Masih Alinejad, feminist and Iranian dissident: "We want the West to isolate the Islamic Republic" | International
Her lush curly hair makes the Iranian feminist Masih Alinejad unmistakable. She is the image of the fight against the mandatory hijab in the Islamic Republic. This journalist met her in Tehran in 2007, on the eve of her going into exile after having denounced the corruption of the Ahmadinejad government. Once safe, she did not shut up. She has used social media to encourage Iranian women to break free from the headscarf and discriminatory laws of what she calls the "regime of apartheid of genre". At 46, she has seen her dream come true: women burning their scarves in Iran. "I couldn't believe it," she admits in a telematic conversation from New York, where she has lived for a decade.
The personal cost has been enormous. Pressure from her on her family (her brother was jailed for two years), collaborators arrested, insults against her on state television, and even a specific law that punishes anyone who sends her videos with 10 years. The FBI detained a gunman outside her home last year and warned her two years earlier of an attempted kidnapping by Iranian agents. Now, Alinejad is confident that the headscarf revolution will end the political system that emerged from the 1979 revolution. "We want the West to isolate the Islamic Republic," she insists over and over again. She has just been awarded one of the Casa Asia 2023 awards "for her denunciation of the abuse of power in Iran", which she interprets as proof that the world listens to her.
Ask. Mahsa Amini's death last September sparked an unexpected wave of demonstrations by Iranians against the mandatory veil. Soon after, numerous men joined the women and the protest expanded its goal to overthrow the Islamic regime. Because right now?
Answer. I have been receiving videos of police officers beating women for years. So when the police said they hadn't killed Mahsa, I didn't believe it. Beating women is in the DNA of moral vigilantes. What happened was the straw that broke the camel's back, as seen in the level of outrage shown in the streets. The obligatory hijab is not a mere detail for Iranian women; it is the most visible symbol of their oppression. I have compared it to the Berlin Wall. If we tear down the wall, the Islamic Republic will disappear.
Q. Most of the protesters are young. To what extent is there a generation gap?
R. The new generations want to live like the rest of the world's youth. There is a huge gap between the young generation and the backward clerics who are in power in Iran. The TikTok generation is against a barbaric regime, which kills Iranians because they claim to have a normal life.
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Q. In recent weeks, the demonstrations have died down. Has the repression succeeded in silencing the Iranians?
R. Any revolution goes through phases. The uprising continues, but in a different way. In four months, 700 people have been killed, 19,000 imprisoned, 50 sentenced to death and five executed by hanging. Many young people have gone blind [por los disparos policiales]. And women are being raped in jail. The security forces do not allow people to gather in the streets and beat those who try. So other forms of protest arise. The relatives of the murdered [en la represión] they are turning funerals into anti-regime demonstrations. Well-known athletes do without the hijab because they refuse to be an instrument of propaganda for the regime. Well-known actresses remove their hijabs and join the street in saying no to the gender apartheid regime.
This is not a revolution that is going to succeed overnight; It will take time. The first wave has weakened the regime. Now, the second is being prepared. In the meantime, we need to agree on some political values to unite around. And we are at it: talking behind the scenes to unite the opposition, to form a common front that meets with the leaders of the democratic countries and asks them to isolate the Iranian regime. The Islamic Republic has taken away everything but hope. I am convinced that we are going to win this battle.
Q. The torch of the protest still holds up in Zahedan, in the Balochistan region. What weight does the ethnic factor have in the revolt?
R. The ethnic uprising is very important. [La provincia de] Sistan-Baluchistan resists every Friday and that shows that the minorities are not going to stop their fight against the Islamic Republic. [También] the cities of Kurdistan are enraged and they are going to continue protesting against the regime. It is the first time in our history that we see this feeling of unity between Kurds, Baluchis, Arabs, Turks... all over Iran. The Islamic Republic is afraid of this unity between ethnic groups, between men and women, between opponents inside and outside Iran. That unity is shaking the regime.
Q. However, workers, particularly in the oil sector, have not come together in significant numbers. Does it mean that the regime still has enough followers?
R. I am convinced that the moment the workers see a clear signal from the West, they will join the protesters. With the economic crisis and the corruption suffered by the Iranians it is very difficult to maintain the challenge to the regime. The West should support, morally and financially, those who fight for democracy instead of shaking hands with dictators and providing millions of dollars, through nuclear negotiations, to the Revolutionary Guards and the assassins in Iran. Many Iranians would like to declare a national strike. From the West, some mechanism should be articulated to help them.
Q. Can the uprising succeed without some sector of the regime siding with the protesters?
R. The Army would join the protests if it saw a sign from the democratic countries that they are not going to negotiate with this regime, that the nuclear agreement is dead, that all European countries designate the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, that the G-7 leaders will withdraw their ambassadors from Tehran and expel [de sus países] to all diplomats of the Islamic Republic. And so would the middle class, the older generation, workers in the oil sector, blue-collar workers, teachers, bus drivers... They have to see a signal from the West.
Q. A few weeks ago you met with political and business leaders in Davos, what did you ask of them? How can they help the Iranians?
R. I met with the president [francés, Emmanuel] Macron, and I asked him to recognize one of the most progressive revolutions, which is happening in Iran, led by women and supported by men; to call the uprising what it is, a revolution, and he did. I also told him and the rest of the leaders, like the German chancellor, that this is the time to isolate the Islamic Republic, just as they are isolating [al presidente ruso, Vladímir] Putin. The Iranian regime is not only a threat to Iranians and their neighbors, but to the entire world. In addition to sending Putin drones to kill innocent civilians in Ukraine, he has turned foreign hostage-taking, kidnapping and assassination into a form of diplomacy. Right now, there are Swedish, British, German, Italian, American and Spanish citizens in Iranian jails to be used as bargaining chips in an eventual nuclear deal. I would like the G-7 to organize a conference to define a common policy towards Iran.
Q. There is a campaign that supports Prince Reza Pahlavi, son of the last shah, to lead the transition from the clerical government to a lay one. Is he the right person? Will he have enough support inside Iran? Many years ago, it was not very popular...
R. We are working on the common front I mentioned earlier and it will be announced when the time is right. For now, the talks are taking place behind closed doors. But we are all united in one goal: the end of the Islamic Republic.
Q. She has just been awarded the Casa Asia 2023 Award for Diversity for her work. What does it mean to you?
R. I feel very grateful and honored by the award. It means that the Iranian regime cannot censor us and that we are heard all over the world.
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