Iran's regime has tightened its grip on the population ahead of the September 16 one-year anniversary of the death that set off the country's biggest revolt of recent years.
Two weeks ahead of the anniversary of the killing of Mahsa Amini, the teen girl reportedly beaten to death in a Tehran police station for not abiding by dress codes, the Islamic Republic of Iran faces a complex situation. The chief concern is a possible renewal of protests, to mark Amini's death one year earlier on Sep. 16, 2022.
The anniversary arrives amid the unrelenting worsening of economic conditions and the consequent public discontent. The situation is fueling tensions among politicians.
Anticipating unrest, in recent weeks the regime has intensified its repression of activists and of grieving relatives of the victims of police violence during the protests. Iranian leaders have warned that they won't stand for any trouble.
The Intelligence Minster Ismail Khatib declared recently that "the enemy had plans" to revive the protests, urging for greater cohesion among the security forces and state media. Officials are keeping a particularly close eye on universities.
Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, had a similar warning when he addressed a gathering of Revolutionary Guards commanders: the "enemies" were relentlessly stoking trouble, "one day with elections as an excuse; another day it's fuel and another day, women."
The head of the Revolutionary guards, Hussein Salami, echoed his words, accusing "America and the West" of fanning protests, which he termed "the most dangerous and serious" of recent decades.
Political tensions, meanwhile, have become evident in the otherwise docile parliament, where some lawmakers have criticized the lackluster performance of President Ibrahim Raisi's government.
More reasons for discontent
Iranians have reasons enough to be upset with this regime, and the Raisi team especially. The economy has worsened in recent months, with rising prices putting many items out of reach of most households. Suicides are believed to have risen, perhaps in part due to economic desperation.
For two years, the Raisi government's economic recipe has consisted mostly of publishing good news and making big promises. It is now trying to placate the merchant class, or the bazaar, traditionally an influential sector of society, to prevent them from lending support to possible protests.
Even state media and economic observers inside Iran have become critical.
The government recently decided to backtrack, for now, on fixing prices, and will let the market operate in sectors like audiovisual equipment.
It is also making a big deal of the $6 billion dollars set to be returned to Iran in exchange for the release of five dual-national prisoners, after talks with the U.S. The government wants to frame the development as a prelude to economic openings and keep people hopeful about the outcome of secretive talks with the Biden administration.
It has also been tweaking the numbers to brighten the economic picture somewhat, using flawed stats to polish its economic achievements. But figures and claims are one thing, and the reality of everyday life in Iran, another.
Even state media and economic observers inside Iran have become critical. The government's bid to "massage" opinion with preposterous claims are fueling — as adding insult to injury inevitably will — resentment and contempt for an administration that can barely be qualified as elected and representative in the first place.
Mass protest in Iran.
Regression: a tried and tested method
The regime has recently intensified repressive measures ahead of the anniversary of the 2022 protests. It has ramped up arrests, interrogations, phone threats and sentences against activists, with one body, the Center for Human Rights in Iran, counting 22 arrests in several cities in the first three weeks of August.
Sixteen women's rights activists were arrested just on August 16, in the northern province of Gilan. The Intelligence ministry made sinister claims ahead of the arrests, saying the women had been trained abroad.
In the second half of August, at least 40 university students were summoned for questioning by university authorities.
Security forces have been visibly deployed just to keep an eye on, well, everything.
The state is also pushing through a purge of "suspect" personnel in universities, to be replaced with up to 15,000 loyalist staff and academics. It also wants to organize pro-regime students into a nationwide network — or perhaps militia — promising exam credits for the 45,000 students said to be interested in its ideological training courses. For other students, the government wants to prolong distant and online learning until early October.
The Free Union of Iranian Workers (FUIW), one of the country's independent trade unions, is also reporting that dozens of its members are being held and dozens more are facing summonses or charges.
Many Iranians who have had a run-in with authorities in one form or another have been warned to avoid any gatherings. Hundreds of Iranians are currently being prosecuted for their parts in last year's protests, and thus in highly vulnerable situations before the law.
Even relatives of dead protesters are under intense pressure and scrutiny. Large numbers of security forces and policemen have been visibly deployed in numerous cities, ostensibly to enforce the hijab rules that sparked the revolt in 2022, but really, just to keep an eye on, well, everything.
Whatever happens on the anniversary, it is clear the gloves are off between Iranians and a dogged regime that firmly believes in sticking it out, come what may, until the tide turns in its favor.