World: Iran’s regime struggles with fear of losing a generation to protests -analysis

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 A man gestures during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being arrested by the Islamic republic © (photo credit: WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS) A man gestures during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being arrested by the Islamic republic

Iran’s regime continues to try to suppress protests around the country, as they show no sign of slowing down after two months. The protests began when Iranian police killed a Kurdish-Iranian woman named Jina Mahsa Amini who they accused of not covering her hair.

The protests initially started in the region where the young woman was from but spread to all of Iran. The regime has been careful not to massacre protesters because it is afraid the protests will grow out of control.

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In a recent article the former Iranian Minister of Education, Mohammad Bathai, who served in the second government of Hassan Rouhani until 2018, discussed some of the hurdles Iran now faces in confronting its own people.

The interview with the former official was published in Iran’s Tasnim news and is revealing in the sense that it shows a self-critique of the regime. Iran knows it is on the verge of alienating an entire generation.

For two months the young people have seen protests. They have also seen that they can protest at schools, universities and in town squares across the country. Now they know the regime cannot control everything. This is why videos have often shown not just protests but many women not covering their hair, in defiance of the theocratic patriarchal far-right regime in Tehran.

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  Iran’s regime struggles with fear of losing a generation to protests -analysis © Provided by The Jerusalem Post

So how does Iran suggest putting the genie of protests back in the bottle? The education minister doesn’t have a lot of good answers but his few insights are worth looking at. He notes that “teenagers born in the 80s have many differences with their previous generations in terms of needs and even lifestyle.”

Indeed, those born in the generation prior to the 80s were involved in the Revolution of 1979. Those born in the 80s have lived their whole life under theocracy and are now in their 40s were never able to confront the regime. Some tried in 2009, but they were suppressed, at the same time the US was prodding the West to work with Iran on a deal while also working with Moscow to open discussions with Iran’s regime.

In pursuit of the deal, which would empower the regime, the US and the West didn’t back the massive 2009 protests. In 2019 when protests broke out again the regime massacred more than 1,000 people. Therefore, adults in their 40s have only bitter memories of failure.

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The former minister of education notes that the current protests have seen the presence of large numbers of teenagers on the streets. “Their actions were observed, which were sometimes accompanied by violence.” The regime has monitored this phenomenon and has been worried, including Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.

“These are our children and we have no argument with them because due to some emotions and feelings and some carelessness in issues [they] entered the field [of protest], but the main stage directors who entered with plans and plans are important,” he said, according to the report

Thus the Supreme Leader prefers to see a hidden hand behind the protests, which is always assumed to be foreign powers or “Zionists” or “separatist” groups. Therefore, Iran fired rockets and used drones against Kurdish opposition groups in northern Iraq in late September. Iran has massacred Baloch protesters as well.

Did Iran's education system fail its younger generation?

Iran’s officials are trying to figure out the best way to deal with this generation of protests. The article notes that “some child and adolescent psychologists also consider teenagers' protests or even their civil disobedience as a natural procedure that can be aimed at shaping the dimensions of their social, cultural and social identity.” The point here is to ascribe the protests to just some rebelliousness among the youth.

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But how do they distinguish between some youth who just want to be counter-cultural and a kind of 1968 generation? After all, there are different types of mass protests.

The former minister of education has an answer. He thinks that the education system, apparently the one he oversaw, failed these kids. “There are shortcomings in the education system and we are reaping what we have sown, with the disorder in the education system, such incidents will occur."

It was predictable, the Iranian pro-regime media concludes. That’s a kind of shocking conclusion for a regime to come to, basically admitting mass failure. The former minister hints at another culprit, without saying it directly, he says the “disruptions” in school likely caused problems.

The disruption was the COVID-19 pandemic, which affected youth in Iran and elsewhere, basically depriving them of a year or more of education. Unlike the West which has tended to try to downplay the long-term effects of the pandemic, Iranian officials are taking account of what may have been unintentionally released by their policies.

Is it possible that the pandemic had a long-term effect of leading to Iranian youth spending more time online or doing other things that led them to finally confront the system of control the regime has put in place?

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The education expert has an answer. He thinks youth and teens should channel their voices to “appropriate places” and that the policymakers should listen and they should be heard and “have an impact on policy-making.”

According to Bathai, the government should try to deal with “underlying factors and education, educational institutions should seriously consider their weaknesses, neglecting the weaknesses we have in education can lead to the near future bringing similar events to the country.” In short, if Iran doesn’t listen to this generation and fix its educational system, it could lose a generation and the regime could be affected.

Is Iran's younger generation anti-religious?

The report also touches on a subject that surely the regime doesn’t know how to confront. What if this generation in Iran is an anti-religious generation? The minister notes that “our lifestyle is derived from the value system, which is a part of hijab, morals and Shari'a rules.”

Indeed, the regime’s obsession with covering women’s hair is what set off the protests. The regime for a long time thought that harassing, detaining, beating and even killing women was a logical way to enforce theocracy.

“A teenager or young person who is not familiar with the sweet effects of this lifestyle may say that this lifestyle, of which hijab is a part, is not efficient! When we hear this talk from teenagers, where should the positive effects of a lifestyle based on a value system be clearly explained to them? Part of this matter is related to the school and another part to the society,” the former minister said.

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It may be a hurdle for educators to try to convince the youth that one-half of society has to cover their hair or face beatings by police. Footage from the protests shows many young people like to walk without a headscarf. Once people have experienced the right to dress as they want, if even for a short two months, it may be hard for them to ever forget that freedom.

“If we want to address the school, it should be in the form of a workshop so that the student can practice the lifestyle and components of the value system in the school and be able to believe in it,” the former minister says. It’s not clear if workshops will solve the overall problem the regime now has on its hands, but the former official is at least considering that they have a mounting challenge on their hands.

He concludes, “it is in no way acceptable that this generation is anti-religious, leaning towards religion is a natural thing and all human beings have a positive feeling towards religion and religious teachings, but when the young generation and teenagers perform behaviors such as removing a scarf, it means it is not anti-religion and they should not be considered anti-religion at all.”

“It is in no way acceptable that this generation is anti-religious, leaning towards religion is a natural thing and all human beings have a positive feeling towards religion and religious teachings, but when the young generation and teenagers perform behaviors such as removing a scarf, it means it is not anti-religion and they should not be considered anti-religion at all.”

Former Iranian Minister of Education, Mohammad Bathai

He argues that the best way to confront this is apparently not with beatings and killing people, but rather by showing the youth the “success and prosperity” of living a pious lifestyle.

Perhaps as people protest they wonder whether four decades of theocracy have brought them this success and prosperity that the regime officials think can be inculcated. One thing appears clear, the regime is afraid of losing this generation and it is confused as to the best way to confront the ongoing protests.

Iranian-Kurdish footballer arrested on charges of incitement against the regime .
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