Social Movements in Iran: Why do Iranian Social Movements Fail?
When we examine social movements, they are formed by people coming together for a common purpose. Social movements can take various forms. It generally seeks to influence social, political, and cultural change. When we go to the basis of social movements in Iran, we can see poverty, class differences, and various political and religious discriminations. Iranian scholars throughout history have sought to improve bad conditions and eradicate corruption. Iranian intellectuals thought that corruption prevented the development of society, so they felt that the ideas and practices taken from developed countries would end the corruption in Iran. However, it would be correct to say that new problems arise when intellectuals want to solve problems when taken directly without testing the ideas they obtain from others and without considering their social and cultural suitability in Iran. In other words, it is like using someone else's prescription instead of going to the doctor to solve the illness of the patient who does not know the source of his condition and the solution. When we analyze the Iranian social movements, we face the same situation. The efforts of Iranian scholars to implement ideas that worked in other countries in Iran have caused new problems by importing ideas, so social movements have consistently failed in Iran. Maybe these movements, which seemed right at first, seem to have won but eventually lost.
In our thesis, we will examine how the social movements after the Qajar1 period changed with the ideas of the outside world ;while doing this ;we will discuss the periods and try to present the change in Iran in the last approximately 120 years. When we look at the Qajar period, we see that there were problems and no order. When the intellectuals wanted to solve the emerging issues, they believed that the first thing to do was to abolish the authoritarian government, correct the laws and establish a constitutional government, and all these problems would be solved. Mozaffar ad-Din Shah Qajar2 was the Shah of Iran ,then and he allowed the establishment of the parliament, and the Shah's powers were reduced. All these studies were done with the idea that the Iranian intellectuals in Iran would implement the system in England and the problems would be solved. However, when we look later, the constitution that solved the issues in England created insecurity in Iran ;the society was in turmoil ;that is, the problem was not solved with this, and Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar3 attacked the parliament, and some of Iran's intellectuals fled abroad. Again, with the Iranian intellectuals who supported the Assembly, they thought that this time governed by the will of a single person, would make Iran better, again influenced by the ideas abroad. As a result, Reza Khan4 replaced Qajar. England.
1 The Qajar dynasty was an Iranian royal dynasty of Turkic origin, ruling over Iran from 1789 to 1925.
2 Mozaffar ad-Din Shah Qajar (March 1853 – 3 January 1907), was the fifth shah of Qajar Iran, reigning from 1896 until he died in 1907. He is often credited with the creation of the Persian Constitution of 1906, which he approved of as one of his final actions as Shah.
3 Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar (June 1872 – 5 April 1925, San Remo, Italy), Shah of Iran from 8 January 1907 to 16 July 1909. He was the sixth shah of the Qajar dynasty.
4 Reza Shah Pahlavi originally Reza Khan (15 March 1878 – 26 July 1944) was an Iranian military officer, politician
(who served as minister of war and prime minister), and first shah of the House of Pahlavi of the Imperial State of Iran and father of the last shah of Iran. He reigned from 15 December 1925 until he was forced to abdicate by
also supported the situation for fear of the spread of communism in Iran and thought that dictatorship was better.
The rise of Reza Khan to power did not improve the social situation in Iran. He pushed aside all the scholars around him and established a one-person regime with only those who said yes, sir ﻪPﻠ)
(ﺎنU , who followed his word. His rapprochement with the Germans brought his end. During the
Second World War, although Iran stated neutral, the Soviets and the British armies occupied Iran. After the Second World War, they replaced him with his son, and when we look at the next period, Iran's intellectual minds began to think that Marxism was good and that dictatorship was useless. They believed that the working class would come to power, that everything would be shared and that justice would prevail. In other words, Iranian Intellectuals became pro-communist this time, and even Muslim groups became Islamist communists. When Marxism became famous, seeing that young people were adopting Marxism thought, Iranian scholars such as Dr. Ali Shariati presented an Islamic interpretation of Marxism so that the Islamic revolution was carried out with leftist content. Muslim groups explained this as Islamic and said everyone was equal during the rule of Hazrat Ali5. They criticized the fact that everything is the property of one group. When we examine the post-Islamic revolution led by Imam Khomeini6, we see that many lands and factories were taken from their owners and distributed to the public. We want to point out that traditional Islam has no such rules. As another example, when we look at the Iranian constitution, Article 44 declares that the Iranian economy has three sectorsthe ; first is the public sector, second is the cooperative sector, and the third sector is the private sector. It is clear that although it is a country called Islamic, it was shaped under the influence of Marxist ideas.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Iranian intellectuals moved away from Communist ideas and gave priority to capitalist ideas. It was emphasized that private property is essential security for foreign investments; scholars began to think that it would be better in this way because European countries implemented it, and they felt that if we implemented it, the problems would be solved. When we look at the social movements after the Iranian Islamic revolution, In the period after Liberal Thoughts replaced Marxist ideas Social movements continued in İran it is possible to list the "student movement" in 1999, the "green movement" in 2009, and the "women freedom life" movement that continued in the last months of 2022. In this study, we will examine the social movements in Iran, which were formed with different thoughts over time, and seek an answer to the following research questions.
