“Substantial discontent is spreading in society”

Two months after Mahsa Amini’s death, the protest movement in Iran is far from over, despite the regime’s repression. Traders closed their shops on Tuesday in response to a call for a three-day strike, a sign that discontent was spreading.

Iron curtains lowered and rallies: A call for a three-day nationwide strike was followed by some traders in several cities in Iran on Tuesday to commemorate victims of the 2019 suppression of the movement, whose deaths are being commemorated on the third birthday. It continued on Wednesday.

Images circulating on social media show shops in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar with the curtain down on Tuesday, November 15, for the first time since the movement began.

The closure of Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, an ‘important clue’

“It seems that the call to strike was well heeded, showing that the discontent is real, even if there are no more massive demonstrations because of the repression,” says Azadeh Kian, a researcher specializing in Iran at the University of Paris 7 Diderot. “The closure of Tehran’s Grand Bazaar is an important clue as its vendors belong to the traditional layers of Iranian society and are said to be close to the mullahs and clergy. The fact that they are closing their shops and agreeing not to make any money is such a serious sign of discontent spreading through society.”

Evidence of the meaning of the symbol: the Iranian authorities and the protesters engaged in a communications war, the first protesting that the traders would close their shops to protect themselves from the protesters, the second expressing the solidarity of the “Bazaars” with the movement asserted .

“This is a very sensitive issue for the Iranian authorities,” confirms David Rigoulet-Roze, Iran specialist at Iris. “In May 1978 (at the time of the revolutionary process that was to lead to the overthrow of the Shah, editor’s note) the bazaar strike hastened the overthrow of the Shah. These traders have since been considered more or less connected to the regime and they had not gone on strike since the ‘Green Movement’ in late June 2009.”

At the same time, according to Azadeh Kian, there were clashes overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday in Tehran, some in the beautiful parts of the city that had previously been spared the movement. Police also fired on protesters on the subway, according to widely shared video confirmed by AFP.


Strike in many cities of the country

The violence appeared to continue at the metal market on the outskirts of the Iranian capital, according to Radio Farda (in Arabic) on Wednesday.

Calls for a nationwide strike were also heard in dozens of cities in the Persian-majority country, including Karaj, Rasht, Isfahan and Shiraz. A sign, according to Azadeh Kian, that the movement is spreading beyond the major urban centers and is no longer limited to its original protagonists – Kurds, students and women.

>> To watch: Protest in Iran: Demonstrators attack the turban of the mullahs

Many shops have closed in Isfahan and Shiraz, a city in the south-central part of the country.

Mahka* (not her real name), a resident of the city, wrote on Instagram on Tuesday: “Today I will not send my son to school, I will fake a cold, and many parents of students will do the same. #general strike.”

But if the strike movement appears to be being partially pursued by traders and acts of disobedience are increasing, notes David Rigoulet-Roze, it is too early to speak of a massive and generalized movement.

“The protest movement continues, the demonstrations are not diminishing, even if they are sometimes disparate,” explains the researcher. “But the regime’s obsession is what is called in France ‘convergence of struggles’, a global movement that brings together the main actors of Iranian society through capillarity, and that is not the case yet.”

few workers

Industry, a strategic sector for the Iranian authorities, therefore appears to have been little affected by the dispute. With the exception of the Isfahan smelter, whose workers went on strike on Tuesday and Wednesday, workers in the country did not mobilize much.


According to the researchers, the problem is the lack of national trade unions, which makes it difficult to organize and coordinate strike movements and to collect funds to support the strikers. Workers at a petrochemical plant in the south of the country tried to go on strike in October but quickly gave up.

“The strike tendencies (in the petrochemical industry) have not resulted in a massive movement,” observes David Rigoulet-Roze. “There were only sporadic movements at the Abadan and Kangan oil refineries and at the Bouchehr and Assalouyeh petrochemical plants in the southeast. The egg because of the strategic economic and financial nature of this sector. And it was all the more so with the start of the petrochemical strike in September 1978 marked a decisive turning point for the overthrow of the Shah”.

death sentences

Although not yet generalized, the movement sees “connecting people and sectors that have not previously demonstrated together,” analyzes historian and political scientist Jonathan Piron, who specializes in Iran. “It is a fundamental movement that affects the entire Iranian society. The death of Mahsa Amini served as a catalyst and since then the succession of protests has managed to sustain and revitalize itself.”

In response, Iranian authorities took a new step in repression, sentenced a first protester to the death penalty on Sunday and three others on Wednesday. MPs also called for the introduction of the “Law of Retribution” on Sunday, which amounts to a waiver of the gradation of sentences. Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of Oslo-based NGO Iran Human Rights, told RFI on Wednesday he feared “mass executions” while 14,000 protesters would be jailed, according to the UN.

But for David Rigoulet-Roze, the Iranian authorities feel somehow “trapped”. “The only answer to the challenge the Iranian regime knows is repression,” he notes. “But they can’t use it too far because the maximalist inflation in terms of repression is likely to bring more people into the movement. It’s a vicious cycle that is very difficult to break out of without causing potentially irreversible damage, especially when the victim of oppression is the youth.”

>> Watch: Protest in Iran: “This is not a movement, this is the beginning of a revolution”

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