“zan, zendigi, azadi”–“Woman, life, freedom!”: Iran’s women lead rebellion that could threaten the Ayatollahs’ regime

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To see a list of previous articles, enter “Ukraine” in the Search Box on the upper right, and you will see a list in chronological order.


1) Anne Armbrecht, Julia Amalia Heyer, Muriel Kalisch, Mina Khani,Maximilian Popp, Christoph Reuter, Omid Rezaee und Özlem Topçu, “Wie sich die Iranerinnen trotz brutaler Repressionen die Freiheit erkämpfen; Der Aufstand gegen die islamistische Diktatur geht in eine neue Phase: Das Regime kämpft brutal ums Überleben. Die Demonstranten setzen auf Guerillataktiken. Wie lange können sich die Mullahs noch an der Macht halten?” Der Spiegel, November 25, 2022 (09.43 Uhr) • aus DER SPIEGEL 48/2022;

2) Roya Hakakian, “The Bonfire of the Headscarves; For Iran’s protesters, the fight for women’s freedom of choice is now synonymous with a desire to end the rule of the ayatollahs,” The Atlantic, September 24, 2022;


3) Miriam Berger, “Iran’s regime at an impasse as protest movement defies crackdown,” Washington Post, December 1, 2022 (12:01 a.m. EST);


4) Ghazal Golshiri, “En Iran, les hommes enfin solidaires des femmes qui refusent de porter le voile; Depuis le début du soulèvement qui secoue le pays, le regard masculin sur les femmes qui osent sortir la tête découverte a changé, racontent plusieurs Iraniennes contactées par ‘Le Monde’,”:; Le Monde, le 24 mars 2023 (mis à jourbà 11h30);


Freedom is in the air.

After watching the courageous struggle of the Ukrainian people against the Russian barbarians, citizens throughout the world have been reminded of the incredible value of and of the possibility of freedom.

The Russians, with their military aggression, their strategy based on the systematic commission of war crimes such as taking down the civilian infrastructure of Ukraine, attacking residential housing blocks and other civilian targets, and the atrocities they have committed against Ukrainians in Russian-occupied territories, have reminded the world once again of the face of barbarism, of the true nature of Vladimir Putin’s fascist regime and of the Russian people.

We may have reached a turning point in history, a Zeitenwende in the expression of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a moment when Russian aggression and barbarism in Ukraine have reminded the world’s population of the absolute value of freedom and of the stakes in the new era’s struggle between freedom and authotitarianism.

In Iran, the winds of freedom are blowing again, with a force not seen since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. As Der Spiegel puts it,

Iran has reached its Ukrainian moment, the time when a people realize that they are willing to pay the price for their freedom.

The breadth and depth of the current rebellion in Iran is extraordinary, with workers from South Tehran joining middle and upper-class residents from North Tehran, with students and intellectuals joining farmers and rural citizens from all across the country. Even shopkeepers have joined strikes and demonstrations.

But perhaps the most potent symbol of the rebellion has been the growing number of women who are defiantly casting off their veils.

It is not because they are necessarily against the wearing of the veil. Memories persist of the 1936 decree by Shah Reza Pahlevi prohibiting women from wearing the veil.

The battle is not about the veil. It is about the freedom of women to choose whether to wear the veil or not. About freedom of choice.

Significantly, men and particularly young men have been joining the protests.

Previous demonstrations were set off by disputes over election results, or mundane matters such as the cost of gasoline or the cost-of-living.

The current rebellion was sparked by the death in detention of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman from the province of Kurdistan who was visiting relatives in Tehran. She was arrested and jailed by the “Morals Police” for allegedly having her veil adjusted improperly, and died in detention several days later.

The authorities said the cause of death was a heart attack. But she was a young and previously healthy woman with no known heart condition. Independent MRI scans reportedly revealed several cranial fractures.

While the death of Mahsa Amini sparked the initial protests, they soon expanded and have morphed into a general demand not for reforms, but for an end of the dictatorial regime of the ayatollahs.

Cries of “Death to America” are no longer heard. Instead, cries of “Death to Khamenei” are gaining currency. (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the “Supreme Guide” of the Islamic Revolution and the all-powerful dictator of Iran.)

The rallying cry of the rebellion is

“Zan, Zendigi, Azadi” (Woman, Life, Freedom).

As in Ukraine, Iranians are fighting, above all, for Freedom.

For a song which is becoming the anthem of the rebellion, see Shervin Hajipour, “Baraye…” on YouTube, here.

In the words of the motto of Stanford University, the Observer’s alma mater,

Die Luft der Freiheit weht.

The wind of freedom blows.

The Trenchant Observer


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About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.