the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran on 16 September 1941. Reza Shah introduced many social, economic, and political reforms during his reign, ultimately laying the foundation of the modern Iranian state. Therefore, he is regarded as the founder of modern Iran.
5 Ali (c. 600 – 661 CE) was the last of four Rightly Guided Caliphs to rule Islam (r. 656 – 661) immediately after the death of Muhammad, and he was the first Shia Imam. The issue of his succession caused a major rift between Muslims and divided them into Shia and Sunni groups. Ali was assassinated in the Grand Mosque of Kufa in 661 by the forces of Mu'awiya, who went on to find the Umayyad Caliphate. The Imam Ali Shrine and the city of Najaf were built around Ali's tomb and it is visited yearly by millions of devotees.
6 Imam Ayatollah Seyed Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini (May 17, 1900 – June 3, 1989) was a Muslim cleric and Marja, and the political leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran which overthrew Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran. Following the Revolution, Imam Khomeini became Grand Leader of Iran — the paramount figure in the political system of the new Islamic Republic — until his demise.
2. Research Questions
In this study on the social movements in Iran, which we believe to be necessary, we will seek answers to the following questions:
- Why do Iranian social movements arise, and why do they fail?
- What are the influential factors in the ups and downs of social movements in Iran?
- What are the elements of the failure of Iranian social movements?
3. Literature Review
Many scholars from different disciplines in the social sciences studied the social movements in Iran from different perspectives. I want to separate these studies as those that examine the pre- Islamic revolution and the factors that led to the Islamic revolution and those that read the Student movement and the Green movement so that we can present in general the essential sources in this field.
Kazemi7 writes that the land reform program introduced by the Shah in Iran in the 1960s has largely failed to deliver the promised improvements, emphasizing the migration of impoverished rural peasants to the cities and the recruitment of these people in religious centers to support the revolution, and this had a significant impact on the Iranian revolution. Other authors like Abrahamian8 and Halliday9, examining the Iranian Revolution, are that the Shah followed a policy of rapid modernization in economic and cultural fields while not allowing significant changes in democracy, freedom, and justice. Therefore, the increase in corruption, the inequality between classes, and the absence of a free political space led to the revolution. In another similar study, Kamrava10, while explaining the process, mentions that domestic and international developments reduced the Shah's power and authority, increased the activities of social movements and different opposition groups and that these groups interacted together on the way to the revolution. In another study, Bashiriyeh11 states that there are many factors in the emergence of the process, and the most important of these are revolutionary ideology, conflicts of interest within the state, the regime's loss of foreign support after the shah's policies, and the alliance between various opposition forces.
Krugman12 discusses the Iranian revolution and argues that the 1979 Iranian revolution mobilized large numbers of Iranians from all strata of society against the Shah's oppression and took place in anticipation of political and economic opportunities. Bayat13 examines the lives of Iran's poor
7 Farhad Kazemi, Poverty and revolution in Iran: The migrant poor, urban marginality and politics. (New York: New York University Press, 1980).
8 Ervand Abrahamian, Structural causes of the Iranian Revolution. (Merip Reports, 87, 1980) 21–26.
9 Fred Halliday, The Iranian revolution: uneven development and religious populism. (In State and ideology in the Middle East and Pakistan London: Springer, 1988), 31-63.
