The Guardian’s take on Iran protests: One team’s silence speaks volumes | Editorial
OOn Monday, 11 men defied their leaders in a show of solidarity with demonstrations led by women, but which won the support of all of society. What started as a rejection of the compulsory hijab in Iran has become a collective expression of fury against the repressive regime. None of the Iranian football team sang the national anthem when it was played ahead of their World Cup match against England. Earlier, Ehsan Hajsafi, the Iranian captain, said the bereaved families should know “that we are with them, we support them and we sympathize with them” and that “the conditions in our country are not good and our people are not is not happy”.
Players did not risk fines, not booking, but retribution from a vindictive state. In doing so, they joined other brave athletes and stars, as well as hundreds of thousands of ordinary men and women who took to the streets in 155 cities. Celebrity offers limited protection: On Sunday, two high-profile actors, Hengameh Ghaziani and Katayoun Riahi, were arrested for their “provocative” posts after removing their hijabs on social media.
More than two months after the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, detained by morality police for “inappropriate hijab”, a spokesman for the UN human rights chief , Volker Türk, warned that this was a “critical moment. He noted that more than 300 people have already been killed, in 25 of the country’s 31 provinces. A rights group says that at At least 58 victims were children.Thousands of people were arrested and at least six sentenced to death in connection with the protests.
Even as Monday’s match was taking place, security forces fired on protesters in the predominantly Kurdish towns of Piranshahr and Javanrud, with a rights group reporting that seven people died in the latter alone. Tehran’s vindictive response extends beyond its borders, with armed police deployed outside Iran International’s television studios in London after the channel said two of its journalists had been threatened. Yet the callous backlash has so far not silenced calls for change, but inflamed them, with protesters demanding: “Death to the child-killing regime.” Last week, they burned down the ancestral home of the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Khomeini.
Tehran accuses foreign enemies of orchestrating the unrest, but its people know the truth. As the weeks pass, the protests grow in size and spread geographically, with students on strike, school leavers and supporters boycotting businesses linked to the Revolutionary Guards. Yet while some businesses have closed in support of protesters and some workers have reportedly gone on strike, there are so far no signs of the kind of widespread industrial action that helped bring down the Shah in 1979. – in part, perhaps, because the government has increased some wages and benefits.
There are also no signs of a split at the top, which could respond to growing pressure from below. Although its usual playbook fails, the regime’s ruthless logic, along with the vested interests of the powerful, means it is likely to continue to step up its response. But the fundamental contradiction between the priorities and beliefs of the extremists in charge of the country and the young people under their suffocating, corrupt and incompetent regime, becomes more visible and more pronounced with each arrest, each beating and each death.