The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2023

All Issues
MAY 2023 Issue
Field Notes

The Jina Rebellion

Elements of an Analysis of the Movement in Iran

Pirehelokan, <em>A sign with “Woman, Life, Freedom” on it in Central and Northern Kurdish as well as English</em>, 2022.
Pirehelokan, A sign with “Woman, Life, Freedom” on it in Central and Northern Kurdish as well as English, 2022.

A young woman falls; a people rises up; it has already been four months that this people—tortured, wounded, bloodied—is still standing, waving a banner with the device: “Woman, Life, Freedom!”

This image is what the world remembers from the uprising in Iran that followed Jina’s murder.1 However, the history of the struggle of the Iranian peoples against the forces of darkness exceeds this epic scene. In reality, behind the scene, there is the whole complexity of a class struggle. This article will not suffice for the analysis and understanding of this struggle, but we think that, to be taken seriously, even a modest discussion of this movement should try to decipher its contradictions.

The reaction that provoked that scene should be understood as following a history of daily repression, of permanent torture, of continuous degradation of the quality of life of the Iranian peoples, a history that began the day after the clergy’s arrival to power in 1979. This uprising must be understood as one moment of a movement of opposition that has already lasted forty-four years.

This is why we don’t think we are experiencing a new and unexpected movement: the current uprising, although novel in its characteristics (in particular, the large involvement of women, not only among the mass of the demonstrators but also in positions of leadership and in clandestine activities like graffiti writing, throwing Molotovs, etc.) is part of the continuum of one protest movement that, after each disaster produced by the regime, has won over the Iranian peoples, one social group after another.

Jina’s death must therefore be thought of as the last drop that made the rage of the Iranians overflow; this rage has been accumulating since the inauguration of the Islamic Republic. Rage against a theocratic dictatorship whose hatred of individual liberty is symbolized by the obligatory veil and clothing codes, a rent-extracting dictatorship whose structural corruption has progressively reduced the life of the Iranian peoples to “survival,” a brutal dictatorship whose capacity to snuff out the least critical voice is beyond anything imaginable. However, what distinguishes this movement from others, in view of its breadth, duration, and radicality, is that it can be seen as the culminating moment of all the struggles against the Islamic regime. And since it is a movement without leaders or spokespeople, we can look at it unfiltered and listen to it without an intermediary, allowing us to see the aspects of this uprising that have been hidden or minimized by the filters of the media or political organizations. This is why we insist on what the movement says through its acts and its words. By analyzing certain of the most widespread slogans,2 we can emphasize the characteristics, the possibilities, and also the limits of the Jina Rebellion.


“Dear Jina, you are not dead, your name has become a symbol!” This sentence written on Jina’s tomb has been proven correct. Hence the fact that some call today’s movement the “Jina Rebellion.” Even if this is not the name used by everyone, there is no doubt that the uprising is connected to the death of a young woman whose name means “woman.”

Because she is a woman and a Kurd

If it is by chance that this movement began with the death of a young woman whose name means “woman,”3 there is nothing insignificant about the choice of the slogan, “Woman, Life, Freedom!” It was Turkish Kurds who started using this slogan some years ago. Jina was a Kurd; she was killed by a centralizing regime that oppresses various ethnic groups. Hence the symbolic charge of this image, which recalls the repression experienced by the Kurds since the Islamic counter-revolution began.4

The fact that Jina was a Kurd probably played a role in the fact that she received a mortal blow to the head, and was certainly a determinant of its consequence: the mourning of her family was transformed into political rage against the regime. The Kurds have maintained a sharp political consciousness throughout the four decades of repression by the Islamic Republic. They do not miss a single occasion—this one is only particularly dramatic—to demonstrate their hatred of this regime. However, it would be reductive to say that if Jina had not been a Kurd there would not have been massive protests in Iran. That this movement is not limited to Kurdistan but has touched every corner of the country, even the most peripheral, shows that other elements were involved.

