Iran in Crisis: 2022 Version

How can we make sense of Iran’s crisis in September 2022? Is it a women’s rights movement? Is it a civil rights movement? Is it a prelude to a revolution to topple over the Islamic Republic? Is it an outcry to change an authoritarian supreme leader? Or something else?

To add to the complexity of the issues at hand, we are faced with a multitude of other questions? What is a favorable outcome? How can we help? Is it destined to die down in the absence of clear leadership? Could the regime’s iron feast and shutting down the Internet manage the situation?

We cannot understand the undertones of Iran’s place in the world without appreciating the three driving forces of the root causes of its peril:

Dwindling Diversity & Exclusionist Approach: First and foremost, the problem lies in a misguided intent of the Islamic Regime to create a homogeneous Shia society after the Revolution of 1979. That led to the prosecution, social exclusion and out-flux of Jewish, Christian, Baha’i, Assyrian, Zoroastrian, Sufist, and many Sunni Iranian who couldn’t see a viable future for their children under that regime. The same blade pointed at intellectuals, artists, authors, LGBTQi community and simply anyone who didn’t match the strict doctrine of the supreme leader and his successor.

On the other hand, women’s exclusion has had a very paradoxical story in Iran. In a country that 60% of their college graduate are women, when it comes to their dress code, freedom of choice and ability to hold high office and leadership roles, they are treated very poorly and sometimes with utmost disrespect and humiliation. The majority of women in Iran don’t believe in a strict Islamic dress code and the majority of men affiliated with them, i.e. their fathers, brothers, partners and sons support that view. Hence, it’s no wonder that a catastrophic event like Mahsa Amini’s death ignites the entire nation (and all those in exile) as almost every Iranian soul can identify with the pain of being humiliated, excluded, harassed and even persecuted because of their inherent and natural identities.

If there is any path out of this crisis for Iran, if anyone wants to wildly-imagine a bright future for this country? Well, such bright future cannot exist without addressing the huge value that our diversity has. It cannot exist without truly including diverse voices, regardless of their gender, religious backgrounds, neuro-diversity, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Obviously, freedom of dress code and relaxing the hijab rules can be regarded as a favorable short-term outcome, but without addressing the fundamental patriarchal systems that fuels gender inequalities in Iran and similar countries, we wouldn’t see true progress.

This short blog wouldn’t be complete without addressing the other two crisis-provoking forces in Iran. They are not directly linked to the current uprising, but they have been a cause for decline in the place of Iran as a nation in the world.

Isolationist Policy: In short, Iran is currently one of the few nations that had a 180 degree turn in its originally-outwardly policy toward the globe. We missed the boat when it came to globalization two decades ago and thanks to international sanctions, Iran’s economy and markets are mostly segregated from the rest of the world. Who is here to blame? Arguably, a “no-West-no-East” doctrine introduced in 1979. As if by severing relationships, economical and political, we are motivated to become self-reliant and independent. Little we knew that this isolation led Iran that had the potential of becoming a trillion dollar non-oil-dependent economy, into a dwarf economy struggling to make ends meet. More on that in other blogs…

Paranoia and Trust Issues: Iran had a very bitter-sweet (mostly bitter) relationships with its neighbors and allies. Our history is filled with stories of being brutally invaded from the East, West, North and South over and over again. The relationship with Western powers is mixed with being betrayed and exploited over the past two centuries. If Iran was a person, people would have said it “has trust issues”. It takes a long time to rebuild that trust and to allow ourselves to be open to new relationships, especially with the US and European nations. Our relationships with our neighbors is also filled with those bitter-sweet memories. Therefore, a nation-building exercise in Iran cannot be regarded as complete without addressing those critical relationships regionally and globally.

Let’s end this with answering some of the questions posed in the second paragraph:

What is a favorable outcome? Based on the above argument, abolishing the morality police is not a favorable long-term outcome. It’s the system that fuels patriarchy, discrimination, and injustice toward women. Anything short of a system change would not address the root cause of our crisis.

How can we help? Well, it depends where you are and who you are. I am personally a fan of non-violent action and civil disobedience. That’s what Iranian women and men have been doing for decades now and they are taking it to a different level. Just simple (and extremely brave) acts of disobedience such as partially or fully removing hijab shakes the oppressors foundations to the core. More than anything, it’s the persistence over time that catalyzes the change. The victory is not by outnumbering or out-gunning the oppressors. It’s by changing their minds and hearts so they would flip and come to your side.

Is it destined to die down in the absence of clear leadership? Not necessarily. In some cultures including Iran, there is a common belief that no movement can be victorious without leadership. That’s not true. There are a multitude of movements (civil or revolutionary) that the leadership emerged as the struggles advanced toward victory. And sometimes, a leader was elected after change happened.

Could the regime’s iron feast and shutting down the Internet manage the situation? Most likely yes but for short-term. The longer it takes, the less fearful people become. No system can suppress the majority of its people and survive long. That’s why there is so much hope, so much fresh air in this unique uprising of Iranians whose wishes are beautifully summarized in one of their key slogans: women, life and liberty.