Mohamed Chebaro: Iranian women proving to be a thorn in the regime’s side/محمد شبارو/النساء في إيران يبرهنون بأنهم شوكة في خاصرة النظام الملالوي الإيراني/Nadia Al-Faour: How Iran is manipulating the online narrative to cover up its violent crackdown on protests/ناديا الفاعور: وسائل وأساليب احتيال نظام الملالي لتغطية عنفه المفرط ضد المتظاهرين
ناديا الفاعور: وسائل وأساليب احتيال نظام الملالي لتغطية عنفه المفرط ضد المتظاهرين How Iran is manipulating the online narrative to cover up its violent crackdown on protests Nadia Al-Faour/Arab News/October 05/2022
محمد شبارو/النساء في إيران يبرهنون بأنهم شوكة في خاصرة النظام الملالوي الإيراني Iranian women proving to be a thorn in the regime’s side Mohamed Chebaro/Arab News/October 05/2022
The death of Mahsa Amini, who hailed from a poor Kurdish family, while in morality police custody in Iran last month might have passed unnoticed in a country where arbitrary arrests, internments and the violent treatment of detainees are commonplace. But the protests that have followed might have different implications for Iran, as they are the first such widespread demonstrations against not only the headscarf, but also the regime, which for years has been claiming that society in Iran has embraced the revolution and its revolutionary ideology.
In its 44-year history, the Iranian regime has been rocked by protests related to the rigging of elections, the closure of reformist newspapers, increases in the cost of petrol, high levels of unemployment, droughts and so forth. All were put down by the brute force used by the various security apparatuses of the regime, which claims that foreign conspiracies are behind the protests. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei claimed that the ongoing protests are “riots engineered by America and the occupying, false Zionist regime, as well as their paid agents, with the help of some traitorous Iranians abroad.”
But never before have the protests touched on elements on which the regime’s legitimacy rests — its religious teachings and its fundamental design of society, which was built on its dictation of the dress code and the behavior of all its people.
Though the government in Tehran is insisting that its agents did not kill Amini, her death has caught the public mood, especially that of the Iranian women, who have long been on the receiving end of the morality police. Whether or not these protests succeed in getting some concessions from the regime, no matter how negligible, many believe that something big has shifted this time and that the women in Iran might be destined to be the authors of the next chapter of their country’s future.
Since its inception, the regime in Tehran has used all the tools in its clergy’s arsenal to force people to adhere to its strict interpretation of religion. The regime’s commitment to exporting the revolution as a model system of government has quickly morphed into yet another authoritarian imposition on the majority of the people. Consent is manufactured and its so-called religious justice has failed to become a model of social justice and access to all, but instead a design that serves the religious class and their cronies at the expense of the free and fair rule of law and prosperity for all Iranians, regardless of creed, color or race.
Over the years, the regime has adopted a violent approach to position itself as the sole defender of Muslims everywhere, using the liberation of Jerusalem as a rallying cause. However, this concept was quickly discredited, as that same narrative became the conduit for meddling in the affairs of neighboring Muslim countries, while also seeking to develop nuclear weapons to further its ambition of becoming the dominant force in the region.
The regime playbook of a heavy-handed police presence, riot police, armed militias and live bullets has been used to clamp down on demonstrators. This has managed to reduce the number of protesters on the streets in various cities, but has so far not been successful in suffocating the protests. The authorities have clamped down on social media, but people have resorted to word of mouth and printed messages on pieces of paper that are hand-delivered to spread the news of the next gathering point.
The calls of “death to Khamenei” and “death to the dictator” are no longer taboos in the Iranian streets, just like calls asking the regime to stop funding terror groups in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Palestine. But when you see the extensive burning of the veil, even in holy cities like Qom and Mashhad, then one has to hope that maybe the revolution in Iran and the regime’s long reign of darkness might be coming to an end.
During my many visits to Iran, women always hinted to me about the duplicity of their lives, such as only wearing the veil when in public. They always reminded me that Tehran in the 1960s and 1970s was like Beirut, until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1979. They proudly recounted women’s participation in the revolution alongside men of all stripes, those from the left and the religious hard-liners, working together to topple the shah. Later, they demonstrated on International Women’s Day in March 1979, one day after Ayatollah Khomeini had imposed the compulsory wearing of the hijab. The exiled cleric had returned to steal the revolution and seize power alongside his hard-line followers, who brutally liquidated all opponents.
Many believe that the women in Iran might be destined to be the authors of the next chapter of their country’s future.
One question that has been posed lately is whether Iran’s women’s rebellion is different this time. Well, the simple answer is that no one knows for sure, since the regime has entrenched itself domestically, regionally and internationally in a way that has given Khamenei the cards to play to change the course of events when the regime is squeezed. The card of the nuclear file is one that is on the table currently, while another is the regular kidnapping and detention of dual nationals, only releasing them on rainy days for huge concessions from foreign governments, such as the unfreezing of some of Iran’s assets.
It is up to Iranians to topple the long-discredited regime that has kept them under sanctions for more than four decades. One hopes the regime’s many masks will fall completely in the eyes of its people, especially the women, who seem to have given up buying the regime’s narrative that a pious and virtuous society is achievable through the imposition of the veil. *Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist, media consultant and trainer with more than 25 years of experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy.
How Iran is manipulating the online narrative to cover up its violent crackdown on protests Nadia Al-Faour/Arab News/October 05/2022
DUBAI: As anti-government protests in Iran enter their third week, the death toll has continued to rise, with more than 90 people reportedly having lost their lives in the wave of unrest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini.
