Mahsa Amini’s death sparked protests across Iran, as never before. The Islamic Regime’s crackdown on protests led to the death of 92 people. Despite heavy crackdowns, clashes between protesters and security forces continue nationwide. Protests are occurring because of several factors, both internal and external.

Internal factors

  1. Popular protests and reactions Unrest is flaring up despite crackdowns. The protest movement has tapped into a deep well of grievances, including Iran’s social restrictions, and political repressions. Protesters demand change in the Regime. Because of intensifying crackdowns, rallies have turned progressively more violent. Protests have united Iranians as the Regime’s own methods deepen public mistrust. President Raisi warned that no one will be allowed to break the law and cause disorder. Despite warnings, protests have only become more brazen.

  2. Women's revolution Unexpectedly, protests have morphed into broader anti-Regime campaigns led by women and focused on their concerns, but also fueled by wider discontent. For long women have been fighting for their rights. Many feel oppressed and for the first time, women showed acts of defiance. The slogans are revolutionary: woman, life, freedom, and Regime overthrow. The hijab is the main pillar of the Regime, so women believe that by burning headscarves, they are shaking them. For many, the hijab is a symbol of oppression. For the Regime, women have always been associated with hijab. Khomeini, Republic’s founder, emphasized the tremendous symbolic power of hijab. Notwithstanding these commands, Amini has become a powerful martyr for women who are challenging the Regime which they have come to loathe. Meanwhile, the Regime will protect its ideology.

  3. Economic despair Protests go much beyond Amini’s death which just sparked them. Economic despair, economic stagnation, corruption, isolation, the decline in currency value and inflation is fueling public discontent and significant factor unifying it. Protests reflect widespread anger over economic issues. Many Iranians have lost faith in the Regime as elections have failed to deliver the economic, and social reforms they demanded, leaving protest their only option. Undoubtedly, revolt rises anger among youth who feel lost.

  4. Ethnic minorities factor Protests have drawn supporters from various ethnic groups. Amini was a Kurd and protests first erupted in the Kurdish areas. Surprisingly, Iran blames armed groups based in Iraqi Kurdistan for protests. On September 28 and October 1, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) launched strikes killing 13 people in Iraq’s Kurdistan and destroying offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran. As expected, the Assembly of Experts, senior advisory body to the supreme leader, supported these attacks. These strikes occurred because of the fear of an ethnic uprising, and in a show of power.

In Sistan Balochistan, Iran fears a larger rebellion among minority Baloch people. Poverty-stricken Sistan-Baluchistan is a flashpoint for clashes with drug smuggling gangs, as well as rebels from the Baluchi minority and Sunni Muslim extremist groups. Very recently, 19 people, including an IRGC colonel, were killed during the clash. Also, there were protests in Ahwaz, a province that contains a large Arab minority. Iran dominated by its Persian Shi'ite majority discriminates against ethnic minorities. Today, Amini has become a potent symbol of defiance for them which shall continue. Oppressed minorities have long harbored nationalistic ideas which are forcefully put down by Iran. There is hope now.

External factors

  1. Global condemnations As expected, the crackdown has drawn widespread international condemnation. For the first time, protests spread across the world because of social media. United Nations called for an independent investigation into Amini’s death. Amnesty International issued a strong statement about protests saying the Regime knowingly killed protestors who expressed their anger at decades of repression and injustice. More condemnations will follow.

  2. United States and its Western Allies factor As expected, Iran blames the United States and its Western allies for exploiting unrest to try to destabilize it. On October 2, a parliamentary speaker warned that protests could destabilize Iran and aimed to topple the Regime, unlike previous demonstrations. Iran’s supreme leader accused the United States and Israel of planning protests. He warned that those who foment unrest to "sabotage" Iran deserve “harsh punishment.” Iran on September 29 slammed “interference” in its internal affairs by France, Britain, Norway and Saudi Arabia. Given the nature of the Regime, these actions were expected. More will follow. Meanwhile, Biden backed demonstrators as securing their “basic rights.” On October 1, 54 countries signed a statement calling for Iran to refrain from using force against protesters. America says Amini’s death is unforgivable, and Iran is accountable for such human rights abuses. Biden moved to relax sanctions on internet communications in Iran to support the free flow of information. America, Canada, and the EU threatened Iran with further sanctions. Iran has detained nationals from several Western countries which will ratchet up tensions.

  3. Future of the Republic? Will the Regime fall? No. Certainly, demonstrations are revealing broad public discontent. But that does not deter the Regime from resorting to force against protesters. It will continue cracking down severely to thwart any challenge to its power.

Remember Regime has shown the capability of violently clamping down on dissent in the past. It is determined not to show any weakness. While the Regime has used every tactic to stop the uprising, more can be done to isolate Iran from the outside world.

However, international support for protests has also made it harder for the Regime to crack down, especially as there are no identifiable leaders. This also presents an opportunity for the Regime. Something is different this time. Today, the Regime is reacting to protests abroad fueled by the Iranian diaspora. Though Iran has a sizable middle class and expanding urban population, there is no organized opposition to the Regime. Simply because it does not allow any to exist. However, the Regime is concerned about whether leaderless protests, will start coalescing into nationwide movements. When that happens, the Regime reacts.

Protests shall continue because of the popular nature of the movement but will not succeed in toppling the Regime. They will eventually be quelled. An effective challenge to the Republic depends on the emergence of coherent alternative leadership from protesters. There is no evidence of that happening. Most importantly, the Regime has legitimacy and a sturdy foundation, and the will to defend itself. Undoubtedly, the brutality of the Regime will also fuel demonstrations further.

Meanwhile, the Regime will cause frustration in the United States. Hostility to America shall continue unabated. The EU is preparing sanctions against Iran. The Regime’s relations with both Western allies and the United States will be further strained. However, America and its Western allies will refrain from interfering in Iran’s affairs because of the Ukraine crisis, domestic politics, and global recession fears.