The year 2023 will not be an easy one for Iran as the rift between the rulers and the ruled becomes greater than ever. On the foreign policy front, Tehran has reached an impasse.
The 2022 women-led mass protests to demand equal rights and more freedoms have posed the biggest challenge to Iran’s clerical regime since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The tragic death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Jina Mahsa Amini in police custody has mobilized Iranian women to take to the streets in protest against everyday humiliation, mistreatment and gender discrimination.
Despite a brutal clampdown by security forces, thousands of Iranian girls and women continue to refuse to wear headscarves in public — challenging the entire political system.
“What these women are doing in Iran is a revolution, at least a cultural revolution,” Azadeh Kian, a sociologist, told DW.
“We are seeing for the first time that a large number of women have overcome their fear and are showing themselves in public without the obligatory hijab, at least in the big cities,” said Khan, who is director of the Center for Gender and Feminist Studies at the University of Paris and has long been researching the women’s movement in Iran.
“This has secularized the image of women in society and encouraged women to take further steps and demand equal rights,” she added.
The image of women in public plays an important role in the theocratic state’s ideology, which wants women to not only wear a hijab but also accept a subordinate role in society. Wearing a headscarf has been compulsory for girls and women in Iran since the 1979 revolution.
The World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report shows the extent to which women in Iran are disadvantaged because of their gender. The report ranked the nation 143rd out of 146 countries for gender parity.
This is despite the fact that more women than men have been studying at Iran’s universities for many years. Since 2006, around 60% of students in Iran have been female, according to official figures. However, their share in the labor market is only 15%.
Regime relies on repression
“The hijab is the flag of the Islamic Republic. Those who refuse to wear hijab will have to pay a heavy price,” Hossein Jalali, an Iranian lawmaker and member of the parliament’s culture committee, said earlier this month.
He also announced new punitive measures against women who do not wear hijab appropriately, such as blocking their bank accounts.
Such statements indicate that despite the nationwide mass protests, which resulted in the deaths of over 400 demonstrators and the imprisonment of about 18,000 people, Iran’s leaders are hardly thinking about serious reforms. Instead, the regime is relying on a brutal crackdown and trying to intimidate protesters by starting to carry out executions of arrested protesters.
“The regime fails to understand how deeply dissatisfied the people are with the political system,” said Sadegh Zibakalam, an Iranian academic who has been barred from teaching at any university since October because of his criticism of hardliners in Iran.
“At the moment, the regime’s only goal is to end the protests through repression. From their public statements in recent months, you can see that they have proposed no solutions, neither for the political nor for the social problems,” he told DW, adding that mass protests could re-erupt at any time.
Protests from all parts of society
This year Iran witnessed the most severe and longest protest wave since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979.
The protesters were not organized and their numbers have not yet reached a critical mass so as to fundamentally overhaul the Iranian state.
Nevertheless, the demonstrators came from all strata of society, including ethnic and religious minorities.
Iranian family torn apart by protest crackdown
Apart from a lack of political freedoms, they all suffer from the ongoing economic crisis, galloping inflation, increased water shortages and growing environmental problems.
The political system, which values ideological loyalty over expertise and experience to recruit officials, has found no answers to the problems that make life difficult for the nation’s nearly 84 million people year after year.
The issues the protesters are fighting for can be heard in a song that became the anthem of the protests in Iran: “Baraye” means “For this.”
The song was produced by young composer and singer Shervin Hajipour in September 2022. The lyrics consist of tweets in which people explain what they are taking to the streets for. “For my sister, your sister, our sister. To change brains that rot. For shame of poverty. For the yearning for an ordinary life. For the sake of the poor child picking through the garbage and his dreams. For this command economy. For this polluted air,” the song reads.
Tehran under regional and global pressure
On the foreign policy front, the Iranian government has reached an impasse. The negotiations in Vienna to revive the nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers have been at a standstill for months.
Iran also hasn’t made much progress when it comes to deepening its economic cooperation with China.
The two countries signed a 25-year comprehensive cooperation agreement in 2021. Of nearly 100 joint projects in Iran, such as infrastructure development or the establishment of free trade zones, not a single one has seen progress.
Chinese investors are holding back due to fears over potential US sanctions for doing business with Iran.
Even more painful for Iran is China’s backing of Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s archrival in the Middle East.
The Shiite clerics in Iran as well as the Sunni royal family in Saudi Arabia see themselves as religious leaders of the Islamic world and are involved in proxy wars in countries across the region.
“Tehran has expanded its relationship with China in the last 10 years and sees China and Russia as its main allies against the West,” said Kamran Matin, a lecturer in international relations at the University of Sussex in the UK. “For China, economic cooperation with the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf plays an important role. The case with Saudi Arabia shows how China defines its interests and views its relationship with Iran.”
China wants Tehran to cooperate on nuclear row
During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Saudi Arabia in December, the two countries not only agreed to expand their cooperation in areas such as technology and security, but also announced their intention to coordinate their policies toward Iran.
They also stressed “the need to strengthen cooperation to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program” and called on Tehran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and “maintain the non-proliferation regime.”
Both sides emphasized “respect for the principles of good-neighborliness and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.”
In October, China signed a long-term agreement with Qatar to secure liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplies and to assist Doha in gas production.
Qatar and Iran share a natural gas field in the Persian Gulf that accounts for 18% of global natural gas reserves.
Iran, however, has been unable to produce or sell gas to the West because of US sanctions and Iran’s ailing infrastructure.
What about cooperation with Russia?
Increased cooperation with Russia, meanwhile, brings little economic benefit to Iran.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the US and the UK have reported arms deliveries from Iran to Russia.
In addition to ballistic missiles, Moscow is also said to have received drones from Iran, which have allegedly been used to attack and severely damage energy infrastructure in Ukraine.
The reported arms deliveries violate UN Security Council resolutions.
Moscow can use its veto power in the body to prevent the Security Council from adopting sanctions against Iran. But Russia has little interest in economic cooperation with Iran.
In fact, Russia is currently offering oil and gas at significant discounts to countries such as China, India, and Turkey, which are traditionally Iran’s customers.
Source : Deutsche Welle