Recent events in Iran have shocked the world, with the outbreak of anti-government demonstrations across the country. The recent round of growing protests have come amid outcry from the Iranian people over the treatment of women and girls, following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was arrested for allegedly breaking strict hijab laws.
Iranian authorities have struck back at protesters, with at least 400 people jailed amid the demonstrations. Executions have also shone a light on the country’s treatment of political prisoners.
While executions and the threat of being jailed looms over those taking to the street against the government, many have continued to fight for a democratic way of living. The current clerical regime in Iran enforces strict rules for all residents, but women and girls are held to a stricter standard, including rules around appearance and hijab wearing.
NationalWorld spoke to Dr Majid Sadeghpour, the political director of The Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC), about the current events in Iran, the role of women in the protests and what needs to happen for change to be introduced.
What role do women play in the Iranian anti-government protests?
The demonstrations in the streets of Iran’s cities began after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September 2022. The young woman was arrested by the country’s morality police for allegedly not wearing her hijab correctly in public.
She later died in hospital, with some eyewitnesses alleging that she was beaten while in police custody. Iranian authorities denied this, with the The Law Enforcement Command of the Islamic Republic of Iran only stating that she had a heart attack while at a police station.
At the beginning of the movement, it was women and young girls who took to the streets and came together to push back against the government’s strict rules and alleged treatment of Ms Amini and, in a wider context, Iranian and Muslim women.
Dr Sadeghpour explained that oppression of women in Iranian society had been implemented since the earlier days of the Islamic rule, including the forced wearing of a hijab for all women. However, he says that the oppression of women is not exclusive to the clerical regime, with the previous forcing women to remove the hijab.
He said: “From day one the regime recognised women are a threat to them and a threat to their rule. And certainly the regime uses misogyny as a fuel for these fascist Islamist methods.
“As women recognise this from day one, we saw women begin the protests in Iran, the very first demonstration in Iran was by women and mothers protesting against the hijab.”
However, Dr Sadeghpour explains that while women and girls are key to current day demonstrations, their historical impact cannot be lost. He said: “This resistance movement has always been led by women.
“In 1988, the regime executed over 30,000 political prisoners. A lot of people have forgotten that nearly half of that population that was executed was women and girls and mothers and grandmothers.
“This has continued and what we see in Mahsa Amini and others who continue to resist this regime in Iran, are really descendants of that generation who are following that blueprint.”
What is the aim of protesters in Iran?
While much of the attention has been on hijab and headscarf debates amid protests in Iran, the root cause of demonstration goes much deeper. As Dr Sadeghpour described previously, women have been oppressed both by the currently clerical Islamic regime and the former Imperial State regime.
The headscarf itself is a symbol of this oppression, with a bigger goal in the minds of protesters. Dr Sadeghpour said: “Regardless whether they are wearing a headscarf or not wearing a scarf, they want choice, they want freedom, they want a Republic where the ballot box speaks.”
He continued: “We know now fully that the people of Iran want regime change. It is the principle framework of the 10 point plan by Maryam Rajavi [leader of People’s Mujahedin of Iran] that the ballot box must remain the principal framework of Iran’s future governance.
The current regime will often conflate the choice to wear a hijab as a religious one - if you choose not to wear one, you are not a muslim. However, Dr Sadeghpour added: “The reality is this distinction is between fundamentalism and a lack of a progressive and adaptive view of Islam.”
“I think what we see today is the continuation of 100 years of the struggle for those very rights. And the international community must come to the defence of the Iranian people.”
What should international communities do to support protesters in Iran?
Dr Sadeghpour and his organisation are among those calling on international communities to do more to support protesters in Iran. He said: “You’re talking about liberal democracy or the West, standing by very principles that they cover for their own population, human rights, holding the regime accountable for what it does at the UN and beyond.
Dr Sadeghpour added that Western governments should be holding Iran accountable and has urged nations to close Iranian embassies across the world in response. He explained: “We need to stand up against that. We need to support the people of Iran’s aspiration for democratic change and support them when they need to defend themselves to maintain their human dignity.
“The people [of the West] are seeing what these predators are doing to their people much more visibly.
Dr Sadeghpour is one of the many Iranian people who had been personally affected by the previous revolution in 1979. He said: “When I was a kid, when those executions were occurring, there was no Twitter, there was no social media.
“But despite the internet crackdown in Iran, people are still able to get some information out and that has really helped change public opinion. Through Western media, people get to see what is actually occurring in Iran and make their own judgement as to what their elected officials actually do relative to their policies on Iran.
The political director said that recent events in Iran have already changed the future of the country, with hope that the result of demonstrations and protests will see the Iranian people given the democratic future they are aiming for. He said: “The ship on changing this regime has already said we will never get back to the environment before September 2022.
“The more pressure there is on this regime, the more wind behind the sail.”