Courageous women at vanguard of Iran's unrest

The killing of Soleimani together with the open support of the Trump administration, gives encouragement to activists in Iran, especially women who formed a courageous vanguard in previous protests.

Ida Lichter

OpEds Iranian women take selfies during ceremony to mark 40th anniversary Revolution
Iranian women take selfies during ceremony to mark 40th anniversary Revolution
INN:MS

Iran’s three-day cover-up of the unintentional shootdown of Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752 recently is a problem for the ruling mullahs who claim the moral high ground as they await the messianic Hidden Imam, all the while amassing vast business empires and allegedly participating in corrupt schemes.

Indeed, protesters’ slogans have revealed their anti-government grievances with chants of such as “Death to the Dictator” and “Our enemy is right here, they lie to us that it’s America”.
Celebrities added their voices. Iran’s only female Olympic medal winner, taekwondo’s Kimia Alizadeh chose to protest as “one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran”, and the country’s favourite actress, Taraneh Alidoosti, posted on Instagram: “We are not citizens, we are hostages, millions of hostages.”
The turmoil created a crisis of confidence for journalists working for state broadcaster IRIB. Three female presenters resigned, admitting they had lied for years to comply with government directives.
Lacking freedom of speech, assembly and association, Iranians came to depend on communication via the internet, but this avenue was subject to state filtering and blocking.
Parliamentary representation in Iran is a sad travesty. When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini led the revolution and founded the Islamic Republic in 1979, he promised elections, but clerics in the Council of Guardians continue to disqualify candidates they deem insufficiently committed to Iran’s radical aims.
Together with Saudi Arabia, its arch-rival for Islamic pre-eminence, Iran has projected a forceful theocratic model to the Muslim world. Islamic dress, which is mandatory in Iran, was widely emulated as a badge of piety and political Islam. Recruitment also grew for the glorified martyrdom of suicide attacks.
In order to control its people, Iran built a police state, particularly oppressive for women, who can land in prison for sharing ­videos of themselves removing their hijabs, or entering stadiums to watch men’s sport.
The autocratic government functions as a complex hierarchical structure. It includes the largest civil militia in the world, the Basij, consisting of about five million members in 50,000 locations. Together with the security and military forces, the Basij are controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, pledged to protect the regime and answerable only to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Revolutionary Guard runs many businesses and possibly a third of the economy through construction, engineering, oil and gas, food and transportation.
Three security bodies, including the IRGC Intelligence Organisation, surveil and handle informants, keep files on dissidents and deal with protests and insurgencies.
The Quds Force, an extra-­territorial arm of the Revolutionary Guard, expanded Iran’s influence abroad mainly through asymmetric warfare under the command of major general Qassem Soleimani. Fully committed to the ideological, political and military goals of the Islamic Revolution, he orchestrated the growth of Iran’s proxy militia, Hezbollah.
Facilitated by the drawdown of US troops, Soleimani built a corridor to the Mediterranean, leaving Iran’s imperialist footprints in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, as well as Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond. Lebanon, battered by violent protests, is in effect a client state of Iran through Hezbollah, the key powerbroker in the country.
In Iraq, the Shia militias known as Popular Mobilisation Forces included Kataeb Hezbollah, founded by Solomeini’s close associate, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes. Both were killed in the same US airstrike.

The long arm of Iran can be seen outside the Middle East in proxy networks that operate within many Latin American countries and beyond.
The long arm of Iran can be seen outside the Middle East in proxy networks that operate within many Latin American countries and beyond.
After the 2015 nuclear accord or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it was hoped that Iran would moderate and therefore curb its destabilisation in the region. Iranian citizens believed that the agreement, which lifted sanctions and injected capital, would result in economic and democratic reforms. Instead, the government used the proceeds to expand its hegemonic reach abroad, and many disappointed Iranians expressed their economic grievances in the mass protests of 2017 and 2019.
Initial aims to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon were watered down to the extent that Tehran was assured of nuclear capability after 15 years. This policy of appeasement and containment in the hope that Iran would either moderate or collapse was consistent with US silence on state-sponsored proxy attacks on US and Western targets since the start of the Shia revolution.
The killing of Soleimani has played a major part in breaking the cycle of appeasement, and together with the open support of the Trump administration, gives encouragement to activists in Iran, especially women who formed a courageous vanguard in previous protests.
Iranians have been chanting their disaffection with the religious doctrine of Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist, which gives dictatorial powers to the Supreme Leader. In “resistance economy” mode and protected by the Revolutionary Guard, the Shia theocracy has maintained an iron grip through the coercive police state and brutal suppression of protests. However, like the Shah, the Supreme Leader would not withstand sustained civil unrest, especially if there were defections within the security service.
And even a partial government capitulation through negotiation under pressure would threaten global Islamism by tarnishing Iran’s prestige, Islamic credentials, and bid for leadership of the Muslim world.
Ida Lichter is the author of Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression

This article is reposted with permission of the author from The Australian.




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