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Sat. January 28, 2023
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Will Iran’s Women-led Counter-Revolution Succeed?
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What is happening in Iran is not a secret anymore!

Iran’s new generation of women and girls now pour into the streets demanding freedom, independence, and social justice. What started as a protest against the compulsory hijab and abolishment of Guidance Patrol has transformed into a full-fledged intersectional anti-regime revolution. A growing number of trending hashtags speak of “Iranian feminist revolution 2022”, an “anti-Islamist national uprising”, and a “women rights movement.” Jin, Jiyan, and Azadi (‘Women-Life-Freedom') are showing up on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The dominant narrative: The Iranian netizens from Generation Z are no longer just interested in reforms. They want regime change. Slogans like “Death to Khamenei”, “Khamenei must step down” and “Khamenei is our enemy” have surfaced on the internet and on the streets. The events currently happening in Iran are not new. Similar events have happened before. Due to social media, however, we can now see the protests in the streets.

This growing remarkable agentive presence and mobility of Iranian women in the public sphere could not materialize without a ceaseless social and political struggle that dates back to the beginning of Islamic revolution in 1979. Right after Khomeini rose to power, he institutionalized patriarchal policies and laws that formally reduced the agency of women in many spheres of social life. Two historic events are worth recalling here. On 26 February 1979, only two weeks after the Islamic revolution, Khomeini abrogated the family protection Law of 1967 and its 1975 amended version, stripping the women from more rights in divorce and matters of child custody. On 7 March 1979, a day before International Women's Day, Khomeini issued a decree imposing Islamic dress code in governmental offices. His pronouncement fueled great dissatisfaction and sparked massive protests. On the next day, thousands of women gathered in Tehran University and in front of the Ministry of Justice against the announcement of compulsory Hijab. The women chanted: "In the spring of freedom, absent is the rights of women."

Despite of their repressive assault, patriarchal policies produced unintended consequences in shaping the social reality of women. The women leaders awoke to the reality that the establishment of Islamic Republic proved inconsistent with their fundamental rights. Therefore, in order to continue their postrevolutionary struggle for freedom, the women had to be politically conscious, well educated, financially independent and socially mobilized. This realization compelled the women to carve out their own safe spaces and navigate their way to gain access to rights and privileges from which they were expunged.  In the past four decades, the Iranian women have transformed themself into fierce political actors and have historically shaped the political culture of defiance and dissent. The current movement is only possible because of their time-tested struggle. Yet the future of this women-led counter-revolution in Iran remains uncertain.

At its core, the ‘Women-Life-Freedom' movement faces three difficult challenges. The first challenge is posed by the Khamenei regime who has vowed to penalize the protestors in the hope of crushing the movement. Blaming the U.S. and Israel for igniting a cultural war in Iran, Khamenei has alleged the protestors of terrorism and fomenting sectarianism. The second challenge comes from the Western media for misreading the core principles of the women-led counter revolution. The stereotypical portrayal of Iranian women in the Western media outlets as hapless captives of religious dictatorship paradoxically eviscerate them from the very achievements that they have earned through constant hard work and dedication. In the same way, propagating a narrative that the salvation of Iranian women is only possible by adopting anti-Islamic normative structures of Westernization, reasserts the hegemonic ideals of orientalist thought. The global media has both ethical and professional responsibility. The role of the media is to investigate and report on the issues and not to control the masses ideologically. Labeling falsely a foreign ownership of a purely homegrown women’s movement or suggesting a westernized solution to their problems discredits the sovereignty, autonomy, dignity and actual purpose of the struggle of the Iranian women. The third challenge, which has been brought up frequently, is that this conflict within Iranian civilization is only recognized as a social media revolution. In fact, social media has a definite influence in igniting unrest and revolutions in the smartphone era. However, these social media revolutions run the risk of expiring with the next news cycle because people dispersed across the digital spectrum participate from a secure location. This diminished level of interpersonal interaction among the protesters cannot substitute for a true revolution that entails face-to-face contact with the opposition.? ?Whenever I hear the word revolution, it reminds me of Gustav Le Bonn. According to him, revolutions are driven by the invisible power of beliefs. The beginning of a revolution reflects the end of a previous belief system and the outbreak of a new belief. The more irresistible the new belief, the longer revolution will last. How long will the female revolutionaries continue to struggle for freedom and uphold their beliefs? So far, the Iranian protestors are a leaderless crowd. Though the power of revolution rests in the belief and mobilization of crowds, a leaderless crowd can become powerless if the regime chooses to crush it. Iranians abroad can cry foul and pressure their new home governments to sanction Iran, but that alone will not topple the Khamenei government. Iran needs new leaders to gain equal popularity and influence among the populace. Even if Khamenei steps down, who will replace him? Just like Khomeini replace Raza Pahlavi, who will step up this time? Do the women revolutionaries have an alternate political system or leader in mind? Or do they just know what they don’t want? Can the Iranian feminist revolutionaries produce a strong women leader for their counter-revolution? These remain the ultimate questions, and the key variables in deciding the outcome of their aspiring protests. ? ?

Naad-e-Ali Sulehria is an independent researcher, political commentator, entrepreneur, digital journalist, and human rights campaigner.

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