AMU Intelligence Middle East Original

Iran Protests: Cities Suffering Civil Unrest

In recent weeks, the continued Iran protests have made many residents of the Middle East wonder if the regime in Tehran will finally face serious opposition, according to the RAND Corporation. How long will the demonstrations in Iran continue?

Not only have there been mass demonstrations of young Iranians protesting their oppression by Iran’s ruling clerics, but Iran’s failing economy has left most young people with limited prospects for their future, according to Iran International.   

Clerics Face Multiple Internal Problems Amid Iran Protests

The death of Mahsa Amini has forced Iran’s clerics to confront several challenges. Beyond political oppression and the failing economy, Iran’s clerics must also cope with ethnic and religious divisiveness in Iran, which threaten to destabilize the nation.  

The regime’s questionable actions over the death of Amini, a young Kurdish woman who was reportedly beaten to death by police for not wearing her hijab properly, have unleashed the pent-up frustration of her peers. On social media, videos from Iran show how a modern young constituency is tired of the clerics’ iron grip on the country.  

The growing tension between the Iranian government and its citizens has not dissipated since Amini’s death. According to EuroNews, demonstrators set fire to the ancestral home of Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Khomeini.   

Khomeini’s house, turned into a museum after his death, hosts many state functions, so the symbolic action of setting his former home on fire is clear. The clerics have definitely lost the support of many young Iranians.

Courts in Iran Are Sentencing Protestors to Death or Jail Time 

Iran’s clerics have escalated their tactics to maintain control over the country. For instance, the Sharia courts have begun sentencing young people for their part in the Iran protests and have issued several death sentences. As CNN reported, the protestors were convicted on charges of “disturbing public order and peace, community, and colluding to commit a crime against national security, war and corruption on Earth, war through arson, and intentional destruction.”  

CNN also noted that other protestors in Iran received lighter sentences ranging from five to 10 years in prison. These protestors were convicted of “collusion to commit a crime against national security and disturbance of public peace and order.”  

The Iranian Government Refuses to Admit Its Limitations 

If anyone thinks that the Iranian regime will suddenly become conciliatory and comprehend its limitations, the announcement by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei promptly dispelled that idea. Khamenei spoke publicly of the death of regime operatives involved in violent clashes with demonstrators, praising them and calling them “martyrs.”  

Iran Is Taking Action to Prevent Foreign Intervention 

The civil unrest in Iran’s cities has spilled quickly outside the borders of Iran, according to CNN. Tehran is well aware of how far these demonstrations can spread and has taken measures to prevent foreign intervention.  

For instance, Iran sided quickly with Russia in its war against Ukraine. In fact, Iran has recently gone so far as to supply Russia with bomb-packing drones that the Russian army has used against Ukrainian targets, according to the Washington Institute.  

Sanctions from the White House and the European Union 

The future of the Iran nuclear deal is also at stake. The White House has stated that the demonstrations and the unwillingness of Iran’s clerics to compromise have brought negotiations to an end. As a result, Iran will suffer continued sanctions that will continue to cripple even more the deteriorating Iranian economy. 

In Europe, the frustration about the Iran protests, along with the many deaths of Iranian protestors, has led to more sanctions. On November 14, the European Union issued sanctions against many entities controlled by the Iranian regime. According to the Washington Institute, the sanctions include these individuals and groups

  • Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi  
  • Various figures in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) 
  • The Basij, a government militia 
  • The Law Enforcement Command 
  • Iran’s national army (Artesh)  
  • Iran’s cyber police 
  • Local officials who were involved in human rights abuses, such as the massacre of civilians in Zahedan and violent incidents Kurdistan Province 
  • Bonyad Taavon Basij, a social welfare organization connected to Basij, whose members are instrumental in the violent attacks on protestors 
  • Press TV, an Iranian television network that broadcasts Iran’s propaganda in Europe  
  • ArvanCloud, a technology firm linked to Iran’s efforts to establish a separate Iranian intranet  

Tensions and Protests in Iran Are Apparent from Various Sources 

In an extensive report on the foundational imbalance of Iran, Anthony H. Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies notes that Iran is falling into an economic abyss. Cordesman also hints that the oppression of Iranian youth under the guise of religion causes secularization.  

A current favorite pastime of young Iranians is to yell at clerics walking the street and flip the turbans off those clergymens’ heads. The fact that younger Iranians are willing to participate in this type of nonviolent street protest shows that the foundation of Iranian society has destabilized. 

Religious tensions between secular and religious groups and also between Shia and Sunni groups are becoming apparent in many of Iran’s cities. The attack by ISIS operatives on a Shia shrine in Shiraz last month, which killed over a dozen worshippers according to Al Jazeera, shows that many regional and international actors that the Iranian government regime is losing its grip.  

Iran’s ruling clerics are also facing criticism from other Shia and Sunni clerics in Iran. But the government’s refusal to admit its limitations might bring its demise.  

Iran Protests Could Get Even Worse 

Although foreign powers can support the demonstrations and the protestors, there is no real organized opposition in Iran. However, this grassroots movement could develop into the first real opposition since the Islamic Revolution and could potentially bring the collapse of the regime, the IRGC and the Basij.  

Ilan Fuchs

Dr. Ilan Fuchs is a scholar of international law and legal history. He holds a B.A. in Humanities and Social Science from The Open University of Israel and an M.A. in Jewish history from Bar-Ilan University. Ilan’s other degrees include an LL.B., an LL.M. and a Ph.D. in Law from Bar-Ilan University. He is the author of “Jewish Women’s Torah Study: Orthodox Education and Modernity,” and 18 articles in leading scholarly journals. At the University, Ilan teaches courses on international law while maintaining a law practice in several jurisdictions.

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