February 4, 2023

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Facing the streets, taking a step back from authoritarian rule?

The Chinese have urged their government to confront its anti-Covid policy. Iranians continue to defy authorities despite bloody repression. Authoritarian regimes seem to be backing down little by little under pressure from the streets. Western experts and officials are watching these developments in the world’s most difficult countries with great caution, without diminishing their importance.

In Iran, “the regime is very weak”, explains AFP Azadeh Kian, Franco-Iranian sociologist, professor at Paris-Cité University. “We see it in the way he acts,” he says. -Increasing repression such as executions to intimidate people. “The fall of the regime is obvious,” he said, calling the movement a “revolution” — and not an “insurgency” — of a nation “united against a bloodthirsty and oppressive regime” that “has left more than half the population in poverty.”

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Revolution of young Iranians for a normal life

Thousands of kilometers from Iran, in China, the regime is fueling a growing rejection across the country. “The regime will not collapse overnight, but its collapse has already begun,” said Lun Zhang, a professor of Chinese studies at the University of Sergiy-Paris.

“Universal Aspiration”
AFP, a researcher at the Agora Center that studies the evolution of contemporary societies. Zhang, we first see a semblance of a return to “normal.” Because after living “three years in a huge prison”, the Chinese yearn for their freedom of movement. “But now there is a very deep flaw,” he says. The crackdown on the pretext of fighting Covid has dealt a blow to the regime that is “bigger than Westerners think”.

Already in January, Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), noted in the NGO’s annual report that “the future for autocrats was much bleaker than it appears.”

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Iran’s weapon of repression is striking beyond its borders

“People can give the illusion that they accept repressive laws, because repression works to a point, but basically no one (…) wants to live under repression,” HRW’s Interim Executive Director told AFP Drana Hassan. This is why beyond Iran and China, from Burma to Hong Kong, Venezuela, Russia , there are disputes through Bangladesh or Thailand to Egypt. Of course, Ms Hassan continues, “the idea that what we’re seeing in China and Iran is significant.”

For Lun Zhang, the events in China were “a historic turning point 33 years after the Tiananmen events,” when people protesting corruption demanded political and democratic reforms before being repressed.

“I cannot say what the outcome of these protest movements will be in the world, it would be irresponsible,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told AFP. But “these protests send a big message,” he said. “This is a violent but positive rebuttal to all those who have said the values ​​of democracy are in retreat”, he continues, while “speech claims that democracies are in retreat and that people are attracted to or accept autocratic regimes. Unknowingly help those regimes”. Around the world, demonstrators are driven by the same common “universal aspiration for fundamental freedoms,” Ms. Colonna continued.

“A sprint” but “a marathon”
However, the head of HRW is on his guard about the fall of these regimes. Although they are historic, he says, street movements can only lead to real change if the international community “stands with these people for weeks, months and even years.” “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

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What is behind the abolition of the morality police in Iran?

Because history is full of the fall of authoritarian regimes that led to other authoritarian regimes, Tirana Hassan recalled.
In Venezuela, for example, hardline opposition has gotten no better than President Nicolás Maduro.

Protesters can now count on a worldwide surge of solidarity with an unprecedented sounding board via social networks. But the latter are powerful instruments in the service of oppression. Assadeyyan opined that the international community must show strong “political will” if these regimes are to change. He notes that Westerners are nervous about the sanctions, which many relatives of the Iranian regime and their children living in the United States, Canada and elsewhere are “taking advantage of democracy.”

But exercise is especially gentle. For example, it is a question of measuring the expression of solidarity among Western prisoners in Iran without worsening their situation.

The Chinese ambassador in Paris, Lu Shaye, played down the scale of the protests in his country and refused to attribute the scale of the movement to democratic aspirations. In front of a handful of journalists, he accused the United States of “external forces that want to destroy the country and overthrow the Chinese Communist Party,” but did not name them.

Experts conclude that a political alternative must emerge in these countries to replace these regimes.

The Chinese have urged their government to confront its anti-Covid policy. Iranians continue to defy the authorities despite a bloody crackdown. Authoritarian regimes seem to be backing down little by little under pressure from the streets. Western experts and officials are watching these developments in hard-hit countries with great caution.

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