10 Mehran Kamrava, Revolution in Iran: The Roots of Turmoil, (New York: Routledge, 1990), 12.
11 Hossein Bashiriyeh, The state and revolution in iran. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984).
12 Charles Kruzman, The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran. (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004), 136.
13 Asef Bayat, Street Politics: Poor People's Movements in Iran. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997).
during the revolution and the contribution of formations in Tehran's slums and neighborhoods to waves of protest. In this way, it depicts how ordinary people cooperate to gain their rights and freedoms.
Considering the importance of religious factors and the importance of the Shia community in Iran when examining social movements, I think it is essential to include studies based on the Shia ideology. For example, Ahava14 Moaddel15 and Afary16 claimed that Shia principles, symbols, and rituals shaped the Iranian Revolution and were linked to politics. Rasler's17 work is exciting in this area. He evaluated the fact that this tradition in Shia gave violence to the protests, as the pressure of the Shah and the regime forces increased in the last months of the demonstrations and the violent protests tied to the 40-day mourning tradition of the Shia community, which dates back to the murder of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the prophet, in Karbala.
When we examine the Iranian Revolution and the 1999 Student Movement in Iran, which is the most important example of social mobilization in Iran after the war, it is helpful to first look at the political structure of that time. Under the leadership of President Mohammed Khatami, the rule of law, the democratization process, freedom in the political and social spheres, and the appreciation of the rights of ethnic minorities have provided students with a more comfortable environment to think and act. The freedoms provided in social areas increased student mobility and allowed students who use this opportunity to establish organizations. The articles on the Revival of the Student Movement in Post-Revolution Iran support this view. They explain the importance of universities, the critical role of students in social movements, and the resurgence of student organizations in Iran after a long hiatus with the Khatami era. Scholars like Arjomand18, Mashayekhi19, Afsari, and Underwood20.
The Iranian Green Movement is considered one of the essential post-revolutionary social movements. The Green Movement started by organizing anti-government protests alleging corruption and fraud in the 10th presidential election held in Iran in the summer of 2009. The demonstrations grew by arguing that the current government rigged the votes in favor of Ahmed Nejad to win re- election. When we examine the studies on the Green Movement, we see that these studies focus on evaluating the role of the internet and communication. The Green Movement was first cited as an example of how the internet can unite dissidents and enable them to challenge an authoritarian state.
14 Shahrough Akhavi, The ideology and praxis of Shi'ism in the Iranian revolution. (Comparative Studies in Society and History, 25(2), 1983), 195–221.
15 Mansoor Moaddel, Ideology as episodic discourse: The case of the Iranian Revolution. Social movements. (Springer, 1995), 234-290.
16 Janat Afary, Shi'i narratives of Karbala and Christian rites of penance: Michel Foucault and the culture of the Iranian revolution, 1978-1979. (Radical History Review, 86(1), 2003), 7–35.
17 Karen Rasler, Concessions, repression, and political protest in the Iranian Revolution. (American Sociological Review, 1996), 132-152.
18 Said A. Arjomand, Civil Society and the Rule of Law in the Constitutional Politics of Iran Under Khatami. (Social Research 67, no. 2, 2000), 283.
19 Mehrdad Mashayekhi, The Revival of the Student Movement in Post-Revolutionary Iran, (International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 15, 2001), 292.
20 Ali Afshari and H. Graham Underwood, Iran’s Resilient Civil Society: The Student Movement’s Struggle. (Journal of Democracy 18, no. 4, 2007), 80.
Honari21 examines how, despite the government's crackdown on activists, the Green Movement's online activists challenge the government's crackdown with various strategies. Chatfield, Akbari, Mirzayi, and Scholl's22 work can be an example of another study that mentions the importance of the internet. He discussed how social media transformed the general public after the 2009 presidential elections in Iran and the support of social media for the Green Movement protests. In a similar study, Haddadian23 examines the emergence of the Green Movement by focusing on the effects of ICT on the collective action base. Some scholars also discuss the negative aspects of the role of the Green Movement's internet and communication technologies. For example, while emphasizing the importance of social media, Rahimi24 and Ansari25 emphasize that social media is used to spread the movement and for the government to take complete control in Iran.
