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What's uniting the diverse group of people protesting in Iran?

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Iranians chanted, freedom, freedom, freedom, this week at the grave of Jina Amini, also known as Mahsa, who died while in the custody of the country's morality police. She was 22 years old. Thousands gathered at that cemetery in western Kurdistan, part of over 40 days of protests that have spread across the country. They called for fundamental change. And among those who has protested was a 25-year-old we'll identify only by his first initial, M. While he has left Iran in recent days, he still has family there, and speaking to the press might put them in danger. I began by asking him what it was like in the streets of Tehran.

M: There is definitely strong presence of military and police, so it's somewhat fearsome. If the protests erupt, even if you're not a protester yourself, you may get entangled within it. You may get beaten up. You may get shot at. So the city's in anguish.

SIMON: Would you at this point call it a protest movement or a revolution?

M: So every revolution is just a protest for the moment that the regime topples. And right now, I think the probability of this leading to regime change is more than it's ever been. But at the same time, it's not a huge number - like, maybe it's 10% or something. Everything is chaotic right now, so it might easily skyrocket and go up.

SIMON: May I ask what your hope is for - reform or something more?

M: I'm hoping for more women rights. Every time they've spoken out, people have said to them, now is not the time. There are more important things to attack right now. Well, this time nobody's said that.

SIMON: We note you're out of the country now. Are you glad to be safe? Or do you miss the protest?

M: I don't miss the protests because they were scary. Like, I still cannot sleep well because of what I've seen during them. What I miss is being involved in things, knowing what exactly is happening, 'cause the moment you step your foot outside the country, no matter how much conviction you have, you start to lose your grasp.

SIMON: Yeah. You worried about family and friends who are still there?

M: Definitely. So I'm scared and worried on two counts. First is their physical well-being. The second part is I'm worried about their mental health. Almost everyone I know has developed some sort of mental health issue. To some, it's just some minor anxiety. To some, it's diving deep in depression. So I'm worried.

SIMON: I wonder if you have any concerns about the problems of possible success. If the Islamic Republic falls and you have this diverse, broad-based protest movement, who leads next? What happens to the country?

M: Of course, for a movement that has no head, that's somewhat troublesome, but I'm not too worried about it because we do have many potential leaders. The problem is they're either exiled or they are jailed. The other thing is, I think there's a capacity for at least finding an intermittent government with some sort of approval from the people.

SIMON: The protests have attracted a lot of admiration around the world. What do you think other countries, other people around the world can do to support the movement? Or would foreign support harm the movement at this point?

M: People are divided in this. I think foreign involvement can definitely help. The thing is, you have to define foreign involvement. People make the mistake of reducing the foreign involvement to either sanctions against the people or a full-scale military intervention. There are so many other options other than these to do. So one option is just sanctioning particular top Iran government officials. That's only going to affect those in power. You can seize their assets. You can make it difficult for them to move around. We can do the same thing leadership of IRGC.

SIMON: That's the Islamic Republic's revolutionary guard.

M: There are so many people who are involved in the human rights violations and the suppression, and, you know, they need to be dealt with.

SIMON: May I ask, do you see your future in Iran or outside?

M: I'm hoping the regime will change soon. And if it changes soon, I'd love to go back to Iran. But if it doesn't, I live in the U.S. for the next 20 years, and my kids are growing up there. But probably I'm going to move back.

SIMON: M, one of the many young Iranians protesting for change in this country, thanks so much for speaking with us.

M: Thank you for taking the time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.