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After almost nine months since the beginning of the uprising against the mullahs’ regime, the young people of Iran are once again in turmoil, as the resounding call of “Na!” (No!), extensively echoes across social media platforms against the obligation to abide by the dress code imposed by the mullahs.

Nine months have elapsed since the protests began following the death of Mahsa Amini, the young Kurdish woman, in Tehran, at the hands of the Iranian morality police on September 16, 2022.

Sweeping through the major cities of the country with the slogan “Jin, Jiyan, Azadî” (Woman, Life, Freedom), these protests eventually lost momentum due to the bloody repression orchestrated by the regime of the mullahs. However, the opposition may find a new breath within Iranian universities.

Tehran University of Art, the New Protest Epicenter

According to some opposition media outlets in exile and the Twitter account “Lettres de Teheran” (Letters from Tehran), the student council of Tehran University of Art issued a statement on Saturday, June 17. The statement denounced the regime’s brutal repression against students, which involved numerous arbitrary detentions. The repression stems from the students’ refusal to comply with the mandatory dress code, mainly the women’s veil, known as maghna’e in Farsi.

Here is an excerpt from the statement, as relayed and translated [into French] by the Twitter account “Lettres de Teheran” on June 18:

“There is a vast sea of blood between you and us. We, who have been together for almost a year, have nothing to say to you except one word: NO. Following your relentless enforcement of gender apartheid and the requirement for women to attend university with a maghna’e, after cutting off water and your brutal response toward our friends who were merely organizing a sit-in for equality on campus, we repeat that we will not back down.”

Solidarity among Universities

Soon after its release, this statement was endorsed by around ten other universities across the country, expressing solidarity with the students of Tehran University of Art. Subsequently, “Lettres de Teheran” shared a statement from Ahvaz University, a city located in the western part of the country, near the Iraqi border:

“Repression is going in circles, engulfing every free person, unaware that the yearning for freedom and choice only grows stronger with each blow to its roots. You, the students of the art university, are teaching us resistance, and we will stand by your side until we achieve freedom…The mandatory veil is a symbol of sexual discrimination in our society, and it goes against all human rights. We will not remain silent in the face of this demand. We will fight against it wherever we may be, employing every possible means, and we will not allow repression to set us back. Our goal is to attend a university that is open and free from all forms of prejudice, and nothing will stop us from accomplishing this.”

The “NA!” (“No!”) movement has demonstrated once again that the spirit of resistance has not died out. This movement has rather contributed to reinforcing the belief that change is inevitable in Iran.

The students’ refusal to comply with the discriminatory dress code suggests that since September 2022, a portion of the population rejects the established laws of the Islamic Republic.

Social Media, a New Platform for Protest

This is mostly the case among the younger generation, which is increasingly more connected to the world. In confrontation to the deified ideology of martyrdom promoted by the mullahs, young Iranians support what the French-Iranian sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar succinctly outlined in April 2023 as “the joy of living.” This notion perfectly embodies the essence of the Woman, Life, Freedom movement.

Marie Ladier-Fouladi, a researcher at CNRS, expressed her opinion in the magazine Esprit in April 2023, highlighting the specificity of Iranian youth who “stand out for their mastery of digital media, their omnipresence on social networks, and their frenetic exploration of virtual spaces (…) like the Z Generation worldwide.”

Today, Iranian youth’s distinctiveness is reflected in the abundance of posts on social media featuring the calligraphic term “NA!”. Deprived of a physical space for expression due to ongoing repression, Iranian youth have thus seized the virtual space as an avenue to make their voices heard.

It is precisely for this reason that the regime is determined to strictly regulate this virtual world. Popular platforms like Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp are all censored within Iranian territory. The only means to access such platforms is to install a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to bypass the restrictions, a practice embraced by many young Iranians.

Above all, this emerging “rallying buzz” could potentially be one form of expression signaling the revival of the September movement.

In an interview with the French newspaper Libération on Monday, June 19, researcher Kasra Aarabi, an Iran specialist, stated that “all the signs suggest that a new wave of mass protests will eventually take shape.”

Aarabi highlighted several factors, including economic considerations and the growing gap between the youth and the regime since the events of September 2022. At the same time, the regime’s escalating repressive measures, including public executions, suggests its awareness of the threatening pressure it faces.

It is, of course, too early to determine the impact of the “NA!” movement. Nevertheless, this movement remains indicative of the dynamics shaping Iranian youth. The question of whether it will reach a point of no return can only be answered with time.


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