The 22-year-old’s death at the hands of Iran’s morality police, the Gasht-e Ershad, unleashed an outpouring of anger in almost every province over the strict policing of personal freedoms and the deteriorating standard of living.
Iran’s large diaspora, spread across Europe and North America, has joined the protests in solidarity, with large demonstrations taking place outside Iranian embassies in Western capitals.
Regime authorities have so far acknowledged the death of 41 people since the unrest began yet have refused to give in to demands to relax the strict dress code imposed on women, including the mandatory headscarf.
Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s ultra-conservative president, has dismissed the anti-regime protests as a “conspiracy” orchestrated by outside enemies and has vowed to “deal decisively with those who oppose the country’s security and tranquility.”
In a statement on Sunday, he said: “At a time when the Islamic Republic was overcoming economic problems to become more active in the region and in the world, the enemies came into play with the intention of isolating the country, but they failed in this conspiracy.”
Videos and photographs emerging from Iran on social media tell a different story. Shocking images of police brutality meted out on young protesters have gone viral on social platforms, eliciting international condemnation.
To counter the spread of images and information, the regime has limited internet access and clamped down on applications like WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram — claiming the move was necessary in the interests of “national security.”
Tehran is no stranger to this kind of information warfare. The regime has adopted this strategy multiple times since the proliferation of smartphones and social media in order to control the narrative.
“Shutting down mobile internet services has become a go-to for the Iranian government when dealing with civil unrest,” Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at monitoring firm Kentik said.
Protesters have been getting around the regime’s internet controls using secure private connections. They have also been sharing footage and details about forthcoming protests with outlets like the London-based broadcaster Iran International.
Iran’s misinformation strategy is as old as the regime itself. In the 1970s, the revolutionaries fighting to topple the US-backed monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, sought to portray their leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, as a freedom fighter.
Khomeini’s close entourage, which included Western-educated advisers, helped him weave a message that appealed to Iranians inside and outside the country, cleverly modifying his words to appeal to Western audiences.
Their methods proved extremely effective. Western journalists, who at the time relied on the translations given to them by Khomeini’s advisers, willingly broadcast these messages to the world.
Today, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps utilizes a stable of media outlets, including Fars News, Tasnim and others, to set the political agenda and undermine domestic dissent.
The IRGC also uses these platforms to broadcast propaganda about operations in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East where the regime holds sway with local proxies.
At the same time, the English-language state broadcaster Press TV is used to appeal to viewers in the West, often featuring American and European commentators who support Tehran’s policies and worldview.
In March this year, Ruhollah Mo’men Nasab, former head of the Iranian Culture Ministry’s Digital Media Center, lifted the lid on how the regime disrupts the flow of information and discredits activists.
Describing his work as “psychological warfare,” Nasab boasted of developing software and “cyber battalions” to manipulate the narrative on Twitter through fake accounts.
Arash Azizi, a history and Middle East specialist at New York University, says the regime has been developing its techniques for internet information manipulation for more than a decade.
“Perhaps the first Twitter revolution was in 2009 as events were unfolding in Iran,” Azizi told Arab News, referring to that year’s mass protests, known as the Green Movement, which exploded in response to the disputed reelection of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“Nowadays, Iranians use a variety of online tools to get their voice out, which is why the government has tried to shut down the internet entirely,” said Azizi.
“Iranians abroad and many tech experts, however, are playing an active role in dominating social media with messages about what’s taking place.”
A Twitter account called @1500tasvir, which is run by a group of 10 Iranian activists based inside and outside the country, was first set up in 2019 during the wave of protests sweeping Iran at that time.
Since the latest outbreak of unrest, the account has posted thousands of videos captured by protesters. One of @1500tasvir’s contributors warned that the regime’s limiting of mobile internet services could undermine the protests.
“When you see other people feel the same way, you get braver. You are more enthusiastic to do something about it. When the internet is cut off, you feel alone,” the contributor said.
In response to the regime’s internet shutdowns, Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, pledged Washington would “make sure the Iranian people are not kept isolated and in the dark.”
On Sept. 23, the US Treasury issued Iran General License D-2, adjusting sanctions rules to allow technology companies to offer the Iranian people more options for secure, outside platforms and services to help counter the regime’s narrative.
Unable to completely snuff out the spread of information online, the regime has instead resorted to its time-tested strategy of detaining social media users whose material gains widespread traction.
According to state news agency IRNA, Hossein Mahini, a well-known football player, has been arrested “by the order of the judicial authorities for supporting and encouraging riots on his social media page.”
Another high-profile detainee is Shervin Hajipour, a popular singer who composed a piece using people’s tweets on Amini’s death and the protests. He was reportedly taken into custody last week after his song reached 40 million views on Instagram.
Although authorities did not immediately confirm Hajipour’s arrest, Mohsen Mansouri, Tehran’s provincial governor, vowed to “take measures against celebrities who contributed to fueling the protests.”
To get around the internet shutdown, some activists have now resorted to distributing flyers to advertise the time and place of planned protests, indicating the regime has failed to quell the unrest.
“They’re yet to have a way of controlling the narrative,” Azizi told Arab News. “The vast majority of Iranians can now see the brutality of this corrupt regime clearly. There have even been letters of solidarity with the protesters from Shiite seminary students in Qom and Mashhad.
“Internationally, thousands have come out in support of the protesters. Even those who usually defend this regime in the Western media are now silent.”
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The forgotten Arabs of Iran
A century ago, the autonomous sheikhdom of Arabistan was absorbed by force into the Persian state. Today the Arabs of Ahwaz are Iran’s most persecuted minority