When we look at other studies, we can say that besides the role of the internet, social cooperation plays a vital role in the emergence of political opportunity or the revival of the Green movement for economic reasons. Likewise, Pourmokhtari26 analyzes grassroots movement activities in his work. In his view, the basis of the Green Movement was that the actors or activists in this movement considered the situation a political opportunity,At the same time ; they continued their activities and became a part of the Green movement by acting in unison. In another study, Harris27 recognizes the importance of the impact of elections while examining the Green Movement. Still, he emphasizes that the main problem is the government's failure to improve welfare and the growing economic issues of the middle class.
We have mentioned before that some authors, while examining social movements in Iran, explore religious figures or formations, especially under the influence of Shia Islamic thought in Iran, so now let's present an example of examining the green movement with this thought, Fischer28 points out Shia values, symbols, and practices while discussing the Iranian Green movement. He explains how those who joined the Green Movement placed their martyrs next to Imam Ali in their struggle against the injustice of their government. He argues that these moves show Iranians' insistence on greater freedom and participation.
21 Ali Honari, “We will either find a way, or make one”: How Iranian Green Movement online activists perceive and respond to repression. (Social Media Society, 4(3), 2018), 1–11.
22 Chatfield, A. T., Akbari, R., Mirzayi, N., & Scholl, H. J. Interactive effects of networked publics and social media on transforming the public sphere: A survey of Iran's leaderless' social media revolution'. (Paper presented at the 45th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, 2012), 2552-2562.
23 Afsanneh J. Haddadian, “Social Movements Emergence and Form: The Green Movement in Iran” (PhD diss., Wright State University, 2012).
24 Babak Rahimi, The agonistic social media: Cyberspace in the formation of dissent and consolidation of state
power in postelection Iran. (The Communication Review, 14(3), 2011).
25 Amin Ansari, The role of social media in Iran's Green Movement 2009-2012. (Global Media Journal– Australian Edition, 12, 2012).
26 Navid Pourmokhtari, Understanding Iran's Green Movement as a ‘movement of movements. (Sociology of Islam, 2(3-4), 2014), 144–177.
27 Kevan Harris, The brokered exuberance of the middle class: An ethnographic analysis of Iran's 2009 Green Movement. (Mobilization: An International Quarterly, 17(4), 2012), 435–455.
28 Michael M. J. Fischer, “The Rhythmic Beat of the Revolution in Iran,” (Cultural Anthropology 25, no. 3, 2010), 509
As seen in the works we have examined, the authors have studied social movements in Iran in many ways. However, the source of the problem, where it came from, and why they were not successful were not mentioned. Affirmative, these social movements may have an economic, political, or ideological dimension, this is natural, but for us, the problem is in generating ideas in the first place. At this point, the project we want to do will produce creativity and maybe a phenomenon in developing or third-world countries such as Turkey and Iraq and will shed light on social movements in these countries.
In our study, we aim to question why the social movements in Iran seem successful but always fail, and thus, we focus on the main reason for the social movements with the new idea we present. We argue that the changes made in our own country without examining the pictures taken from developed countries and reconciling them with our culture are already unsuccessful. We hope that this study will be used in future studies and be groundbreaking.
4. Research Hypothesis
In this research process, examining the history of social movements in Iran, as well as the evolution of the thoughts of Iranian intellectuals periodically, led us to defend the following hypothesis:
Social movements that have taken place in Iran since The Persian Constitutional Revolution have occurred with the prevailing ideas in developed countries. With the help of globalization, the transformation of thoughts in the world succeeded in transforming the thoughts in Iran as well. According to this hypothesis, imported ideas led to social movements in Iran. This research will test this hypothesis with objective and historical data and check its validity.
In this thesis that is planned to be written in a monograph format. To answer my research questions, I will follow a qualitative research strategy with an inductive and interpretivist approach. With a case study research design, I would like to focus on Iranian Social Movements and use the “Time Series” technique and “Historical Data”. With this method, we will examine the connection between the dominant thought changes in the world and the social movements in Iran in the last approximately 120 years. Using this method, we will periodically examine Iran's social movements, and we can list these periods as follows.
