To describe the monstrosity of what is happening in Iran right now, a number: 15. That is the average age of the demonstrators that the regime is arresting these days – mind you, according to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) itself. In other words, the henchmen of themselves appointed theocracy that locks away or kills its own children for daring to demonstrate for freedom.
Social media is full of images documenting the current wave of protests. Girls in school uniforms take off their headscarves and shout "Death to the dictator" (referring to supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei). One photo shows five girls pointing their middle fingers at a picture of Khamenei and revolutionary leader Khomeini above the board. In Gohardasht, near Tehran, teenage girls even drove a representative of the regime, who had come to admonish them, out of the school building. "Woman, life, freedom" is the slogan of the rebels.
It is an uprising, mainly young women, against old men who tell them how to live. The headscarf, which is now being demonstratively taken off and burned in many places, is the symbol of power of the Islamic regime, in which women are not considered very important.
In court, a woman's testimony is worth half that of a man. Although more women than men study, they are twice as likely to be unemployed and only one-fifth benefit from economic participation. From the age of nine, girls must cover themselves.
The Islamic regime uses the woman's body as a demonstration of its power and the enforcement of social ideas. The headscarf therefore stands for the oppression of citizens by state power, for the lack of freedom not only for women, but also for men.
The young Iranians who take to the streets are not just demonstrating against compulsory headscarves or for reforms. They are fighting against the Islamic Republic itself, which since the 1979 revolution has abolished civil liberties and built up a sophisticated apparatus of repression.
"The headscarf should put us in our place," wrote a young activist on Twitter. "It reminds us every morning who's in charge." Farah*, a 20-year-old designer from Tehran who goes to protests every day, agrees. “Freedom means the right to choose. Here we are forced to wear the hijab. We have no choice," she says to WELT AM SONNTAG.
Although the regime blocks Internet access, the activists occasionally manage to go online. Then they talk about their everyday life, about their constant fear of ending up like Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old who was beaten to death by the vice squad a few weeks ago because her headscarf was "too loose". "If someone doesn't wear a headscarf, they will be arrested by the Erschad patrol (moral police, editor's note)", says Farah. “They insult the women as prostitutes. They beat us, put us in police buses and take us away.”
Sara, 30, a painter from Tehran, says she has been arrested seven times by the vice squad. For example, because her headscarf was too thin. "It was summer and very warm," she says. "They pushed me into a car and told me to shut up, otherwise they would take me to a place where not even my parents could find me." At the police station, she had to sign an undertaking to behave chastely in the future . Then they let her go.
Like some other women, Farah and Sara now leave the house without a headscarf. "I see a lot of women who don't wear a hijab," says Sara. And men who supported them and stood by the women when they were in trouble. One of many examples shows the courage to die that is required for this.
Nika Shakarami, 16, disappeared on September 20 during protests in Tehran, her uncle told Iran's Tasnim news agency. The family searched for her for a week - until authorities asked her to identify Nika's body. Her face was so smashed that they could hardly see her daughter.
The Norway-based organization Iran Human Rights counts more than 150 dead. Thousands are said to have been arrested. Among them was the filmmaker Donya Rad. A photo showing her and a friend having breakfast with their hair loose in a Tehran café went around the world.
A long-time friend of hers says the Iranian Cyber Police (FATA) then summoned Rad. "We think if she had removed the photo and some tweets from her Twitter account, she might have been released," says Pedram. But Donya Rad refused to delete the photo. "She is now in Evin prison and made a quick phone call to report that she is in the famous Iranian intelligence agency's 209 branch."
The current protests in Iran are unlike any before. Because of the almost unbelievable courage of the demonstrators. And because they are not directed against a specific political decision or arose out of economic hardship, but are directed against the Islamic Republic as such. “We don't want any reforms. We want to abolish the government,” write countless activists. The driving force are pupils and students, the so-called Generation Z.
Although they grew up and were socialized in the Islamic Republic, they demand rights and values that are commonly described as western. Social media played a crucial role in this, says Israeli Iran expert Raz Zimmt, who recently published the book Iran from the Inside. State and Society in the Islamic Republic”. "Despite all the regime's efforts to restrict access to social media, this generation is aware of what is happening outside of Iran and longs for a free lifestyle."
"The protests are not yet a serious threat to the regime," says the expert. “We would have to see a lot more people on the street for that. Workers and other sectors of society too.” Only when forces loyal to the regime also take part in the demonstrations would they have a chance of developing into a revolution. In addition, no leaders have emerged who could unify the opposition.
Zimmt considers it likely that the current protests will settle into a kind of basic revolutionary state in which neither the demonstrators nor the government can assert themselves. Iran's leadership wants to continue to take action against the protests with "resolute severity". But the activists are also determined: "We cannot return to the previous situation," says Farah. And Anahita, an activist from Tehran, writes to this newspaper: “I will never wear a headscarf again. This is a path of no return.”
*Names changed for security reasons. The real names are known to the editors.