Protesting Iran: The Roots and Results of 2022 Protest Movement
Protests that began in Iran following the death of a young woman when in custody of Tehran’s “morality police” in September 2022 spread to the entire country and rocked 160 cities. It posed the most widespread, sustained challenge to the state power in the Islamic Republic in the past decades, which lasted for four months. It brought back the memories of the 2009 Green Movement and changed the state-society relationship in the country for the foreseeable future. The main question this research seeks to answer is: What factors led to the start and continuation of 2022 protests in Iran and what have been the lasting consequences for the state-society relationship?
The hypothesis in response to the main question is that these protests are derived from disillusionment and disenchantment of the young generation of Iranians with the ruling political system, which is one of gerontocracy. Indeed, every year several members of the political elites die of old age! It is no surprise that Iranian youngsters protesting in the streets throughout the country felt that they could not connect with these old stuffy men who might have never used a computer in their lifetime, whereas Internet surfing has become a national sport. They just cannot envisage a bright future for themselves as long as these leaders ignore their demands for real change including social freedoms.
The protests in Iran demonstrated the depth of the legitimacy crisis that Iranian political system suffers from. This legitimacy deficit might be partly ascribed to the very low turnout in the two most recent elections, which were supposed to forge a unified government fully controlled by the Supreme Leader. But indeed it backfired by depriving the system of the minimum political legitimacy required to function normally.
On results of the protests, it can be suggested that they have changed the state-society relationship significantly, putting the two on a collision course. Hopes for reforms within the framework of the existing system are gone and there is a growing consensus among the majority of the Iranians that the political system is just unreformable.
Keywords: Protests, Iranian Political System, Reforms, Legitimacy, Gerontocracy
A large body of work in political science and sociology has examined how authoritarian regimes manage social protests. Much of this scholarship is movement-oriented, probing how autocrats combine repression and concessions in response to particular social movements. More recently, scholars have become more interested in the micro-foundations of bargained authoritarianism: how do non-democratic states use local bargaining techniques to fragment, diffuse, and manage protest activity. In this field, studies highlight that pro-active protest management exists even in highly concentrated, single-party regimes. To date, less research has systemically investigated protest management in the MENA region, despite the region’s unique combination of oil rents and state populism.
In this paper, I examine protest management and bargaining in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Empirically, the paper has three main interests. First, I probe how the extent to which state officials interfere in protests. Secondly, I investigate what types of state bodies are usually called on to talk to protestors. Finally, I examine how concessions and promises influence subsequent movement trajectories. I am especially interested in backlash effects, whereby official failure to realize promises pushes protestors to escalate their protests.
To do this, I use a novel dataset on socio-economic contention in Iran between 2012-21 (N=2789). This dataset was compiled by manually coding Persian-language protest reports, paying particular attention to bargaining processes and government concessions. I review the potential biases and limitations of this dataset. I find that protest bargaining is extensive in Iran, and that protestors often gain concessions. At the same time, it is highly fragmented, requiring coordination among a wide range of government bodies. The paper probes the implications of the findings for the study of authoritarian politics. Officials may be able to fragment protests through localized concessions and bargaining, but this process may lead to new grievances that can escalate claim-making on the state.
This research, as part of my PhD dissertation, explores the ways masculinity and femininity are defined and/or contested in sports spaces and discourses, particularly in relation to women athletes’ physicality and sexuality, in Iran. I examine the ways in which women comply with or negotiate traditional and hegemonic patriarchal norms within sports spaces. I ask if participation in sports can and does empower women athletes within existing sexist structures of sports in Iran.
Among many other scholars, I benefit from Sandra Lee Bartky’s conceptualization of “disciplinary practices” in producing a body which in gesture and appearance is recognizably feminine. I also draw on Debra Shogan’s examination of ways of resistance in sports fields.
My research methodology was both participatory and emancipatory through years (2013-2023) of close engagement with women’s sports as a researcher, advocate, and commentator along with many other women’s sports advocators and athletes. Through the years of this research, I performed fieldwork research by attending various international sports competitions where Iranian athletes and fans were present. I also used media and social media as a source of a part of my data gathering. In my conversations with athletes, I gathered their stories of their positionality by practicing Afsaneh Najmabadi’s fieldwork methodology of using individual’s self-narratives as means of crafting their stories (2014).
My findings show that in in the dominant view of the Iranian sphere of sports physical characteristics have a limited and predetermined relationship with personality and behavioral characteristics. In this view, elegance is necessary for femininity and strength is necessary for masculinity. I also found that the desirable characteristics attributed to ideal femininity or masculinity and their association with the specific physical characteristics of a woman, or a man led to the division of sports into feminine and masculine. Iranian women who enter male-dominated sports negotiate and challenge not only the gender borders in sports, but also the underlying social values and beliefs that are tied to each side of the border.
I find the role of hijab significant and beyond just religious covering in this context. Hijab in this structure is a symbol of the need to protect women. Women athletes, like Elnaz Rekabi’s rock climbing without hijab, practice various ways of resistance against the hegemonic patriarchal boundaries and they exchange their physical capital and fame and status, in Bourdieu’s term.
Co-Authors: Hanieh Molana
“Discredited.” The word is wielded as a statement of fact and a forgone conclusion. In recent years, countless Iranian academics, journalists, activists, and public figures have found themselves subjected to this label in the court of public opinion, long known for its ruthless denial of due process to the targets of coordinated harassment and public shaming campaigns. As the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement enters its sixth month, the deep tensions within the North American Iranian Diaspora (NAID) continue to worsen as “sharm-sari,” or public shaming, emerges as a tactic of preference for some diaspora Iranians who feel frustrated by what they perceive to be a lack of accountability for the well-documented crimes of the Islamic Republic. The trend has taken hold across different domains, including social media, group messaging apps like Telegram and WhatsApp, and in the public domain from restaurants to airports to university campuses. Agents of sharm-sari pursue their targets with dogged determination, following them with their smart phones recording the encounter, in order to later post these on social media channels to boast about the triumph of their efforts to ostracize and isolate those who they believe are overt or covert agents of the government of Iran or anyone connected with them. This paper discusses the fractures in the NAID in the context of the current anti-government uprising in Iran and explores the use, consequences, and implications of the coordinated campaigns of public shaming for North American diaspora Iranians. The paper argues that sharm-sari is both logically incoherent and counterproductive to the movement's own goals and ultimately undermines diaspora opposition groups aiming to weaken the Islamic Republic.