October 12, 2022
by Dr. Walid Phares
Despite all thorough planning by the Iran Regime to destroy its own domestic opposition over the years, another uprising reared its head this year, triggered and led by women, particularly the youngest among them.
In late 2019, dozens of demonstrations roamed the cities and towns of Iran, prompting the regime to mobilize its state militias to crush a third major uprising (following the 1999 and 2009 revolutions). But though the militias and pandemic took energy out of the protests, discontent among Iranians, especially the youth, continued to skyrocket.
The Trump administration, which had shown signs of strength against the regime, faced impeachment and was overwhelmed by violent urban protests at home. The crisis of the presidential election and the resulting drastic change in U.S. policy toward Iran by the Biden administration led Iranian freedom activists feeling increasingly isolated and abandoned.
The Houthis were removed from the terror list, the Iran Deal talks resumed, the withdrawal from Afghanistan was catastrophic to the peoples there, and forces were also withdrawn from Iraq. Then there was the transfer of billions of dollars to the regime authorized by Washington.
After four years of hope (with a U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, a stronger U.S. narrative against the regime, the dramatic end of Quds force commander Soleimani), the regime was again back on its feet with endless funding and legitimacy given by European Union and U.S. emissaries. The ruling class of the Islamic Republic was getting richer and more arrogant, the militias more powerful, and youth and minorities increasingly persecuted.
The women-led revolution has been visibly brewing on social media since the Green Revolution of 2009, particularly during the 2019 uprising. But the 2022 upheaval is centered on women and triggered by them.
The wave of protests started after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, from the Kurdistan province in Western Iran, was arrested for not wearing her Hijab according to the Islamic Republic “rules” and lethally beaten. Young women across Iran immediately started marching in the streets, removing their hijab and, at times, burning it.
Days later, 17-year-old Nika Shakarami and 20-year-old Sarina Ismael Zada were also arrested, tortured and killed by the militia. More young women who challenged the forced hijab were also arrested and tortured.
Women across Iran poured into the streets and, with the support and participation of young men, started cutting their hair in public as a message to the ruling elite that the men-dominated society and their Jihadi Khomeinist ideology are no longer accepted.
Iranian women, frustrated by the narrowing of their freedoms and watching the world moving forward in recognizing women’s rights, are ready to argue for freedom of choice. The self-realization by millions of Iranian women that their lives were being wasted by a system that blocked their liberation is pushing the “Mashta wave.”
Iranian teenagers can see, thanks to the internet and social media, how the youngest generation of the free world is living. Even in less free societies, such as Russia, or in non-free societies like China, and even in developing societies like India and Pakistan, women and girls are living full lives with a decent amount of personal freedom: dating, dancing, laughing and advancing.
Meanwhile, girls in Iran are denied minimal access and freedom of movement. Only the returning Taliban was worse.
Ironically, after seeing Afghan women forced to return to the Chador and denied schooling, Iran’s females became even more motivated to rid themselves of their oppressive regime.
They see how Saudi women, with traditionally fewer freedoms than their Iranian sisters, are enjoying a fast-track reform, and how Arab girls are now on Instagram, parallel with Western girls of their age. Iran’s women and youth felt they were thrown into a deep pit of Jihadism while the liberal world was enjoying life and leaving them to their fate.
Experience, frustration, and comparison was a combustive combination prompting half of Iran’s people to burst into the streets with a before-unseen energy. To them, it was to live, fully live, or die.
In The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East (2010), I projected that Iranian women and youth would lead the next revolutions because traditional society was unable to free itself from the Islamist regime on its own, but the fate of this latest uprising will be decided by the will of the various sectors of Iranian society.
Will workers, peasants, and bureaucrats join the movement? Will the ethnic communities fully mobilize? Will the Iranian army — even if not as equipped as the Pasdaran — eventually side with the people?
Even if everything else aligns for the freedom movement, the destiny of an Iranian revolution will need the support of the free world.
The regime’s stern, cruel and bloody suppression of this latest revolution is only possible because of the backing of the Iran Deal, including all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
The real question is: Will the American people free themselves from the shackles of the Iran Deal and meet the Iranian people halfway?
First published in Newsmax.