Control of the female body

The Iranian peoples have witnessed the state’s systematic repression of women for forty-three years. This is the amount of time it took for the Iranians to find it no longer acceptable for a woman to be beaten to death by the morals police simply for not having obeyed the clothing codes of the regime or its mores.5 One of the first slogans taken up by the indignant demonstrators demonstrates this: “Death for the veil, how much contempt is this?” This contempt was born with the regime itself: as soon as it came to power the Islamic Republic laid its fist on the female body. The day after the revolution, chasing unveiled women through the street, the guardians of the republic cried, “Either wear the veil or get a knock on the head.” Today women, but also men, have altered this very slogan: “Neither the veil nor a knock on the head, freedom and equality!”

It is self-evident that the refusal of the veil as a symbol of submission goes together with the demand for liberty; one must be free to be able to say: neither this nor that. The struggle for freedom thus appears to be the only road for the women who say “No” to patriarchal control over their bodies. However, freedom seems to be the Achilles heel of this movement: people want to be “free,” sure, but how free? This is what defenders of the regime ask the protestors, suggesting, “You want to be free to run around naked”; “Since freedom and nudity are the same, you only want to spread immorality”; “You, unveiled girls, demand freedom because you are no more than sluts.” Falling into this trap, young women and men try to defend themselves: “We are not immoral. We don’t want to be naked, we don’t want to undress, we want to be free to live.”6

Some opponents of the regime justify this response with the idea that by reducing freedom to nakedness the regime supporters caricature the movement, leaving unmentioned its actual demands. That is true, but these opponents themselves participate in a misunderstanding by claiming that the pro-regime side has not understood that this movement wants only respect for the dignity of women. For this justification suggests that certain people in rebellion de facto share a vision with the partisans of the established order: nakedness, or the public exposure of the female body, is against morality. Clearly, this shows that for the moment this movement cannot—or does not wish to—transgress the traditional culture, a culture which for centuries has distinguished the “good” girl from the “bad” by the rules of modesty and purity that people follow. Hence the slogan of the women defending their dignity in the universities and in the streets: “It is you [partisan of the regime] who is perverse, I am a free woman!:”7 It is interesting to note that up till now, despite the political radicality of this movement, no slogan demands women’s total control of their bodies, sexual freedom, the right to abortion, etc.8

A feminist movement?

In 1979, one month after the mullahs took power, there were big demonstrations against Khomeini’s decision to make the veil obligatory. In contrast, there were none against the abolition of the “family protection law” passed in 1967, and modified in the interest of women in 1974, which, though it did not go so far as to recognize “formal equality” between women and men, accorded certain civic rights to women.9 After the revolution, this law, considered as violating Islamic laws, was the first of the previous regime to be abolished by the mullahs’ government. In doing this, the mullahs openly opposed so-called modern women, whose social role was not restricted to domestic and reproductive tasks. Why did this attack on women’s rights not immediately provoke a significant opposition? The answer to this question lies in the patriarchal structures deeply rooted in a popular culture based on a pre-capitalist mode of production.

Women’s access to higher education has increased significantly under the Islamic
Republic. Far from being a sign of the benevolence and good intentions of the regime, this was an answer to growing unemployment: as there were no structures to absorb the first generation born under the regime, called “the army of twenty million,”10 into the labor market, it was necessary to retard its entrance into active work. University education thus functioned to momentarily get rid of the problem of massive unemployment. There are more than 2,500 universities (private and public) in Iran, while the number of hospitals, for example, is less than 1,000! It is in this way that Iranian women have come to be more and more educated and certified, while there are no jobs for them. Thus they experience a discrimination extended to every aspect of social life, not only because their academic careers lead to nothing but because in addition they are obliged to obey rules appropriate to a patriarchal society in which a woman is above all a wife and mother.

This narrow framework, which underestimates the capacities of these women with diplomas, provokes more and more indignation and revolt. They demand recognition corresponding to their merit and their value; they feel themselves capable of going on the labor market and want their labor power to be remunerated in line with their value. These things are impossible to achieve, not so much because the regime is, as some people think, “anti-woman,” but because the industrialization of Iran has halted for a long time.11 It is because the regime is incapable of setting up a viable economic structure that it is “anti-woman,” and that the latter can do nothing but work to reproduce the labor force.

