Ajam Podcast #42: The 2009 Green Movement and Legacies of Protest in Modern Iran

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In this episode, Belle interviews Dr. Pouya Alimagham, a Lecturer at MIT, and a Faculty Affiliate at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative, about his recent book, Contesting the Iranian Revolution: The Green Uprisings (Cambridge University Press, 2020). 

This June marks 15 years since millions of Iranians took to the streets in protest after Mahmoud Ahmedinejad was announced winner of the 2009 presidential elections. Now known as the Green Movement, the mass protests spread under the slogan “Where is my vote?” amid widespread suspicions that the election had been rigged. The Green uprisings were the largest mass street movement in Iran since the 1979 revolution. Though the uprisings were eventually crushed and thousands imprisoned, Alimagham argues in his book and this podcast episode that the movement was successful in drawing attention to state corruption and oppression, taking its place in Iranian history as a remarkable moment of protest that changed the country forever. 

In Contesting the Iranian Revolution: The Green Uprisings (and our podcast episode), Alimagham addresses the continuities and shifts between the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the 2009 Green Movement. He looks at how holidays, events, and symbols crucial to the 1979 Revolution and ensuing Islamic Republic were co-opted or “contested” by activists in the Green Uprisings. We discuss how Ashura, the anniversary of the Imam Hussein’s martyrdom at Karbala, has been used as a legitimizing narrative by the Islamic Republic, who cast themselves and their revolutionaries as the Imam Hussein rising up against the evil Yazid (in this iteration, played by the Shah). The December 1978 Ashura protests marked one of the largest demonstrations leading up to the fall of the Shah. But in 2009, the narrative surrounding Ashura shifted: protestors claimed the Islamic Republic had become the repressive Yazid, and that they represented Imam Hussein, fighting for the oppressed Iranian population. 

We also discuss symbols used by the Islamic Republic that were mobilized and changed ever-so-slightly by Green Movement activists, such as the emblem of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. 

Banners of resistance. From left to right: Emblems of the Badr Brigade, Hezbollah, the IRGC, and the Green Movement (taken from Alimagham, pg 257. Image courtesy of Alimagham).

Alimagham also discusses the holiday “Jerusalem Day,” the tensions and contradictions inherent in the Islamic Republic’s support of Palestine, and how Green Movement activists addressed this narrative.  

We conclude the podcast episode with Alimagham’s thoughts on continuities and shifts between the 2009 Green Uprisings and the Women, Life, Freedom Movement that was sparked in 2022. We discuss the use of technology and social media and how its use in protest has changed over the decades, as well as the Green Movement’s lasting legacy in Iranian history.


Pouya Alimagham

Dr. Pouya Alimagham is a Lecturer at MIT, and a Faculty Affiliate at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative. A historian of the modern Middle East, his research focuses on such themes as revolutionary movements, US foreign policy, Orientalism, “Political Islam” and post-Islamism, women and gender, and the intersections therein. His first book, Contesting the Iranian Revolution: The Green Uprisings, was published by Cambridge University Press in February of 2020. 


Belle Cheves

Belle Cheves is a senior editor at Ajam Media Collective and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Bard College. Her research focuses on the history of family in Qajar Iran, specifically on how transformations of marital practices and affective perceptions of gender, race, and ethnicity shifted understandings of kinship, enslavement, and domestic service over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.



Episode No. 42
Release Date: 12 June 2024
Recording Location: Cambridge, MA
Recording Date: 7 October 2023
Produced by Belle Cheves
Audio Editing: Belle Cheves and Nicholas Gunty
Music: Yavaran (Intro: “404 day in heaven;” Outro: “Har Chi”)
Cover Image: Cover image of Aligmagham’s Contesting the Iranian Revolution, courtesy of author. “An Iranian woman supporting former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Mousavi covers her face with his picture during a pre-election gathering at a stadium in Tehran, June 9, 2009. Photograph by Damir Sagolj via Reuters.”  

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