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This week, the people of Iran and expatriates throughout the world will recognize the Persian New Year celebration of Nowruz (“New Day”). Nowruz conveys a promise of growth and transformation, which has become increasingly poignant in recent years for Iranian activists who champion democracy, women’s rights, and humanitarian values.

This Nowruz comes only three weeks after the regime’s sham parliamentary elections. The process resulted in the further consolidation of power and closing in ranks by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But this outcome was never in doubt, particularly because Khamenei and his regime have been encircled by nationwide protests that have become increasingly threatening to the mullahs’ rule. Now even so-called “moderates” from within the establishment have been systematically marginalized, unable to offer any conceivable solutions, and disgruntled.

The so-called elections for the parliament and Assembly of Experts on March 1 featured the lowest voter participation rate in 45 years, beating a record set by the previous parliamentary elections just four years earlier. The regime’s own election authorities confirmed as much. But even reviewing some of the indications in the state media and remarks by the regime’s officials give away the fact that the official estimates are inflated, and that the vast majority of Iran’s population (92%) sat out the elections in a “vote for regime change.”

There can be little doubt that the electoral boycott was carried along by the wave of dissent that began a year and a half earlier with the nationwide uprising that was sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death at the hands of “morality police.” That movement was led in large part by women, who have long been active within the leadership of the Iranian Resistance, and thus at the forefront of promises that Iran will soon realize its New Day and at last enter a community of democratic nations wherein women are no longer treated as second class citizens.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the largest democratic opposition coalition, has already elected a woman, Maryam Rajavi, to serve as transitional president once the mullahs are overthrown. On the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day, she delivered a speech in Paris to supporters, including female political dignitaries from 28 countries. Rajavi emphasized that while women are often the “primary victims” of authoritarian regimes, they are the primary agents of change in bringing about the overthrow of those regimes.

The women of Iran, in particular, have been fighting for that outcome since the theocratic dictatorship first came to power, with tens of thousands having been tortured and executed for their activism over the course of four decades.

“Take note of this figure,” Rajavi said in her speech, “as it foretells the beginning of a new era in the contemporary world, particularly in Iran.”

She went on to note that the current regime has effectively acknowledged this amidst its efforts to halt the momentum that the opposition movement has gained since the September 2022 uprising.

She pointed out that the clerical regime’s judiciary recently initiated the ludicrous “prosecution” in absentia for 104 members of the leading pro-democracy opposition movement, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). She observed: “One of the most significant charges formally leveled by the regime’s prosecutor against this movement is that it has accepted women’s leadership. They are correct. Women’s leadership has challenged their regime’s existence.”

As the NCRI and its president-elect constantly remind us, the fight for women’s equality in Iran is inseparable from the fight against autocracy and Islamic fundamentalism. The regime’s awareness of that fact is reflected in its escalating drive to not only suppress anti-regime sentiment but to also reinforce its compulsory veiling and tighten its controls on women in society more generally.

At the same time, the regime increased deployment of the very same morality police that killed Mahsa Amini and sparked the nationwide uprising in the first place. Authorities seem convinced that brute force will intimidate the public into silence. But despite the fact that 750 protesters were killed during that uprising and dozens of others sentenced to death for their part in it, public defiance has increased, as do slogans calling for regime change and broad social transformation. In particular, Iran has witnessed the substantial rise of anti-regime activities by brave members of Resistance Units across the country.

As the French author Gustave Aimard wrote in 1861, “In every human question, there is something more powerful than the brute force of bayonets: it is the idea whose time has come and hour struck.” Iran’s theocratic rulers are on the very cusp of learning the truth of these words first-hand. It is a lesson that Iranians of all demographics, from all walks of life, are eager to teach. But none have done more to strike the hour for democracy and gender equality than the courageous Iranian women and the female leadership of the Iranian Resistance movement.