Although the woman question lies at the heart of this movement, one should therefore not overestimate the radicality of its “feminism”: up till now it upholds a figure of “the woman” occupying her feminine role; the woman remains “woman.” As already mentioned, confronted with the accusation of immorality, the movement is defensive. Besides, something that makes us downplay or call into question the correctness of the discourse describing the ongoing movement as essentially feminine or which overestimates the radicality of its feminism, is the emergence at its center of a slogan antipodal to the “feminist cause”: As soon as the cry, “Woman, Life, Freedom!” was heard, its direct opposite was also heard: “Man, Fatherland, Prosperity!”—heard for the first time at the medical school in Shiraz, then taken up elsewhere, above all in middle-class circles. It is an irony of history that the regime has echoed this slogan. The nature of the movement for “Woman, Life, Freedom!” seems revealed by this seeming contradiction: a struggle to become “free” to be “a woman” who can have a “normal life”12 must necessarily go by way of a “man,” the figure of a state protective of human rights, in order to lead “the fatherland” to “prosperity.”13

Certainly, this aspect of the movement will not satisfy its most radical fractions, those who think, in effect, that this is the only way open to realize the slogan, “Woman, Life, Freedom!” and that it is possible to go further on the “feminist” question. However, given the actual state of affairs, it seems that the first reading is closer to the majority point of view, which wishes for a state of laws, democratic and secular. One could argue that in this idea—“Woman, Life, Freedom!”—we hear the voices of radicalized members of the middle class, while noting that this is not to say that the movement is solely the expression of that class. To the contrary, it is in the direct lineage of the “uprising of the starving” of Spring 2022,14 of the “uprising of the thirsty” of Summer 2021,15 of the “Aban uprising” of 2019,16 and also of the uprisings of Summer 201817 and Winter 2017.18 All put down in blood, these uprisings expressed a hitherto unknown anger and bitterness that have fed the “Jina rebellion.”

In truth, for several years, the refusal of the obligatory veil has been joined to so-called economic demands and the revolt against poverty. In 2019, the students made a fairly clear list of what disgusted them: “unemployment, unpaid labor, the obligatory veil for women.” They were indignant about “anti-woman laws, exploitation, and tyranny.” This is why we think that a strictly feminist approach that makes the abolition of the obligatory hijab the sole demand and the determining factor of this movement is without a doubt incorrect, because it doesn’t take into account the importance of the economic misery suffered by the population, without which the current movement would never have achieved its breadth. By minimizing this phenomenon of pauperization, which has intensified over the recent years, this way of looking at things contributes to obscuring the condition of the poorest women (and men).

Photographs and videos of veiled women marching hand in hand with unveiled women appear to confirm this analysis: they all confront the forces of repression with the cry of “With or without the veil, forward for the revolution!” The women and men fighting with their bare hands against the armed guards of the Islamic Republic, who are ready to mutilate and even to kill, know very well that what motivates them to put their lives in danger goes far beyond the simple question of the veil. This is why they cry: “We have neither bread nor home, the veil is just the pretext!” Beyond the question of the veil and freedom, what has convinced the protesters to confront the forces of repression is growing precarity and paralyzing poverty. “Poverty, corruption, high cost of living—let’s overthrow the regime!”19 in the words of one slogan in tune with the reasons for people’s anger.

The radicalism of social despair

The identity of the person who struck the fatal blow on Jina’s head has never been made public. But everyone knows her assassin, everyone knows his name: Seyed Ali Khamenei. People want him to go. The most widespread slogan is: ”Down with Khamenei!” It could be heard since the day of Jina’s funeral, at Saqez (Kurdistan), where she was born. A number of other slogans directly attack the regime—and the man who has run it for more than thirty years: “So many years of crimes, down with this regime” or “Khamenei is a killer, he has no right to rule!”20 The deaths of young people has brought back the memory of Zahak, a symbol par excellence of cruelty and tyranny.21 Mixing hatred and courage, the women of Shiraz cried out, “Khamenei, you are Zahak, we will bury you!”

