The GuardianThe Guardian

We watch the protests in Iran and hope, but false optimism may be clouding our eyes

25 Sep 2022 · 4 min read

Editor's Note

The piece argues that although the protests in Iran are undoubtedly important and inspirational, they may not have the long term influence that many are predicting.

In the second week of December 1978, between 1 and 2 million people marched peacefully through Tehran calling for the Shah to leave. Around a fifth to almost a half of the city’s population was on the streets. The CIA, warily watching opposition in a key regional ally and client for US arms, noted that one man was “the focal point”, providing “guidance and support for the movement acting in his name in Iran”. This was the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then thousands of miles away in exile in Paris, though his portrait was carried by many of the marchers.

Decades later and the regime established by Khomeini is still in power in Iran. Crowds are on the streets again in Tehran and other Iranian cities following the death on 16 September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, arrested by the morality police, who accused her of breaking laws on wearing the hijab introduced by Khomeini’s regime in 1981. Women have thrown headscarves on to fires, vast posters celebrating the regime have been torn down, police stations torched. The unrest appears set to intensify.

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