The Iranian Diaspora in the Protests: From Divergence to Convergence Features
The Iranian Diaspora in the Protests: From Divergence to Convergence

The most important consequence of the protests in Iran for the Iranian diaspora, a diaspora that has been largely unorganized and passive until now, is the opening of a new arena for it in socio-political life as part of Iranian society, even if it has not yet found its appropriate representation and organizational structures.

The Iranian diaspora is considered one of the young diasporas, and currently its age does not exceed one or two generations. It is still connected with its country of origin. For whatever reason people migrate, members of this diaspora usually see migration not as a matter of their own will and choice, but as a compulsion and failure to live in their own country.

Iranian immigration, due to its politicization, has become complicated, which has made access to reliable statistics difficult. Despite this, the evidence clearly shows an increase in the tendency to migrate in recent years, especially among young people, which is mainly due to a lack of an adequate economic, political, cultural and social infrastructure at home.

Most migrants leave Iran for the purpose of continuing their education.  These are often young people who have completed at least one university degree in Iran and are considered to be of working age. But they migrate from Iran to get a better life and a good job. Some people consider the continuation of university education as the only reason for their migration. But others consider the pursuit of university education as one of several reasons, which may include: gaining new personal and professional experiences, getting to know other cultures, the possibility of living based on individual values, and benefiting from more freedom outside of Iran, as well as seeking to change their living conditions.

Considering the large number of Iranian emigrants, the coincidence of the waves of immigration with internal political events and the way the government deals with this issue shows that the issue of emigration in Iran is related to the ideological nature of the government, and it can hardly be equated with the issue of emigration from developing countries in general. It seems that in Iran, migration is the result of a combination of reasons that provoke or force a person to leave the country or bring a person to a new country. These driving factors are the weakness of effective democratic institutions, a political monopoly, an uncertain economic outlook, the Iran-Iraq war, the Iranian cultural revolution, the ideological purification of universities and economic sanctions.

One of the distinguishing features of Iranian emigration is its largely middle-class demographic. However, analyses carried out in recent years show that the Iranian middle class is in crisis, and this class is shrinking and becoming marginalized due to economic woes. Research has also shown that the modern middle class, intellectuals and state technocrats are being eliminated for political reasons. But the evidence shows that life will continue for the Iranian middle class despite all the crises.

The Iranian diaspora should be understood in the framework of the gap that was created after the 1980 Revolution, which can be called the habitat gap. In addition to the political, intellectual and cultural layers, this gap also has a nostalgic potential energy. In recent years, gender, generational, cultural, ethnoreligious, class and ideological divides have become more active and political. These divisions are all connected, aligned and coordinated with each other in this movement, and more importantly, the divergences they had before have lessened.

The Iranian diaspora includes broad political thought from the left and extreme left to the right and extreme right, and from the monarchist and centrist to the democratic and nationalist. This issue has caused a lack of convergence in the 43 years since the Revolution as a united opposition. In 2013, Iran’s then Minister of Information announced that an alliance would not be formed between the opposition groups in the Islamic Republic.

The opposing currents, parties and organizations of the Islamic Republic usually do not accept each other. Each movement considers itself to be the only real and legitimate opposition and claims that it has a wide social base; that the people of Iran are waiting for it; are counting the minutes until its arrival; and it considers rival currents to be deviant, dependent, undemocratic, anti-people and lacking any social base.

Now the Iranian diaspora has converged with all the differences and multitude of ideas on one issue: opposition to the Islamic Republic.  However, there are great differences between elements in their types of activism and leadership in these protests and the nature of their proposed alternatives. The active presence of Iranians in the parliaments of European countries as representatives has made the real voice of the protesters’ demands reach the world’s ears through the media and conversations with other politicians. The virtual activity of the diaspora, especially on Twitter, despite the limited internet access in Iran and the filtering of virtual networks in Iran, caused the news of protests, arrests and the government’s response to the protesters to circulate. The Iranian diaspora also uses the Internet to maximize the benefits of an online community. The Internet and virtual space have increased the social capital among the members of the Iranian diaspora community. Accordingly, their actions have become more powerful and they are being heard and reaching global public opinion more than ever.

The main content of the tweets sent by the Iranian diaspora in connection with Iran is criticism of the current conditions in the country and its government. Tweets have also reflected support for the ongoing protests. Since emigrants are no longer limited to specific geographical locations, they easily find people and peers who have common interests with them and have the opportunity to discuss sensitive political issues with each other.

Therefore, it can be claimed that the Iranian diaspora, unlike the emigrant population of other countries, is not an opportunity for, but rather has become a threat to the established system. The peak of this threat has manifested in the recent protests. The Islamic Republic is aware of this threat. Faced with the flood of emigration, especially the out-migration of young people and the educated and labor force, instead of providing the grounds for potential emigrants’ to remain, leading the way in the fields of development and social freedoms, and providing the minimum needs of a normal life, it has imposed immigration restrictions for educated youth. These include the prevention of protesters and political convicts from leaving the country and the seizing of their passports.

After Mahsa Amini was killed in police headquarters and the nationwide protest movement started in Iran, Iranians abroad held demonstrations and human chains in hundreds of cities and wrote petitions in support of the movement in Iran and opposition to the regime established in Iran.

On October 22, 2022, a crowd of over 85,000 people gathered in Berlin, according to the German police. Protesters demanded that countries close their embassies in Iran. Although, in the Berlin demonstration, the lack of proportionality between the extent and diversity of the participants with the nature of the organizing group and the composition of speeches showed the intellectual imbalance of the Iranian diaspora, but it achieved very good international visibility.

On January 16, 2023, a gathering of 12,000 people was held in Strasbourg, France, in front of the European Parliament building by Iranians with the aim of having the European Union declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) a terrorist organization.

In this gathering, the speaker of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsula, addressed the Iranians: “You stood on the right side of history and you will make history, and we will not leave you alone.”

During the four months of protests by the Iranian people, many members of the European Parliament have taken several measures to express solidarity with the Iranians. Among them, a number of women in the parliament cut their hair during the “Gisoboran” Iranian women’s protest. A number of members of the European Parliament have also sponsored individual protestors sentenced to death in Iran, which, although a symbolic act, is considered to be political pressure on the Iranian government. Iranians have traveled to Strasbourg and have once again proposed the expulsion of Iranian ambassadors from EU countries and the return of these countries’ ambassadors from Tehran. A number of representatives of the parliaments of European countries who are of Iranian descent supported the January gathering of Iranians in Strasbourg and called on Iranians to attend this event. At the same time, on the same day, the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” was engraved on the Eiffel Tower. Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, while publishing photos of the Eiffel Tower with the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” on it, called for executions to stop in Iran and spoke about the “relentless support” of the French capital for the “struggle of the Iranian people”.

All that has been said shows that the activity of the Iranian diaspora has become more important today than before and despite the range of its political spectrum has produced a powerful and active current opposing the system of the Islamic Republic of Iran, whether in cyberspace or in real space.

It can be claimed that the international understanding of the nature of the Iranian protests, the reason for the political action of Iranians and the violent reaction of the Islamic Republic system have become effective and global through the diplomacy of the Iranian diaspora. This has forced the international community to react to the actions of the Iranian government in relation to protests and protesters. It may, however, yet lead to a hostile reaction from the Iranian government, which may promote its own political isolation while blocking the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiations and any dialogue.

Sharareh Abdolhoseinzadeh is a PhD in Political Sociology and a political researcher in Tehran.