The radicality of this movement stems in part from the cruelty the regime has practiced against its opponents. For this regime has oppressed revolutionaries since its arrival in power. Already during the first years after the victory of the counter-revolution more than ten thousand mujahedin and communists were killed, and between three thousand and four thousand more were executed in two months in 1988. If the movement has become as radical as it is today, it is because there is no more hope. The idea of political reform, which lasted for more than twenty years, has completely failed. It is already four years since the students announced its death when they addressed the reformists and their opponents together: “Reformists, fundamentalists, your hour has come!”22

In other words, the game of the “lesser evil” is finished. The middle class no longer exists economically, and a black poverty is crushing the working class. The shortage of water has convinced the peasantry, one of the long-time pillars of the regime, that “The enemy is at home, they lie when they say it is the United States!” Retired people, no longer able to eat, shout that “We will win our rights only in the streets!” The Bazaar, the traditional ally of the regime, detests it more than ever, closing its shops and shouting extremely radical slogans like this: “This year is the year of blood, Syed Ali will be overthrown.”23 In short, everyone feels themself, in one way or another, a victim of the same tyrant and joins in the unanimous cry: “The whole regime must go.”

When revolt becomes revolution

While “experts” and “people in the know” are wondering about the nature of this wave of protest, the students explain it clearly: “It’s not a protest any more, but the beginning of a revolution.” Here, for the first time, we hear named what we can see with our eyes: the “revolution.”24 Revolution, that forbidden word, is returning to the scene of Iranian history. The Islamic Republic appropriated it, emptying it of its meaning. Rejecting everything that comes from and belongs to the regime, the people thus for many years have felt a natural reluctance to employ this captive word, “revolution.” If the regime was “revolutionary,” its opponents could not be. Besides, anyone who opposed the regime was called “anti-revolutionary.” Today, the rules of the game have reversed: since the people want a “revolution,” the regime finds itself disarmed on the semantic field.

It is nevertheless important to stress that the “reformist” forces and the royalists share a rejection of the “revolution.” The former cultivate fear of it, referring to the fate of Syria. For them, any attempt to abolish the Islamic Republic could lead to chaos and the emergence of separatist groups. A good part of the middle class wont to nationalist ideology took this threat seriously, showing themselves favorable to “reformist” politics. But today the blocking of the reform policy has become obvious and the fear of the “Syrianization” of Iran is declining; there is a sort of “national solidarity” visible in slogans like “From Kurdistan to Tehran, I will give my life for Iran.”

The Kurds, who have been and remain the first target of ferocious repression, are not giving up the fight, repeating that “Resistance is life.” Their courage more and more motivates other peoples; the inhabitants of Tehran cry, “Kurdistan, an example for all Iran” and “Kurdistan, Iran’s barricade.” Finally, after the massacre of the Baluchis in Zahedan,25 we heard everywhere “Zahedan, Kurdistan, the favorites of Iran.” To the extent that the repression of the Kurds and the Baluchis is intensifying, the message of solidarity among the peoples of Iran is spreading: in Kurdistan one hears “Kurd, Baluchi, and Turk, freedom and equality” and the Baluchis reacted to the bloody repression of the Kurds with the cry “Kurds and Baluchis are brothers, they thirst for the blood of the Supreme Leader.”

A struggle within the struggle

The royalists and right-wing opposition that gravitates around the son of the Shah constitute, as mentioned, another political group for whom the word “revolution” has only a negative connotation.26 Traumatized by the abolition of their privileges as a consequence of the 1979 revolution, the royalists prefer to use the word “subversion,” even calling themselves “subversives.” The fear and hatred inspired by the word “revolution” leads them to prefer the pejorative concept of “rebellion” for what happened in 1979. During the years when the quality of life has fallen for Iranians, the royalists have created a counter-narrative featuring the myth that the Shah’s regime had nearly achieved paradise on earth for the Iranians, proof that the uprising against the monarchy could only have been a moment of madness on the part of a well-nourished people bewitched by the mullahs and communist delirium. But despite the efforts of the royalists, the spirit of the 1979 revolution sill breathes in this movement, as is shown by the slogan “Freedom, freedom, freedom!” chanted in the streets to the same melody as the most important slogan of the 1979 revolt, “Down with the Shah, down with the Shah, down with the Shah!”27