- The Persian Constitutional Revolution (ﺖpوﻃlmﻣ) 1906
- Pahlavi dynasty 1925-1979
- Islamic Revolution 1979
- After Iran- Iraq War
- Student Movement in 1999
- Green Movement in 2009
- the “ Women Life Freedom” Movement in 2022
While making the periodic distinctions that we will apply in our thesis, we have paid attention to the change of dominant thoughts in Iran. For my case study, I will utilize primary sources like historical books, political and historical documents, writings of famous Iranian thinkers, party statements, policy documents, speeches, and manifestos, in addition to secondary sources.
6. Progress Plan
Semester 1: Literature review, developing the outline and theoretical framework, determining the necessary fieldwork (visits to archives, libraries, institutions, etc.) and interviews.
Semester 2: Literature review, preparing one draft chapter
Semester 3: Fieldwork in İran/study abroad, research, dissertation writing
Semester 4: Research and dissertation writing, participation in an international conferences Semester 5: Dissertation writing, dissemination works
Semester 6: Dissertation writing, dissemination works Semester 7: Public trial lecture and defense
Afsanneh J. Haddadian, “Social Movements Emergence and Form: The Green Movement in Iran” (.Ph.D diss., Wright State University, 2012).
Ali Afshari and H. Graham Underwood, Iran’s Resilient Civil Society: The Student Movement’s Struggle. (Journal of Democracy 18, no. 4, 2007).
Ali Honari, “We will either find a way or make one”: How Iranian Green Movement online activists perceive and respond to repression. (Social Media Society, 4(3), 2018).
Amin Ansari, The role of social media in Iran's Green Movement 2009-2012. (Global Media Journal– Australian Edition, 12, 2012).
Asef Bayat, Street Politics: Poor People's Movements in Iran. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997).
Babak Rahimi, The agonistic social media: Cyberspace in the formation of dissent and consolidation of state power in postelection Iran. (The Communication Review, 14(3), 2011).
Charles Kruzman, The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran. (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004).
Chatfield, A. T., Akbari, R., Mirzayi, N., & Scholl, H. J. Interactive effects of networked publics and social media on transforming the public sphere: A survey of Iran's leaderless' social media revolution. (Paper presented at the 45th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, 2012). Ervand Abrahamian, Structural causes of the Iranian Revolution. (Merit Reports, 87, 1980).
Farhad Kazemi, Poverty and revolution in Iran: The migrant poor, urban marginality and politics. (New York: New York University Press, 1980).
Fred Halliday, The Iranian revolution: Uneven development and religious populism. (In State and ideology in the Middle East and Pakistan London: Springer, 1988).
Hossein Bashiriyeh, The state and revolution in Iran. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984). Janat Afary, Shi'i narratives of Karbala and Christian rites of penance: Michel Foucault and the culture of the Iranian revolution, 1978-1979. (Radical History Review, 86(1), 2003).
Karen Rasler, Concessions, repression, and political protest in the Iranian Revolution. (American Sociological Review, 1996).
Kevan Harris, The brokered exuberance of the middle class: An ethnographic analysis of Iran's 2009 Green Movement. (Mobilization: An International Quarterly, 17(4), 2012).
Mansoor Moaddel, Ideology as episodic discourse: The case of the Iranian Revolution. Social movements. (Springer, 1995).
Mehran Kamrava, Revolution in Iran: The Roots of Turmoil, (New York: Routledge, 1990). Mehrdad Mashayekhi, The Revival of the Student Movement in Post-Revolutionary Iran, (International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 15, 2001).
Michael M. J. Fischer, “The Rhythmic Beat of the Revolution in Iran,” (Cultural Anthropology 25, no. 3, 2010).
Navid Pourmokhtari, Understanding Iran's Green Movement as a ‘movement of movements. (Sociology of Islam, 2(3-4), 2014).
Said A. Arjomand, Civil Society and the Rule of Law in the Constitutional Politics of Iran Under Khatami. (Social Research 67, no. 2, 2000).
Shahrough Akhavi, The ideology, and praxis of Shi'ism in the Iranian revolution. (Comparative Studies in Society and History, 25(2), 1983).