Do the Lingering Protests in Iran Reveal Cracks in the Country’s Leadership?

Iran’s protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, whom authorities took into custody because she was showing too much hair that should have been under her hijab, have been going on for weeks now. And this weekend, they’ve shown no signs of slowing down.

This weekend, university students and other young people have been taking to the streets throughout Iran. Iran International is featuring coverage of the demonstrations at different spots throughout the country.

At Azad University in Karaj, students took to the streets:

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Protests took place at the University of Shiraz:

Iran International reports that “In another university in Esfahan Province students chant ‘This is the year of blood, Seyyed Ali will be done’, referring to Ali Khamenei,” while there are also unconfirmed reports of shots fired at protesters at the University of Esfahan.

The largest protest took place at the University of Mashhad in Iran’s second-largest city, which is also home to an important religious center.

And these are just a few of the protests, which are taking place all over Iran and spreading worldwide. Iran International reports that “Rallies in support of Iranian protesters already took place in Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Jakarta on Saturday and many large gatherings are expected in Europe and later in North America.”

Meanwhile, human rights organization Amnesty International has uncovered leaked documents that allegedly reveal how the Iranian regime set out to deal with protesters. These documents detail orders to “severely confront troublemakers and anti-revolutionaries” and “confront mercilessly, going as far as causing deaths, any unrest by rioters and anti-Revolutionaries.”

“The Iranian authorities knowingly decided to harm or kill people who took to the streets to express their anger at decades of repression and injustice. Amid an epidemic of systemic impunity that has long prevailed in Iran, dozens of men, women, and children have been unlawfully killed in the latest round of bloodshed,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, in a statement.

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But the most interesting thing to come out of these protests is the notion that the Iranian regime doesn’t know what to do with the protests, which may also suggest instability among the ruling coalition.

On Friday, Reuters published an analysis of what these protests could mean to Iran’s government.

“The ever bolder protests, sparked by the death of a woman in police custody, have put Iran’s leaders on the defensive, with officials apparently unable to close ranks behind an agreed response to the turmoil,” writes Parisa Hafezi, who quotes analysts and some anonymous leaders.

Even though some hardline leaders insist that the protests won’t lead to regime change, there’s a secret fear bubbling among Iran’s rulers, say officials who speak on background.

“A part of the establishment fears that this time using more lethal force can push the Islamic Republic to a no return point,” one former leader told Hafezi.

Add to this the ambiguity over who might replace 83-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and many members of Iran’s ruling council, and it’s easy to see how the current situation in Iran is making some people in power nervous.

“This race has caused disarray inside the leadership. The deepening rift is the last thing we need when the country is in turmoil,” one official told Hafezi. “The main issue right now is the Islamic Republic’s survival.”

Regardless, the Iranian hardliners are likely to do whatever it takes to hold onto power.

“Iran’s leaders are probably trying to see if a combination of internet shutdowns, mass arrests, and some violence against protesters will slow the momentum of the protests,” Eurasia Group analyst Henry Rome told Hafezi. “But I don’t think anyone should doubt that, at the end of the day, the state has a backstop of loyal enforcers willing to kill their fellow citizens who can be called upon to end this round of protests.”

It’ll be interesting to see what develops in Iran over the next few days and weeks — and to discover what, if anything, these protests will do to the power structure of the nation.