One cannot deny that certain layers of the middle class, and even of the lower classes, believe in this myth of the Golden Age. Aside from the dogged work of the pro-royalist media to sell the illusion of a powerful Iran where everyone lived in joy and harmony thanks to the Pahlavi dynasty, one should not ignore the role which the Islamic Republic has played in whitewashing the preceding regime. In fact, by falsifying the cause of the revolution of 1979, the current regime’s propaganda apparatus has over the years participated in constructing this mythical illusion. For example, by proposing the idea that the Iranian peoples rose up against the Shah to install an Islamic regime or to glorify “dear Islam” it hides the real causes of the revolution against the Pahlavi regime—on the one hand, the social discrimination and the revolting economic gulf between the hangers-on of the royal family and their allies and the rest of the population, and, on the other, the violent repression of any opposition by political absolutism. By massacring an entire generation of communists, the Islamic Republic succeeded in effacing the traces of a political movement advancing the class struggle, which had succeeded in overthrowing the Shah’s regime. In this way they created a space for the lying illusions of the partisans of royalty.

The liberal media—the Persian-language BBC, Voice of America, Iran International, Manoto, etc.—on their side, prepare an alternative to the Islamic Republic by constantly featuring the representatives of royalism or those who opportunistically support that tendency. As much as they can, they massively diffuse the slightest sign, image, or act in favor of royalism, and silently pass over the great signs that call into question the dream of the prince (the Shah’s son) to occupy the throne in his turn. But the peoples most deprived under the Pahlavi regime show that they are not taken it: the Baluchis, for example, go into the streets after every Friday prayer and chant the most radical slogans against the current regime without forgetting the earlier one: “Neither the kingdom nor the Islamic Republic, equality and freedom!”

The partisans of the current government and the enthusiasts of the old regime agree in falsifying history by eliminating one basic fact: it was a class struggle that overthrew the Shah and is also going to overthrow the mullahs. By falsifying the real causes of the unfinished revolution of 1979, both show their shared interest in seeing to it that that revolution is never completed. Both camps are enemies of those who no longer tolerate the idea of living under guardianship—that of “the shadow of God” or that of “the sign of God.”28 There is therefore, within the struggle against the current regime, another struggle to carry on against the royalist forces. Those who wish to leave the vicious circle of the lesser evil therefore shout: “We want neither Shah nor mullah, down with all tyrants!”

Waiting for the last word …

The Jina Rebellion has not yet said its last word: the forces of repression beat, mutilate, imprison, torture, and kill, but the revolutionary wave has not stopped. The repression has been very heavy: around six hundred people killed and more than twenty thousand others thrown in prison. However, no strategy of repression can really succeed in extinguishing the anger of the revolutionaries. The executions of four young men in December 2022 and January 202329 certainly slowed down the movement, but without stopping it. In different sectors of the economy groups of workers have been going on strike—strikes that last only a few days but will increasingly weaken the regime. When the power of the repressive apparatus makes demonstrations impossible, the revolution will manifest itself by other means, by nocturnal chants, graffiti and caricatures on the walls, the widespread posting of images of the fallen.

There are so many ways to express desires and anger, to make struggles visible. It’s hard to believe that the revolution will be stopped, even without street demonstrations. The oppressed peoples of Iran have acquired an assurance that nothing will go back to the way it was, that it is no longer possible to continue like this, that the choice is as clear as this graffiti says: “If we don’t arise, we will be destroyed.”

