of the world; the West should not talk but act. They should take their ambassadors out of Iran and reduce diplomatic relations with the regime. The world should not give legitimacy to the Islamic Republic and start negotiations on human rights in Iran instead of talking about a nuclear deal," she said.

"I wish that one day a government will be established in Iran where everyone will see themselves in it, there will be no oppression and the nation's money will be used to defend the people of Iran and not for the survival of Bashar al-Assad,” she added.

"As always, the Islamic Republic has killed or imprisoned protestors or blinded a number of them with direct gunfire. But even so, I don't think repression is possible with the extent of the protests," she told The New Arab.

"If these protests are suppressed, people will come to the streets again in a few months."

Abu Muslim Shirzad is a university lecturer and researcher on security and political matters in South Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

Follow him on Twitter: @MuslimShirzad