Mahsa Amini, a 22-year old woman arrested by a ‘Guidance Patrol’ in Iran for failing to comply with Iranian government standards for wearing her hijab, was killed in custody. The protests against her death have been massive inside Iran, and worldwide. This is an issue that brings together feminists and socialists, but in some very difficult political circumstances.
A male-dominated demonstration in Manchester last week was also controlled by Iranian monarchists, supporters of the Pahlavi dynasty, intensely anti-Islamic and anti-regime, but also seeking a return to the Shah’s kind of oil-focused military-industrial rule. The existence of this well-financed monarchist opposition, very happy to work with the West on a modernising business-friendly agenda, is source of one of the many divisions inside the current opposition movement inside Iran and among exiles.
A different kind of demonstration was called for Sunday afternoon outside the Central Library by the ‘Red Roots Collective’, a group of Iranian feminist and socialist activists, but by just after 1 o’clock, when the demonstration was due to start, disruption began. Monarchists and nationalists turned up waving the Iranian monarchist flag, the constitutional monarchy state flag of Iran until 1980 – green, white and red bands with a lion wielding a sword in the centre – and refused to take their flags down when asked by the demonstration organisers.
There were other flags at the beginning of the demonstration, an indication of the breadth of the demonstration, and the spirit of solidarity intended by the organisers, including the Iranian Kurdistan flag with green, white and red bands with a yellow sun in the centre. The Kurdish comrades complied with the organisers and took down their flags, as did comrades from other organisations, including Manchester Jewish Socialists, Jewish Voice for Labour and Anti-Capitalist Resistance.
The Red Roots Collective were clear that this was a demonstration in solidarity with women protesting against the death of Mahsa Amini, but for the monarchist nationalists this was, to put it mildly, problematic; the monarchists are a patriarchal movement, against focusing on the plight of women, seeing that as creating divisions in the broad movement of all the Iranian people against the Islamic regime, and as nationalists they are also hostile to Kurds organising separately and threatening the unity of the Iranian state.
Laya Hooshyari, an Iranian feminist activist, took the microphone, and gave a clear impassioned speech, first in Farsi, and then in English. It was as she started speaking in English that the monarchists waving their flags started chanting. Now here was a real political problem, and at a guess the crowd, of around a thousand people, were split half and half between pro and anti-monarchists, with the non-Iranian comrades attending left confused about what was happening.
I was called to speak, but by this time the hostile disruptive chanting was ramped up. Some of the slogans against the regime were not actually incorrect, and our Red Roots Collective comrades tried to ride on the wave of these slogans, seeking a space to speak, hoping that things would calm down. However, fights broke out when there were attempts speak again, some comrades were injured, the police were called, but the monarchist nationalists were now in complete control.
Now there was a choice, to fight it out, something we knew we would lose – the nationalist monarchists included many hefty men – or go home, or a third option. The third option was to take the microphone and loudspeaker (loaned from socialist comrades in Manchester) away from the main site. And so, another circle was formed about 25 yards away, and when the police arrived some of them stood between the two groups.
Laya spoke again, and I was asked to speak, to explain to non-Iranians what had happened, and why we were now in a separate demonstration. Now some flags on our side were up and flying again, and were now welcome, including the Kurdish flag and a flag from Rojava. Bit by bit our demonstration became the larger one, there were attempts to disrupt it, but most of the monarchists had gone home after feeling that they had succeeded for the day.
This is one of many demonstrations that are happening around the world. We knew this regime in Iran would crack at some point soon. There have already been numerous protests in different parts of the country, and the regime has been on the point of cracking. There have been mobilisations of trades unions over the years, and organisation of the oppressed national minorities, minorities that together actually make up what Iran is today. Regimes like this crack at different moments under different kinds of pressure.
Now it is women who are at the forefront of the struggle. We were in Manchester to show our solidarity with the brave women who at the leading edge of resistance against the regime. We need men to speak out against women’s oppression, and it is important that men were there on that Sunday. We are speaking with women, here with women in the leadership. The focus of this struggle is inside Iran, but it needs a mobilisation that is international in scope so those that inside Iran can see and hear that we are with these women.
Every point of pressure is crucial, whether that is in a small town many miles outside Tehran or in Manchester where many Iranians now live. This is about the memory of struggle as well as pointing to the future. Many years ago some of us marched against the regime of the Shah of Iran, against the brutal monarchy that was backed by the West. Our struggle is also against those who back vicious regimes like that one and like this current regime.
Solidarity! For woman, for life, for freedom!
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Correction, I should have said that the PA system was provided by Manchester Trades Council, for which many thanks. Laya’s speech is here: https://anticapitalistresistance.org/this-is-not-my-voice-this-is-the-voice-of-zhina-amini/