  1. Mahsa Amini having been called Jina—her Kurdish first name—by her family and friends, we prefer to use this name here.
  2. That said, we would like to make clear that no translation—the reader of this will please excuse us—can capture the power of these slogans, which carry an emotional dimension shared collectively by the Iranian peoples.
  3. In Persian: “Zan, Zendegui, Azadi”: in Kurdish: “Jin, Jian, Azadi.” Etymologically, “zan” (woman) is the root of “zendegui” (life). It is the woman who gives birth to the living being (“zende”); in other words, life flows from woman. In fact, “zan” is the Arabized equivalent of the ancient word “jan” (which also means “soul”), pronounced “jin” in Kurdish.
  4. Two months after the 1979 revolution, the new regime attacked the Kurdish people and, four months later, on Khomeini’s orders, declared war on Kurdistan.
  5. Jina’s murder was not the only or first case of this type. Zahra Bani Yaghoub, a young doctor, was also killed by the morals police in Hamdedan in 2007.
  6. Soon after Jina’s murder, when exiled Iranians organized demonstrations around the planet, an Iranian woman appeared “naked” in the Netherlands, using a megaphone to speak to regime supporters: “Why are you afraid of this body?” The most intriguing thing is that her act, undressing in public, appeared to provoke the same panic among the opponents of the regime as among its supporters. A good part of the former condemned this act, openly calling the woman an “agent of the regime.”
  7. Although we think that the exposure of the female body is still taboo among the majority of Iranians, it should not be forgotten that there is a lag (or an opposition) between the normative system of a large portion of the participants in this movement and the traditional, religious ideas of the regime and many others. This is shown, for instance, by images of people embracing in the street, an act that neither the regime nor traditional morality tolerates—even if the two people are married! Another example: that of amorous relations outside of marriage, which are becoming increasingly common.
  8. It must be noted that in Iran as elsewhere women have abortions, but clandestinely, thus risking their lives. According to the law, abortion is intentional homicide; a woman aborting a fetus can therefore be condemned to death. This is why the legalization of abortion is hardly a detail.
  9. This law forbade the marriage of girls younger than 18; a man could not divorce his wife except under certain conditions; the right to divorce was also granted to women in certain cases; a wife had to consent to her husband’s taking a second wife; the wife had the same right as her husband to forbid her spouse to take a job considered dishonorable.
  10. This comes from a slogan launched by Khomeini a little before the first anniversary of the counter-revolution of 1979: “A country with 20 million soldiers will be invincible.”
  11. The annual growth of Iran’s GDP, which was 15 percent in 1970, fell to 3.3 percent in 2020. While this spectacular decline is certainly tied to financial sanctions and the tightening of the embargo, international sanctions don’t explain all of it. In fact, in 2011, before the sanctions, Iran had GDP growth below 6 percent. The Iranian economy, essentially based on petroleum rents, was never able to restart the industrialization process slowed since 1978.
  12. This favorite expression of the middle class expresses its dream of a life like “everyone’s”—that is, of the middle class of other countries—a dream that has become impossible under the Islamic Republic.
  13. In only three decades, the Iranian population has doubled. Passing from around 34 million inhabitants in 1977 to around 70 million in 2000, it is more than 86 million today. Given deindustrialization and mass unemployment, the regime seeks a measure of social peace by subordinating one part of the labor force (women) to another (men). Thus, in a public speech, Khamenei defended the inequality of access to jobs in these terms: “The question of female employment is not an important question. Although we are not against their working, they should not have jobs that do not complement their nature. Some call this discrimination. But discrimination is not always wrong.”
  14. This series of protests stemmed from the government’s decision to increase the prices of necessities—eggs, oil, noodles, etc.—that constitute the basic nourishment of the poorer classes. People went into the streets in many cities across the country with the cry of “We are hungry!”
  15. The revolt of the people of Khuzistan. More than a third Arab-speaking, this people is, on the one hand, a victim of ethnic discrimination and, on the other, experiences an intense poverty although it lives in a petroleum-producing region. To these problems is added that of a dearth of water engendered by the ecologically devastating policy of the regime. Not only are peasants and herdspeople losing their fields and herds, but even in the cities there is not enough drinking water, while the temperature rises to 50 percent C. during the day. The people go out into the streets with the cry of “I’m thirsty.” This protest has very quickly spread to nearby regions, like Isfahan and Lorestan, and has occasioned many deaths, disappearances, and arrests.
  16. The Aban uprising broke out during the second half of November 2019. Demonstrations took place almost everywhere in Iran. They denounced the increase in the price of fuel announced by the authorities, attacking the Islamic Republic and its highest officials. The repression was of a previously unknown degree: around 1,500 demonstrators were killed in less than a week.
