Iran‘s regime has ramped up efforts to squash widespread protests which erupted more than two weeks ago over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police. Iranian expert Dr Roham Alvandi has told BBC World that he believes the demonstrations present the biggest challenge to Iran’s clerical leaders in years and signals the beginning of the end for the Islamic Republic founded in 1979.
Dr Alvandi told BBC News: “What is really remarkable is that unlike the previous protests, where people would flee the security forces, what we’re seeing in these protests is that unarmed young people are actually standing their ground.
“I think the images of that kind of bravery is a real problem for the regime because all it does is it encourages more and more and more opposition and more and more people to come out.
“So I think in my view, this is the beginning of the end. This is the beginning of the end for the Islamic Republic.”
He added: “I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight, so we shouldn’t expect that this regime is just going to crumble in a matter of weeks.
“The last Iranian Revolution took about a year, there will be ups and downs, there will be periods of calm punctuated with mass protests.
“But I think what’s absolutely clear to everyone is that this regime has lost all legitimacy.”
Asked if the regime could survive through mass oppression, Dr Alvandi responded: “I think they could slow it down, I think they can buy themselves some time.
“But the more that they kill unarmed Iranians on the streets of Iran, the more I think they actually dig a hole for themselves.”
He added: “The only way out really of this crisis in the long term is to listen to what these people are saying is to listen to their demands.”
Rights groups say thousands have been arrested and hundreds injured in the crackdown waged by security forces including the Basij, a volunteer militia affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Rights groups put the death toll at over 150.
Authorities have reported numerous deaths among the security forces, accusing foreign adversaries including the United States of meddling to destabilise Iran.
Videos shared on social media on Wednesday showed high school girls in Tehran taking off their headscarves and chanting “death to [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei”.
In footage said to have been filmed at a school in Shiraz on Tuesday, about 50 female pupils surrounded a member of the Basij who had been invited to give a speech, shouting “Basij get lost” and “death to Khamenei”.
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Analysts do not believe the clerical establishment is close to being toppled despite growing frustration over strict social and political limitations imposed over the past four decades since the fall of the US-backed Shah.
The government has ordered an investigation into Amini’s death, which Khamenei has said left him “heartbroken”.
But underlining unbending views in government, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi accused demonstrators of creating “hideous scenes” in the name of women’s rights.
Vahidi, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, defended the dress code law, saying protesters saw “freedom in the nakedness and shamelessness of women”.