Won’t Back Down

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The Iranian government’s crackdown on free speech and the free flow of information has led protesters who are challenging the country’s Islamic clerics to smuggle Starlink satellite dishes into the country. Manufactured by a subdivision of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company SpaceX, the devices provide Internet access via satellite link, circumventing the government’s restrictions on online communications, the Wall Street Journal explained.

This subterfuge is a metaphor for a popular uprising that the Washington Post described as the “Gen Z rebellion” against the Iranian regime. Sparked initially when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in September while in the custody of Iran’s “morality police,” the civil unrest has morphed into a broader renunciation not only of Iran’s harsh restrictions on women but also of the country’s leadership. Some protesters have chanted “death to the dictator,” a reference to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

“(Amini’s) death unleashed years of pent-up grievances in Iranian society, over issues ranging from tightening social and political controls to economic misery and discrimination against ethnic minorities,” wrote Reuters.

Security forces have met the protests with extreme measures. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards fired live bullets and birdshot into crowds. Protesters have avoided hospitals because police are often waiting at the emergency rooms to arrest them, the BBC reported, citing Iranians who sought medical treatment in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Authorities recently executed two activists in their early 20s, hanging one in public, on charges of “waging a war against God” for killing or wounding security force members, Deutsche Welle wrote. Civil rights said the charges were being applied too broadly to intimidate protesters and that the convicted activists were subjected to “show trials.”

Iranian officials don’t see the protests as an imminent threat to their rule, Slate magazine noted. But the popular disturbances show how cracks are forming in the Islamic Republic’s grip on legitimacy. Resistance to Covid measures in China and Russian men fleeing to Central Asia to avoid service in the war in Ukraine were other examples of the limits of the world’s authoritarians.

Iranian leaders have decried the protests as being driven by minorities fomenting ethnic discord, foreign interests seeking to undermine the republic, and anarchists. But the participation of a broad swath of Iranian society has exposed those warnings as attempts at spin. For example, doctors came out to demonstrate recently, while Iran’s national team refused to sing the national anthem at the World Cup, an action that was taken as a nod to the protests.

The US, meanwhile, recently slapped sanctions on Iran – the latest of many – to make it harder for Iran to supply drones to Russia for deployment in the Ukrainian war, Politico reported. Tensions between Iran and Israel have also increased due to Iran shipping arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon, The Hill added.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei seems eager to push the limits inside and outside his country. The question is how much pushback he receives.

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