The GuardianThe Guardian

Iran’s moment of truth: What will it take for the people to topple the regime?

By Christopher de Bellaigue

06 Dec 2022 · 21 min read

Editor's Note

Previous attempts to unseat the hardliners of the Islamic Republic have been suppressed and condemned to failure. Will the current protest movement meet a different fate? The Guardian dives deep.

For the past 12 weeks, revolutionary sentiment has been coursing through the cities and towns of the Persian plateau. The agitation was triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman, on 16 September after she was arrested by the morality police in Tehran. From the outset the movement had a feminist character, but it has also united citizens of different classes and ethnicities around a shared desire to see the back of the Islamic Republic. Iran has known numerous protest movements over the past decade and a half, and the nation’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has comfortably suppressed each one with a combination of severity and deft exploitation of divisions within the opposition. This time, however, the resilience and unity shown by the regime’s opponents have consigned the old pattern of episodic unrest to the past. Iran has entered a period of rolling protest in which the Islamic Republic must defend itself against wave upon wave of public anger.

In their retaliation against the protesters, the security forces have killed at least 448 people, including 60 children and 29 women, and made up to 17,000 arrests. Thirty-six protesters have been charged with capital crimes, according to Hadi Ghaemi of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, including several people accused of killing members of the security forces. Still, the authorities insist that they have erred on the side of restraint. On 9 November the commander of Iran’s ground forces warned that Khamenei only needed to say the word and the opposition “flies” would “without question have no place left in the country”.

Sign in to informed

  • Curated articles from premium publishers, ad-free
  • Concise Daily Briefs with quick-read summaries
  • Read, listen, save for later, or enjoy offline
  • Enjoy personalized content