Iran beyond the Protests: Diversity, Art, and the Impotence of Repression

25th Käte Hamburger Dialogue

24 January 2022 | 18:00–19:30 CET

Online Event

Iran has been swept by anti-government protests since Mahsa Amini died in custody on September 16.  

Where do these protests lead? What kind of futures do Iranians envision? Are the protests likely to tear the country apart, or are we seeing new alignments and coalitions forming around new visions of the future for Iran? What role does art play in expressing and mobilising political dissent? How do protest activities differ between the heartland and the border provinces? Where do the ethnic minorities stand on a common Iranian future? What are Iran’s historical political experiences that could help shape such a future? And what role should the outside world play, if any, in engaging these protests? What challenges and opportunities do they pose for global cooperation? 

These issues were discussed by Kian Tajbakhsh (Columbia University New York), Raika Khorshidian (University of Duisburg-Essen) and Hessam Habibi (University of Applied Sciences, Vienna), moderated by Mirjam Künkler (IALS, London). 

The panel situated the current protest wave in the longer history of political dissent and mobilisation in Iran since the late 1990s and discussed continuities and discontinuities with previous attempts at changing the course of Iran’s political future. It discussed the origin and meaning of the protest slogan Zan Zendegi Azadi / Jin Jiyan Azadi (Women, Life, Freedom) and recent responses of Mard Mihan Abadi (Men, Country, Prosperity). The panel asked about the social, political and cultural-religious conflict lines that characterise the current protest wave, and discussed whether it has opened up a new public sphere, located partly online, in which Iranians debate and seek agreement on what the future holds for the country.

Composition of the panel

Kian Tajbakhsh is the author of Creating Local Democracy in Iran (Cambridge University Press, 2022) and Fellow at Columbia University's Committee on Global Thought. Between 2002 and 2007 he worked for the Open Society Institute in Iran supporting democracy and local development. He was arrested twice for his political work and spent 15 months in Tehran’s Evin prison, 10 months of which was spent in solitary confinement.

Raika Khorshidian is George Foster Fellow of the Alexander-von-Humboldt-Stiftung at the University of Duisburg-Essen, focusing on 'Displacement, Identity and Belonging in Iranian Contemporary Art'. Before moving to Germany in 2021, she worked as an artist and curator in Tehran.

Hessam Habibi is a Lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences/FH Campus Wien. His book about the Rhetoric of Iranian political leaders on the role and place of Sunni Muslims in the Islamic Republic is forthcoming in the Series Social, Economic and Political Studies of the Middle East and Asia of Brill Academic Publishers, 2023.

Mirjam Künkler is Research Professor at the Institute for Advanced Legal Studies (IALS, London). Her book The Rule of Law in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Power, Institutions, and the Limits of Reform, is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press. She is co-founder of the Iran Data Portal and a member of the editorial board of Iranian Studies (Cambridge).


Mirjam Künkler works on Iranian and Indonesian politics. She has published on comparative relations between religion and state in the two countries, on questions of law and constitutionalism, Islamic authority, religious education, and religious political parties. Her most recent work has focused on questions of female religious authority in Islam, comparative secularism, and the place of religion in the two countries’ legal systems.

Mirjam Künkler is the Chairperson of the Centre's Scientific Advisory Board.