  17. Demonstrations broke out in Summer 2018 all over the country, protesting the increase in the dollar exchange value, which implied an increase in the cost of living. In one week, the regime violently put an end to the demonstrations.
  18. The first demonstrations began in Mashhad, with slogans against corruption and the high cost of living. They were led at first by ultra-conservatives, partisans of Ebrahim Rasissi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to weaken the government of the then president, Hassah Rohani, but these demonstrations very quickly became protests against the regime. The particularity of these demonstrations is that, for the first time since the installation of the Islamic Republic, the inhabitants of the small cities went into the streets and demonstrated their anger against the regime,. The repression was heavy: 54 killed and 8,000 imprisoned, according to the government itself.
  19. Life in Iran is more and more expensive. The prices of essential products is shooting up. Bread and rice have increased by 1,592 percent during the last ten years, while the salary of a regular worker has hardly increased by 50 percent. The poverty threshold (in the big cities) is at 18 million tomans (the old money, re-established in 2020), while the wage of a regular worker is less than 5 million. The pauperization of the Iranian peoples has without any doubt been intensified by the blockade, but the inhabitants know that this is not the only reason for their impoverishment. They blame, correctly, state corruption, which has risen, according to the latest estimates, recently made public with the Mobarakeh steel company affair, at 92 million tomans.
  20. It should be said that no other authority of the Islamic Republic is attacked by the slogans. Raisi, the president, is never mentioned, as if he were a secondary personage, without autonomy or real influence. This shows that the people in revolt have taken a step from which they cannot return. The only time a slogan mentioned Raissi was the day when he went to the women’s university Al-Zahras on the occasion of the start of the school year. The students let him know how they felt: “We don’t want a corrupt system, we don’t want an invited murderer!” (Raisi was a member of the jury that in 1988 gave the death penalty to the communists and the mujahedin; in Iran he is called “President Murderer.”)
  21. A mythical character of ancient Persia, Zahak symbolizes evil incarnate. He was a tyrant with two serpents’ heads extending from his shoulders, embraced by Ahriman (a demoniac spirit). To keep the serpents calm, he has to feed them human brains. Every day, a certain number of people are therefore killed to nourish the serpents. After having lost seventeen sons, sacrificed to satisfy the appetite of these reptiles, Kaveh, a simple smith with a thirst for justice and vengeance, rebelled against Zahak, with the support of the people.
  22. Identified in the West as “radicals,” the “fundamentalists” constitute, with the “reformists,” the supposed “moderates,” the two wings of the Islamic Republic.
  23. Galloping inflation has literally paralyzed the Bazaar: from 2016 to 2021, the rate of inflation has been multiplied by 7 to reach 43 percent. Today it is at 52 percent. The Bazaar has no longer any way to save its skin than to join the movement.
  24. In Persian, “Engelab.”
  25. On September 30, 2022, at Zahedan, the forces of repression opened fire on Baluchi demonstrators indignant over the authorities’ indulgence of the act committed by the police commander of Chabahar, accused of raping Maho Baloch, a Sunni adolescent, on September 1. This violent repression produced a hundred deaths and more than 300 wounded. This day of killing was called “Black Friday” or “Bloody Friday.” The massacre nevertheless did not provoke panic among the Baluchis, who know—doubtless more than other Iranian peoples—oppression, poverty, scorn, and discrimination (there is a reason why in Tehran people bitterly remember that what Iran offered the Baluchis was “denial, bullets, and executions.”). They thus continue to go courageously into the streets every Friday… and the regime continues to imprison them and kill them with bullets.
  26. It is only recently that some of them have begun to use the word “revolution.” This is the case with Masih Alinejad, a formerly “reformist” journalist, now a royalist, who is said to have convinced French president Macron, when they had a meeting, to recognize that the current movement in Iran was a “revolution” underway.
  27. Other slogans also borrow from that epoch, but with significant differences, with “daughter” replacing “son” and “brother” giving his place to “sister”: “Bombing, tanks, machineguns don’t work anymore, tell my mother she no longer has a daughter!” and “I’ll kill the one who killed my sister.”
  28. Zel-allah (the shadow of God) is a flattering way to designate the king; Ayat-allah (the sign of God) is one of the highest titles given to a member of the clergy (mullah).
  29. Mohsen Shikari, 23, hanged on December 8, 2022; Majid Rahnavard, 23, hanged December 12, 2022; Sayed Mohammad Hosseini, n39, hanged January 7, 2023; Mohammad Mehdi Karami, 22, hanged January 7, 2023, These four were executed for “hatred of God.”


Assareh Assa

Assareh Assa is responsible for the website, where this article first appeared in French.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2023

All Issues