Protesters in Iran have been fighting a brave battle against overwhelmingly superior forces. They’ve been using their bodies and their lives to make a powerful statement to their countrymen and the world. “Women, life, freedom” is the simple, powerful message they’re sending out, and despite the regime’s brutal tactics, they remain unbowed and unbeaten.
“For now, the regime has demonstrated it has the will and ability to survive,” Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington told Newsweek. “After all, only 70 uniformed personnel vs. 475 protesters killed in street fights since September 17, 2022, is an acceptable statistic from the regime’s perspective.”
“As long as the protesters have no leadership, organization or funding, they fight a brave but, at least for now, futile battle,” he added. “The regime may not be able to clear the streets, but the protesters too can’t overthrow the regime.”
But what would happen if the regime’s enemies began to arm themselves? Then, the regime would be fighting for its survival.
In the provinces of Kurdistan, Sistan-Baluchistan, and Khuzestan, what might be termed a low-intensity revolution against the Islamic Republic has started. Each province is home to a minority with separatist aspirations. The Kurds, the Baluchis, and the ethnic Arabs in Khuzestan have had dreams of independence for decades and can make a case for it based on the brutal, discriminatory treatment they receive from authorities in Tehran.
Even acknowledging that some of the unrest is sponsored by foreign actors, there’s plenty of evidence that the protests in the separatist areas are home-grown.
One European diplomat with extensive experience on Iranian issues, who asked not to be named, told Newsweek outlined the litany of issues disturbing the peace of the Islamic Republic.
These included “the protest movement against the hijab, the tensions rising in the north in the Iranian Kurdistan along the border with Iraq, with Azerbaijan over Baku’s plans for a land connection to its exclave of Nakhchivan via Armenian territory — something which can affect the relations with Turkey — and the fragile situation in Sistan Baluchistan, due to the rising threats at the Pakistan-Afghan border with Iran of groups like Jaish ul-Adl and ISIS-K.”
The Kurds have relied on their brothers in Iraq for weapons and training. And while the most noticeable groups in Sistan-Baluchistan are tied to anti-Pakistan terror groups, there is also a local insurgency that supports the main protest in Tehran and other large cities.
Online videos showed dozens of women on the streets of the provincial capital Zahedan holding banners that declared “Woman, life, freedom” — one of the main slogans of the protest movement that erupted in mid-September.
“Whether with hijab, whether without it, onwards to revolution,” women clad in black, body-covering chadors chanted in videos posted on Twitter and verified by AFP.
These are conservative Sunni Arab women who are advocating for revolution — something unheard of in Iran until now.
— Sima Sabet | سیما ثابت (@Sima_Sabet) December 2, 2022
In Khuzestan province, students are forbidden from speaking their ethnic Arab language and are taught Persian instead. It’s one of the many annoyances and humiliations that the regime in Tehran will have to answer for as the protests continue.
For if a revolution is, indeed, ignited, it will be in these hotbeds of dissent and discontent. They still would be unable to win. But they might force real change at the point of a gun and leave the regime teetering toward oblivion.