Iran’s Green Movement Never Went Away

Ten Years On, the Islamic Republic Only Strengthens What It Represses

Supporters of the Iranian opposition movement at the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri in Qom, Iran, December 2009 Stringer / Reuters

Ten years ago today, shortly after Iran’s presidential election on June 14, 2009, millions of people took to the streets of Tehran chanting, “Where is my vote?” The protests that came to be known as the Green Movement shook the Islamic Republic like nothing had since its founding in 1979.

Among the unforgettable images from those days were those of women and men marching side by side, not only protesting the dishonesty of the election results but also refusing to submit to the government’s repressive presence in almost all aspects of their lives. They did so at great risk. State security forces, including agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, arrested thousands of protesters, dozens of whom lost their lives. The movement’s leaders—former presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi and political activist Zahra Rahnavard—have remained under house arrest since 2011.

By the end of 2009, the state largely succeeded in quashing  those public protests. And ten years later, the Islamic Republic’s basic character remains unchanged. The authorities still respond to the people’s demands for change by trying to silence them. Multiple intelligence agencies, all beyond the reach of justice, compete with one another to stamp out peaceful dissent; the executive branch operates under the shadow of an unelected, all-powerful “supreme leader”; the judicial system serves as a handmaiden to the security apparatus; and policymakers remain preoccupied with women’s dress and moved by a deeply rooted anti-Americanism.

For all its violence, the Islamic Republic appears to have produced little more than a vicious cycle of repression and defiance that erodes its legitimacy and authority.

For all that, the Islamic Republic did not succeed in pulling out the roots from which the Green Movement sprang. Even as the cost of dissent remains high, a new generation of Iranians—including women, youth, students, workers, and ordinary citizens from all socioeconomic strata—continues to demand civil and political liberties. And although those who raise their voices are subject to arrest,

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