Protests continue in Iran. Iranian expert Cornelius Adebahr on the regime’s violence and why he didn’t expect the political system to collapse quickly.
The death toll in protests criticizing the system in Iran continues to rise. Human rights organization Amnesty International said on Thursday that 82 people, including children, were killed by security forces in the southeast of the country alone when the protests were suppressed. Security forces shot real ammunition and tear gas at the demonstrators and their surroundings in the city of Sadehan last Friday.
The New York-based Iranian Human Rights organization has accused authorities of targeted actions against journalists and human rights activists – at least 92 civil society actors are among the more than 1,200 arrested by the organization since Sept. But the actual number of arrests is likely much higher, according to the organization.
Cornelius Adebahr, Iran expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), assesses the current course of protests for ZDFheute.
ZDFtoday: How extensive are the protests now – and what sets them apart from previous waves of protests?
Cornelius Adebahr: There is no reliable information about the number of protesters, but as far as we can see, the protests are spreading across the country. Beginning with the brutal death of the young Mahsa Amini, in different parts of Iran, people from all walks of life take to the streets and despise the Islamic Republic system.
This is different from previous waves of protest, such as the 2009 Green Movement, which was more political and capital-centric. Or rather the riots between 2017 and 2019 that stemmed from the economic desperation of the poorer classes.
ZDFtoday: How do ports work? Are there structures and organizations behind it?
Adebahr: No leadership so far, but these are spontaneous, often local protests. In this way, people can coordinate without the Internet or through the remaining communication options. During the day, i.e. “office hours”, the government repeatedly goes online, as companies and government agencies depend on it. This also allows activists to send pictures and videos, for example, via encrypted channels.
ZDFtoday: There were many deaths, especially in the southeast. Do you expect the violence to increase even more?
Adebahr: The Iranian leadership is not known for making concessions on systemic issues, such as the hijab requirement, the most visible manifestation of oppression against women.
Rather, it can be observed that the regime has improved its ability to suppress protests – look to the “preemptive” arrests of lawyers, journalists and civil society actors to stop the movement in the bud.
ZDFtoday: How would you describe the government’s response? Rather overwhelmed or savagely thought out?
Adebahr: He may be “brutally overwhelmed”, but first of all, keep your back to the wall: the stronger the pressure, the more dead, the fewer responsible. Those with bleeding hands will do whatever they can to crush the protests, because if they give up they don’t want to be seen as a pawn and they don’t want to be held accountable for a possible knockdown.
ZDFtoday: Could the wave of protest even lead to the collapse of the system? What is the current result?
Adebahr: Of course this could be the beginning of the end of the Islamic Republic, so parallels are drawn over and over again to 1978 as the beginning of the Islamic Revolution. At that time, however, there was already a leader in exile who could trust the country’s structures through mosques and clergy. We are a long way from that in today’s Iran.
Nils Metzger asked the questions.