A very different Generation Z leads the protest movement in Iran

Iranian Sociologists Analyze The Antigovernment Protests

Saturday, 01/07/2023

Iranian scholars, including those at the Iranian Sociologists Association have been analyzing the ongoing protests and trying to explain the nature of the movement.

Sociologists have also tried to assess the impact of the “Woman, Life Freedom” movement on the Iranian society and government. Some have described it as a women’s movement, a cultural revolution and a struggle against religious fundamentalism.

Others have said that understanding young Iranians is the key to making sense of the ongoing movement. This is a generation that wishes to be independent, individualistic, Internet savvy, and familiar with life on social media. This is in sharp contrast with the previous generation of Iranians.

Meanwhile it is significant that this movement enjoys unprecedented support from the international community and the Iranian diaspora.

According to Iranian sociologist Azam Khatam, her colleagues agree with her that there is a shift in Iran from demands for reform to a call for structural transformation. This is particularly where the Iranian government faces the annoying challenge of the current movement. However, the desire for a full transition among the activists and protesters is not in par with their capability to mobilize all those they want to bring to the streets.

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Khatam introduced a few characteristics of the movement to highlight its points of weakness and strength and show the contrasts between dreams and realities. These characteristics include the movement’s all-encompassing nature and the importance of the number of those who take part in it.

There is also the role of women’s hijab, where a cultural revolution meets a political revolution. There is the absence of mediation mechanisms between the protesters and the government such as political parties and free press, which the Islamic Republic has long destroyed.

Khatam also observed that the presence of various ethnic groups and the practice of civil disobedience has made a return to the pre-September 2022 situation impossible. What happened during the past four months changed political behavior in the streets. At the same time, protests opened a window to the depths of the Iranian society and showed everyone how courageous and unified it is despite its inherent diversity.

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Khatam noted that although the number of protesters is a significant factor, yet it cannot determine the fate of the uprising. She estimated that protests have a diverse power base and have brought at least two million Iranians to the streets in over 135 cities.

Nonetheless, as a result of the protests, the patriarchal structure of the Iranian society has become fragile in parts of the country where it is part of core values. She observed that during the first two months of the protests nine provincial capitals, Tehran, Esfahan, Mashad, Tabriz, Shiraz, Karaj, Sanandaj, Rasht and Kermanshah were the epicenters of unrest.

During the protests, streets have become the main venue for political activity where government's rules can be broken. That explains the radical slogans that were not so direct and sharp even in the 2017 and 2019 unrest. Meanwhile, the protesters have learned that they should keep clinging onto minimal achievement such as removing headscarves to make sure that putting any step back can discourage others. In fact, despite bragging by hardliners, the government no longer tries to enforce hijab in the streets although clerics insist that it should be observed in government offices.

The most important prospect of the movement on which many scholars agree is that the society cannot be taken back to pre-September situation. The protests have effectively prevented the regime from ending its international isolation and boosting oil revenues as the West cannot negotiate with Tehran while the protesters are in the streets. This gives some hope to dissidents, who do not want to see the regime prolonging its existence.

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