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Iran’s Uprising: Precursor to a New Revolution

(Ozan Kose|AFP|Getty Images)

“The unrest that flared up in response to [Mahsa Amini’s] death has been virtually unprecedented and provides the international community with perhaps the clearest reminder that the Iranian people abhor authoritarianism.”

Mahsa Amini died on September 16th under suspicious circumstances after her arrest by Iran’s Guidance Patrol, the regime’s morality police, for wearing her hijab too loosely, likely beaten to death by the police. This event may have unwittingly set in motion the wheels of a new revolution and an end to religious rule in Iran. The unrest that flared up in response to her death has been virtually unprecedented and provides the international community with perhaps the clearest reminder that the Iranian people abhor authoritarianism. That is true for the self-anointed monarchs of the past or the authoritarian, unelected mullahs of the present. For this reason, Iranian-Americans (including in my home state of Pennsylvania) and members of Congress have been among the millions across the globe who have expressed solidarity with the Iranian people and urged the United States to recognize their resistance both politically and morally.

Even before these widespread protests began, Congressmen Scott Perry, Brian Fitzpatrick, and Guy Reschenthaler of Pennsylvania were among the 52 members of Congress who authored a bipartisan letter asking the White House to deny Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, an entry visa to the United States.

“Given Ebrahim Raisi’s record of supporting terrorism and violating human rights, he should not be afforded the privilege to step onto American soil,” Congressmen Perry, Fitzpatrick, Reschenthaler, and the members wrote in early September. “We cannot turn a blind eye to perpetrators of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights and cruel regimes that endanger both their people and Americans,” they continued. 

President Raisi did, unfortunately, enter the United States, and he used his September 21st United Nations speech to spew lies and hatred. All the while, the protests for democratic regime change continued to brew inside and outside of Iran. 

The sheer scale and demographic diversity of the ongoing uprising are significant in their own right. What makes the present movement stand out is the open fury being directed toward the absolute clerical rule, as well as the resilience the protesters have demonstrated in the face of violent crackdowns.  

Despite expanded restrictions on the Internet, videos have continued to leak out of Iran depicting protesters defending themselves with their bare hands. They have done so while destroying images of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and former Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Commander Qasem Soleimani, the latter of whom was killed in an American drone strike in 2020. Gruesome videos from Iran confirm extrajudicial killings of captured protesters filmed taking their last few breaths after being shot. In short, the streets of Iran are today the site of an unfair hand-to-hand combat between the Iranian resistance and fully-armed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) members.

Although estimates differ, the Norwegian non-profit Iran Human Rights believes that at least 154 protesters have been killed since the beginning of the demonstrations. Over 15,000 have likely also been arrested. However, this has not diminished the extent or the ferocity of public confrontations with the regime. It is fair to say that this uprising represents a turning point from which the regime may never recover.

Ironically, this is precisely how the regime itself assesses the situation, and it explains why its leaders have responded with such intense and fatal violence from the outset. It is also why the authorities appear to have killed Amini for the crime of allowing just a bit too much hair to escape her hijab. Her violent arrest and subsequent beating were part of a much broader campaign directed by President Raisi and his gang to tame widespread societal discontent, after years of citizens chipping away at its fundamentalist underpinnings.

The regime knows that it cannot survive an unchecked uprising and that it cannot offer concessions to end the unrest, either. This leaves it no other option but expanded repression of dissent, which its leaders hope to carry out under cover of darkness. Thus, there have been many reports of Internet access being cut off throughout the country, especially in areas where shootings by security forces have been accelerating.

To their credit, Western governments and private entities have expressed an understanding of the need to keep Iranians online and supported. Congress is acting. This month, New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced a resolution in support of the Iran uprising, which would be joined by a number of colleagues on both sides of the aisle: 

“Whether through the simple, brave act of removing a hijab, standing in solidarity with those who do, or documenting the regime’s crimes against protestors and telling their story to the world despite increasing violence and communications blackouts, these expressions reflect an honest truth and deeply-held desperation we shouldn’t ignore,” Chairman Menendez said. He continued: “Iranians must know that we in the U.S. Congress, across the United States and around the world see and honor their bravery and share in their hope for a free Iran that is at peace with its neighbors as well as its own people.”

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, Congressman Fitzpatrick joined his Foreign Affairs Committee colleagues to cosponsor  H.Res.1397, “Condemning the Government of Iran’s torture and murder of Mahsa Amini and its crackdown on protesters seeking basic human rights, and supporting the protesters in their demands for freedom.” Our community certainly applauds these important efforts and concurs with the resolution “call[ing] on the Secretary of the Treasury to continue sanctioning those responsible for the violent suppression of peaceful protests, including regime officials implicated in the murder of Mahsa Amini.”

Since the end of 2017, the chants of “Death to the oppressor, be it the shah or the supreme leader (Khamenei)!” have been a common refrain in mass protests across Iran. The international community must recognize the importance of this message as well as the lengths Iranians are going to bring an end to the theocratic dictatorship. Their effort needs and deserves the United States’ political backing.

Concrete plans for guaranteeing that the ayatollahs do not continue to kill with impunity must be initiated. The United Nations has a role, the United States has a role, and our partners in the free world bear similar responsibility. Helping to assure that information flows freely into and out of Iran is one such concrete step. Similarly, many Western policymakers, including dozens of congressional leaders, have long recognized that regime change—with the 10-point plan from Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran—is necessary to ensure lasting democratic change in Iran. It is in this capacity that the United States’ political recognition of the Iran resistance, the largest and most organized of which is the National Council of Resistance of Iran, becomes a palpable necessity.

Kazem Gholami is the president of  the Iranian American Community of Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia resident, a member of the Organization of Iranian American Communities, a civil engineer and a retired member of the Iran traditional wrestling team.

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