The death of 22-year-old Iranian Mahsa Amini, who was detained by the vice police, stirred up Iran. A powerful wave of protests swept across the country against harsh religious laws and the dominance of the clergy. The explosion of discontent came at a time of political uncertainty in Iran, sparked by rumors about the health of 83-year-old supreme leader Ali Khamenei and discussions about the candidacy of his potential successor. The situation is aggravated by the fading prospects for the removal of Western sanctions from Iran due to the likely breakdown of negotiations on a nuclear deal.
On Sunday, Iranian newspapers representing conservative and reformist media came out with radically different editorials. The conservative press focused on the participation on Saturday of Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei – amid rumors of his serious illness – in the mourning ceremony of Arbain (dedicated to the fortieth day after the tragic death of Imam Hussein in the 7th century, takes place every year in Iran and Iraq in accordance with Islamic lunar calendar). The reformists devoted central publications to the story of a 22-year-old girl Mahsa Amini from Iranian Kurdistan.
Mahsa Amini arrived in Tehran last week and was detained by the vice police as she was leaving the subway with her brother. The reason for the detention was the improperly worn hijab, the wearing of which is mandatory for all women in Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Recently, Iranian girls began to allow themselves not to cover their hair completely, and Mahsa Amini was no exception. Iranian security forces released a statement alleging that Ms. Amini suddenly collapsed from a heart attack in a detention center while undergoing hijab training and was taken to the hospital where she fell into a coma. On Friday, official reports of her death appeared. According to the media close to the Iranian authorities, the girl suffered from epilepsy and other diseases. However, her family denies this information. They believe that the death was the result of a beating in the detention center.
The funeral of the girl resulted in protests in her hometown of Sekkez, as well as in the administrative center of Iranian Kurdistan, the city of Senendej. More than 30 people were injured in clashes with security forces, according to Iranian human rights organizations. Protesters tore down posters of Ali Khamenei and chanted “Death to the dictator!” and “Shame on you!”.
Oppositional Iranian media also reported on a protest rally held on Sunday at Tehran University. The students were holding posters in Farsi and Kurdish, including those with the words “I don’t want to die!” and “Your blood will not be trampled!”, as well as “Women, life and freedom.”
A wave of indignation literally blew up the Iranian-speaking segment of the Internet. More than 2.5 million posts on Twitter and several tens of thousands on Telegram are devoted to the history of Mahsa Amini.
Many people remember other women tortured in Iranian prisons and say that everyone could have been in the place of the deceased girl. “The government is using heretical violence and cruelty against women, unseen even under the dictatorships of the Middle Ages,” tweeted prominent Iranian journalist Sara Masoumi, who usually writes about Iranian diplomacy and foreign policy. Many say that the situation in the country is worse than under the Taliban in Afghanistan (the Taliban movement is officially banned in the Russian Federation.— “uh”).
Given the degree of outrage in Iranian society, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi ordered an urgent official investigation into the causes of Mahsa Amini’s death. However, the intensity of passions has not subsided yet.
On Sunday, Iranian media reported that the situation in Sekkez is still tense, mobile communications are intermittent, although the Internet, which was disconnected the day before, is functioning again. A number of Iranian Kurdish parties and organizations have called for a general strike, as well as mourning for the death of Mahsa Amini. They were joined by Reza Pahlavi, the son of the last Shah of Iran, who lives in exile. He called to honor not only the memory of the deceased girl, but “and all the dead children of Iran.”
The death of Mahsa Amini also caused a wide reaction abroad. In particular, it was commented on by US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley, who accused Tehran of yet another violation of human rights.
The history of Mahsa Amini coincided with a period of political instability in Iran.
In recent weeks, the state of health of 83-year-old Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has practically ceased to appear in public and on September 6 missed a meeting of the Assembly of Experts, held twice a year with his obligatory presence, has been actively discussed. American newspaper on Friday The New York Times reported that the supreme leader canceled all meetings after undergoing surgery and continuing high fever. Seven years ago it was reported that Ali Khamenei was suffering from cancer. Against this background, there is a lot of discussion about who will succeed him as Iran’s supreme leader, which he has held since 1989. The two most frequently mentioned candidates are incumbent President Ebrahim Raisi and Khamenei’s son, 53-year-old Mojtaba. It is assumed that the future leader will be chosen by the Assembly of Experts, but there is no clear practice, given that the election procedure was carried out only once, in 1989. On Saturday, Ali Khamenei nevertheless appeared in public during the Arbaeen ceremony, but this did not remove questions about the future of Iran. Moreover, the fate of the country is very vague – the hope for the lifting of Western sanctions, associated with negotiations around the Iranian nuclear program, has practically melted away. The US believes that Tehran has put forward unacceptable conditions for the revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which would limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
“Given that Raisi took the presidency at a very unstable time for Iran (the nuclear deal has not been restored, sanctions are being tightened, the inflation rate is over 50%), it can be assumed that the presidency has become something like “political suicide” for him. And although the situation of the hereditary transfer of power of the supreme leader may cause discontent, but given the close ties of Mojtaba Khamenei with the security forces and the military sector, in particular with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), his candidacy may be a convenient option that guarantees the stability of the regime, in where the military and security services will retain their advantages,” Iranist Polina Vasilenko told Kommersant.
“There is no guarantee that the transition of power after Khamenei will lead to positive changes in Iran. After all, the IRGC has already paved the way for a safe transition so that the current political elite remains in place,” Hamidreza Azizi, a researcher at the German Institute for International Affairs and Security, told Kommersant. According to him, all this reduces the hopes of Iranian society for change, both political and economic. “Mahsa Amini’s death sparked an outcry unlike any seen in Iran since 2009, when another young Iranian, Neda Agha-Soltan, was gunned down by security forces during protests. But now literally everyone felt themselves in the place of Mahsa Amini. You do not need to go to protests to become a victim, ”explained the expert. He stressed that the authorities were simply forced to take control of the investigation into the death of Mahsa Amini in order to calm the situation, although people do not believe they will hear the truth. “But even if now the wave of protests subsides, each new incident will cause more and more frustration among the Iranians. Having lost hope for reforms, they will no longer be afraid,” Mr. Azizi added.