Hope and sorrow
Khalid Khayati. Photo credit David Einar
On a remote link from France, where he is currently writing an article on developments in Iran, the LiU researcher describes how he swings between hope and despair. He is following events there through news media, social media (mainly YouTube), and personal contacts in the country. His father and several family members are still in Iran.
“Indeed – I am hopeful, but I also feel deep sorrow. Many people have been killed, and it’s inevitable that I’m affected by these events,” he says.
“I believe that the next few days are crucial; things are really on a knife-edge at the moment. It's not impossible that the demonstrators will force the regime out, but it may hold onto power for a few more years. The protests are being met with extreme violence, censorship and propaganda.”
The protests in Iran have been going on for three weeks and Khalid Khayati describes how they bring together folk from all social classes, ages and ethnic groups. Other religious groups are also getting involved. This is an important difference between now and previous waves of protest, such as 2009 and 2019, which were dominated by one social class or ethnic group.
The trigger this time was the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Zhina Amini, after her detention by the police for not wearing the compulsory headscarf correctly. After her funeral, protests spread rapidly throughout Iran. So far, 133 people have been killed and more than 1000 arrested.
“Mahsa Zhina Amini suffered double oppression – first as a woman and then as a Kurd. She has become an icon and the conscience of women in Iran, indeed – over the whole world. There is an enormous symbolic power in her fate,” says Khalid Khayati.
The article he is writing uses a theoretical model to describe how Iran has developed to become what is known as a “predator state”. This means that the state can no longer meet the ever-increasing needs of its people; the production of raw materials has halted; corruption is rife; and the ideology has lost its power, and become an empty shell.
The state behaves as a predator, and attacks its own citizens with excessive force and oppression. At the same time, it attempts to export the Iranian revolution to other countries, which is extremely expensive, both politically and economically.
“I’m not surprised at the protests. The Iranian regime has been in power for 43 years, and the problems are escalating. The ideological legitimacy that it had initially has become increasingly hollow. I have been expecting that something would happen,” says Khalid Khayati. He adds that the days of the Iranian regime are numbered.
“A predator state cannot have a long-term future. Even if this wave of protests is suppressed, new waves will come – maybe in a couple of years. Young people, in particular, do not have a choice.”
What support is there for the Iranian leaders?
“Support is falling. But Iran is a large country, and there are still a few million people who are either ideologically committed, or work in the regime’s institutions. But the demonstrations we have seen in support of the regime have not been very big.”
There are no traditional political opposition parties in Iran. What is the alternative to the religious regime?
"It’s a good question. Some people fear that there will be chaos if the regime falls, but I believe that an alternative can grow from below. We saw this happen during the Arab spring, when traditional political parties also did not exist. Another positive factor is that many Iranians are well-educated.”
Khalid Khayati's research has looked in detail at the various groups from the Middle East who are now living in Sweden. This diaspora makes Sweden unique among western countries.
“As no other country, Sweden has attracted an intelligentsia from Iran, Iraq and several other countries. This is human capital that has many positive effects. And it means that Sweden can play a major role in the development of such countries as Iran”, he concludes.
- Read more about Khalid Khayati's diaspora research: Diaspora: relations and communities across borders (with Magnus Dahlstedt)