“I am nervous and loath to do anything.” You hear this from many Iranians these days. It seems people’s minds are lost somewhere between hope and fear — hope for the future and fear for the loved ones who are losing their lives or are being thrown into jail.
Take a walk through uptown and downtown streets of Tehran, ask people about how they feel, and you will see that they are waiting for change. The youngest are the most hopeful, while the oldest are more worried. However, most of them want the same thing: change. They are waiting for freedom; they are waiting for relief from economic hardship and social pressure.
Cyrus is a young graphic artist who works for advertisement agencies. His clients usually find him through Instagram but these days his business, like many others, is in a slump.
“Every night I and other people in the neighborhood go to the rooftops and express our unhappiness by shouting slogans,” says Cyrus, whose voice is cracking up. “This is how we participate in the fight against a regime that mercilessly arrests and kills people. I am extremely worried and my income is not good at all. I have made almost no money these days, but I know that if we retreat and this government remains in place the situation will worsen day by day. We are all waiting for the big event. The first thing that I do when I wake up is to follow the news and I become more hopeful because people in most cities continue to protest in various ways and we can see signs of desperation in the regime. Who knows, perhaps we are just at the beginning of our road but we must not get discouraged.”
Hope for a better future is not limited to young Iranians. Hasan is a manager at a government office who is around 50 years old.
“When I see the passion and courage of these young people, I feel ashamed of myself. Having a position in the current Iranian system of government is nothing but a disgrace and humiliation. This system of government is extremely corrupt, nepotistic and incompetent. What you see in the news and on TV is nothing but window dressing. Life has truly become unbearable. The economic situation has crippled everybody. I am a government official so I have to pretend that everything is fine, but I am being crushed under daily expenses. If only we could get rid of this corrupt and mercenary government as soon as possible.”
Iranian women are particularly determined because they were on the forefront of the movement for change and their fight is not limited to street demonstrations. While she is driving, Mahsa’s headscarf lies on her shoulders -- not on her hair. A few years ago, after her husband went bankrupt because of the economic depression and runaway inflation, she was forced to work as a driver for the cab-sharing app Snapp.
“I am more than 40 years old and since my youth I have had to wear a veil, even in the summer heat. Now that I am middle-aged, the mandatory hijab does not really preoccupies me. I have taken off my hijab in solidarity with other women and to avenge the blood of Mahsa Amini.”
“Now we have a chance to take revenge for the injustice that we, especially us, the women, have suffered during all these years. We must not miss this chance. If we do not stick together and if the situation goes back to what it was then we may feel sorry for the rest of our lives. Perhaps my generation and the older generations are a little more conservative and cautious, but we must find a way to show our discontent and protest. I cannot sleep at night because of all my worries and anxiety. I keep thinking about what will happen tomorrow, but somewhere in my gut I am hoping that this time it is going to be different, that this time change will come.”
Mahsa says she has been considering emigrating and seek asylum in a European country because of economic hardship but also because she had lost hope in the future of her children in Iran. “For the past year I have been constantly thinking about what to do. I talked to many people because I wanted to benefit from their experience before I made any decision. They all had painful experiences during emigration and while they were waiting for asylum, but I thought their experiences were more bearable than if they had stayed in Iran with this social and economic situation. But now that this revolutionary movement has started, I am very hopeful that I will not have to emigrate. For now we have to stay and continue efforts for change.”
Helia, 18, was admitted at Tehran University but she has yet to attend classes because she and other students have been on a strike since the start of the academic year. She is hoping to spend her student years free from the Islamic Republic.
“We are determined to bring to fruition the efforts of our friends who fought from 2009 to 2019. This time is different from all previous times. The fight is not limited to this town or that town or to specific classes. We all want a free future. I and many of us don’t see any future for ourselves in the Islamic Republic. Our only option is to continue fighting and resisting.”
Many Iranians are hoping for a revolution in not a too distant future, but others who are afraid of any change, citing the fates of Syria and Iraq. Mahmoud works for the security department of a government office in Kerman:
“It seems that people have forgotten about wars and insecurity in Iraq and Syria, and do not know what happens if the government falls apart. When this happens, everybody has to pay a high price. We, too, are tired of the economic situation and spirally inflation, but we are not ready to give up the security that we have. These young people who are in the streets and alleyways are exited but they know nothing about war and a breakdown of security in their cities and neighborhoods.”
For many people, the protest movement that started on 16 September is harbinger of the Islamic Republic’s downfall. Depending on the days, they might be more hopeful or more afraid, but one thing is certain: they are unhappy with the current situation and want change.
“I wanted to buy an itty-bitty house but I hit the pause button, hoping that the prices would drop on the day after freedom comes. I am hopeful,” says Mehdi, the 45-year-old owner of a clothing store at Tehran’s Reza Bazaar.