After the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran, “it is women who are at the front of the demonstrations, it is unprecedented”

“Death to the Islamic Republic! » Iran has been angered by protesters since the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who fell into a coma after being arrested three days earlier and detained by morality police on the grounds that she wore clothes “inappropriate”. Activists as well as his family ruled his death “suspicious”but Tehran police claimed there was no “didn’t have physical contact” between the police and the victim.

After a first demonstration on Saturday in Saqqez (north-west), the birthplace of the young Kurdish woman, around 500 people gathered to protest on Sunday evening in Sanandaj, capital of the Iranian province of Kurdistan. The dispute won Tehran on Monday, and around forty cities overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday. Three people were killed during protests in Iranian Kurdistan, the governor of the province announced on Tuesday, quoted by the Fars news agency – according to other sources, six people died in this region.

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In an interview with The world, Azadeh Kian, professor of sociology at Paris-Cité University, estimate that the election to the presidency of Ebrahim Raïssi, in June 2021, has reinforced the oppression of Iranian women. For the director of the Center for Teaching, Documentation and Research for Feminist Studies (Cedref), a specialist in gender issues and political action in Iran, the demonstrations that have targeted power since 2017 have weakened it, “but that is not enough to hope for his downfall”.

How do you rate the significance and impact of the ongoing protests following the death of Mahsa Amini?

Azadeh Kian: The novelty is that it is women who are at the forefront of the protest scene. Before, this was not the case, or not as much. And many young men are increasingly supporting young women who are demonstrating for their rights.

Ebrahim Raïssi quickly demanded an investigation into the circumstances of Mahsa Amini’s death. Can we expect responsibilities to be established among the authorities?

No. It’s like the crash of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752. [détruit par erreur par la défense antiaérienne iranienne, en janvier 2020, avec un bilan de 176 morts] : the investigations never lead to the questioning of the principal persons in charge, it is the small ones who are arrested. The UN has asked for an investigation, but it is not serious: the United Nations must condemn the violence that power exerts on society.

What did Ebrahim Raïssi, the president elected in 2021, do with the status of women and more generally with social issues in his country?

There is a strengthening of public policies against women. He gave carte blanche to the morality police, under the authority of the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, who said that the obligation to wear the veil must be enforced.

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These policies aim to ensure that women stay at home: moreover, women are no longer hired, except in professions designated as “feminine”, such as teaching or certain medical specialties, such as gynecology. In other jobs, they are told to retire, or they lose their jobs.

In 2015, the Supreme Leader decided that the population should double. From 2016-2017, contraception became less available; since 2021, vasectomies and abortions have been banned. Public policies encourage early marriages, before the age of 15, the number of which has increased by 20% under Raisi. The pronatalist policy has not, however, had the expected effects, because the economic crisis does not encourage Iranians to have children, and the fertility rate is only 1.6 children per woman.

The women’s movement in Iran dates back to the beginning of the 20the century, but lost momentum due to repression. At one time, even under the Islamic regime, we could celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8. Today, it’s impossible, it’s not even recognized, it’s presented as a subject that concerns only the West.

With Ebrahim Raïssi, strong repression hits all protest activity, women’s rights activists, environmental defenders… Cultural policies are increasingly restrictive, as we saw with the imprisonment of filmmakers Jafar Panahi , Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Al-Ahmad. Violence against society is on the increase.

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Is the ongoing repression of demonstrators a classic response, or is it a sign of a new nervousness on the part of the regime?

Power is more and more feverish. The intelligence services carry out surveys which show the discontent of the population. the turnout for the June 2021 presidential election is the lowest ever recorded, at 48.8%, and I’m not even talking about the legislative elections. Voters have refused to grant legitimacy to the regime, which responds with repression instead of seeking to regain trust. If we see so many people mobilizing, it is also because of the economic context: the official poverty rate is 46%, but experts believe it is higher.

Iran experienced major protests against high prices during the winter of 2017-2018 and in November 2019, then a wave of protests in early 2020 after the plane crash. Does this succession of anger weaken the regime?

The power is very fragile, but that is not enough to hope for its fall. I don’t see a viable and reliable alternative emerging. People take to the streets because they have no other channels, no political parties or independent trade unions. Since 2017, the demonstrations have been sporadic, spontaneous, not organized for lack of democracy, and have not led to a change in the regime.

The nuclear deal seemed to bring Iran closer to the West and its values. Could its setbacks, caused by the American withdrawal decided by Donald Trump, lead Tehran to renounce all progressivism on the domestic scene?

The reversal on nuclear power, but also the war in Ukraine have aggravated the situation. The Iranians have moved closer to the Russians and the Chinese. Five or six years ago, President Hassan Rohani was trying – with his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif – to get closer to the West, which moreover displeased the Guide. The nuclear agreement in 2015 had created a small opening for public freedoms. A number of NGOs, which could no longer operate under Ahmad Ahmadinejad [président conservateur de 2005 à 2013], had resumed their activity. People had more leeway, young women were less bothered. There was hope.

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After the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran, “it is women who are at the front of the demonstrations, it is unprecedented”