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Iran’s 2022 Uprising Shadow Casts High as Regime Holds Teacher’s Day

Three-minute read

Thursday, May 2, was recognized in Iran as Teachers’ Day. The annual celebration ostensibly honors those working in the country’s education sector, but since Iranian teachers are routinely deprived of living wages and adequate institutional support while also coping with persistent interference by the clerical regime, May 2 often doubles as an occasion for public protest, largely organized by a network of teachers trade unions that are not actually permitted to legally exist.

On Wednesday, May 1, at least 17 members of one such trade union were summoned by security forces just in the city of Sanandaj, as part of a much broader effort to discourage and criminalize protest organizing. Nevertheless, demonstrations went forward in at least ten Iranian cities and gave voice to several key demands including free access to public education, an end to ongoing privatization trends, and greater guarantees of on-campus safety for students and teachers alike.

On May 2, state officials also sent congratulatory messages, and Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of this regime, met with a select group of individuals labeled as educators. He stressed to them the significance of fostering and educating the new generation according to his regime’s expectations. In his remarks, Khamenei openly expressed his main worry about the awareness of the youth and cautioned officials who are sidelined from power and may sometimes expose his regime’s atrocities partially.

Khamenei warned, “Those who, out of recklessness, disappoint the youth with the system, the government, or other individuals, are actually harming the country’s future.” 

Khamenei’s concerns are well-founded, as he perceives the enraged youth, awakened by access to free information, as a significant security threat. This was evident during the nationwide uprising that persisted for more than six consecutive months, shaking his regime.

Meanwhile, protesting teachers across the country pushed for the release of their colleagues who had previously been imprisoned as a result of their participation in prior demonstrations and organizing activities, and for curtailment of the underlying repressive trends that include not just arrests but also state-mandated firings as well as online monitoring and harassment.

This trend has been observed at every level of education, including secondary schools and universities, especially since the nationwide anti-government uprising that began in September 2022. The various resulting faculty reshuffles have focused on removing instructors and administrators who expressed support for the student protests that emerged as part of that uprising, or who simply tolerated them.

According to a report in the state-run newspaper “Etemad” on October 12, 2023, Mehdi Tehranchi, the president of Azad University, decided to dismiss and replace 32,000 associate professors throughout Iran. This decision came during a period when the clerical regime had already dismissed hundreds of professors and educational staff from universities across the country. These individuals were seen as sympathetic to the protests and students involved in the nationwide uprising of 2022.

Meanwhile, disciplinary action has been taken against students who participated in those protests, either by comparatively regime-loyal administrators or by those who succumbed to direct pressure from authorities.  

Furthermore, the still-emerging impact of that uprising makes it all the more significant that the organizers of current Teachers’ Day protests have sought to specifically call attention to the problem of gender bias in state-mandated curricula. In fact, those protests began while Iran was already in the midst of an expanded crackdown on women’s rights and public defiance of the regime’s forced veiling laws.

On April 13, police forces in multiple cities announced the start of an operation known as “Noor,” or “Light,” which saw an increase in so-called morality patrols like those that sparked the 2022 uprising when they caused the death of a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini because she was deemed to be wearing her hijab too loosely. The head of Iran’s national police force confirmed last week that the Noor campaign was still ongoing and that 32 separate institutions were involved in the enforcement of the regime’s dress code and other imposed standards of public behavior.

The campaign has produced numerous images and videos of women being harassed and arrested, often violently, on the streets of various cities, and some of these videos have quickly gone viral on social media, thereby helping to fuel public backlash. 

While state officials are now dodging responsibility and continuing the typical blame game to deflect accountability for the new crackdown, Iran’s new generation and their educators persist in organizing themselves and readying for another inevitable occasion where the spark hits the haystack.