Dr. Saeid Golkar feels a sense of cautious optimism when he looks at the massive protests—and brutal suppression of them—now taking place in his home country of Iran.
“One wise man said that, when you smash two eggs together, one of them will crack. We don’t know which one. I hope that the regime will abolish and collapse, but to be honest, I’m not completely, 100% sure,” said Golkar, UC Foundation assistant professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Service at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Golkar also is a senior fellow on Middle East policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change in the United Kingdom.
Considered one of the world’s top experts on Iran, Golkar has been interviewed by 68 news organizations since the start of the protests in September, including Reuters, the BBC, the Associated Press, Al Jazeera, NBC and the Wall Street Journal. He has spoken to publications, TV newscasts, podcasts and radio programs in Japan, India, Canada, France and Pakistan, among others.
“I believe that my purpose is not only to be quoted, it’s trying to tell what is happening,” he said. “I always thank these journalists because they are helping us to have our voice be heard.”
Starting in 2021, anti-government protests have taken place in Iran over water shortages, education policies and price hikes in wheat. They exploded in size in September 2022 after Iranian Guidance Police—also known as morality police—arrested 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for wearing an “improper” hijab in violation of the country’s mandatory hijab law.
Amini was beaten by police and later died of her injuries. Police said she died of a heart attack.
Since her death, protests have been held in more than 50 Iranian cities and towns. The Iranian government allows no dissent in the country and more than 15,800 protesters have been detained and 344 have been killed, according to news reports and human rights organizations.
Since the 2015 publication of his book, “Captive Society: The Basij Militia and Social Control in Iran,” Golkar said he cannot go back to Iran because he is considered an enemy of the state and will be arrested if he sets foot in the country.
“So I said, ‘Let’s try to help in my way.’ I started to write op-eds and talk with the media,” he explained. “When the situation is calm, I usually write op-eds. During a crisis, I don’t write anything; I prefer to take my time to talk with the media. Right now is a time of crisis, so there is a lot of interest from the journalists to talk about Iran”
The fact that the Iranian protests are spreading across the country is a monumental shift in Iranian culture, Golkar said.
“I have never seen that. There is a mass dissatisfaction, without a doubt,” he said. “On the other side, we have a very repressive regime, one of the most repressive regimes that you can imagine.”
Still, the protests offer a reason to hope that change is on the way, he said.
“Without any doubt, the Iranian society has changed rapidly, has progressed a lot, but the state has gone backwards and backwards.
“The people, who don’t have any equipment, are fighting with their bare hands against a very murderous regime that’s justifying the violence in the name of the God. They’re killing people and they’re happy with that.
“It’s very difficult to think that the people will win. I really hope so, and I’m not sure. I pray every day that I can go back to my country.”
In the news
Since the beginning of September, Saeid Golkar has been interviewed by media entities across the country and around the world, including:
Neue Zürcher Zeitung Magazine (Switzerland): Modern women are a declaration of war on the regime
Bangkok Post: Death toll in Iran protests reaches 31
Gazete Pencere (Turkey): Barbies fly in Iran, not Ravens!
NBC News Now: Now Tonight with Joshua Johnson
Reuters TV: Iran security forces clash with protesters
Ant1Live (Greece): I’ll fight even if I know I’ll lose’ – Iran’s women pave the way for change
Wall Street Journal: Unrest in Iran Spreads to Remote, Restive Provinces
BBC Newshour (England): Iran protests: Supreme leader finally speaks
Al Jazeera (Qatar): The majority of Americans support negotiations and reject war with Iran
CBC Newsroom (Canada): Iran Protests
Sky News (Australia): Iran protests: The secret police carrying out daylight abductions
Elpais.com (Colombia): The ‘army of the oppressed’ crushing protests in Iran
L’Orient Le Jour (Lebanon): Strikes in several cities in solidarity with the dead in Zahedan
Arab News (Pakistan): Iran cities strike in solidarity with Zahedan dead