Are hijab protests ‘the beginning of the end’ for Iran’s regime?

The uprising over the death of Masha Amini is like no other, but whether it leads to revolution remains to be seen

Ebrahim Raisi, the president of Iran, was entertaining a select group of journalists at the Millennium Hilton in New York during his first trip to the country since being elected in June 2021. At home, protests over the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Masha Amini in police custody had entered their sixth day.
A 10-minute film that was equal parts patriotic travelogue and homage to how the Iranian people “live peacefully together in a new form of democracy” was screened to kick off the gathering. It sounded like the kind of ridiculous propaganda that only a badly misguided regime would air in light of the events in Iran.
When Raisi’s minders finally agreed to answer questions about the protests, he grew fervently excited about western double standards and talked so loudly that it was difficult to hear the words of the mild-mannered translator via the headphones. Although the reason of Amini’s death hadn’t been determined with certainty, preliminary data suggested a stroke or heart failure, he added. He presented data showing that, over a six-month period, 81 women were killed in the UK. How many men and women are killed by law enforcement each day in the United States? ”
After two weeks, it is obvious that Raisi was unaware of the forces released within his nation. Despite several arrests and fatalities, it is still unclear whether the protests have come to an end. The senior Iranian leadership’s perception of an existential threat that necessitates a change in strategy is also unclear.

Actress and Amnesty International spokeswoman Nazanin Boniadi, who is British and Iranian, believes that something new has appeared on Iranian streets.
In her 14 years of human rights campaigning, she remarked, “I have never seen such hostility to and disenchantment with the Islamic Republic regime.” Despite the fact that Iran has grown accustomed to large-scale demonstrations occurring once every ten years, the present protests “do not match in fervor or volume to the student demonstrations of 1999, the green movement of 2009, or even more recently the demonstrations in November 2019.”
Boniadi used the fact that protestors have retaliated against security forces—at times knocking over patrol vans—as well as the destruction of billboards honoring the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, as examples.

Protest blocking a road in Tehran on 1 October. Photograph: EPA

“The most unprecedented part is that the protests have been female-led,” she said. “The movement’s slogan ‘Women, life and freedom’ is antithetical to the Islamic Republic, which has built itself on being anti-woman, pro-martyrdom and repressive. This uprising is not just about draconian dress codes. The compulsory hijab has simply become a symbol of a wider Iranian women’s struggle.”
The Institute for Global Change’s Iran expert, Kasra Aarabi, called the atmosphere in the nation “revolutionary.” “The folks that speak to me feel as though a revolution is underway and they won’t back down. In one way or another, this marks the start of the regime’s demise. Reform is not the topic here. The topic at hand is regime change.
Others are more cautious. The protests, according to Dr. Sanam Vakil of the Chatham House think tank, have exposed a wide disparity in sentiments about the theocratic system.
“The sheer force, velocity and audacity of this spontaneous movement have left the regime close to losing control,” she said. “But they have a playbook to quash protests that has worked in the past and they are now using that playbook.”
Vakil feels that Iran is still concerned about the perception that it is abusing women and children. Social media and the pervasive mobile phone place restrictions on the security forces.

Global solidarity

The participation of the sizable diaspora, famous people, and athletes both inside and outside Iran also lends the protests a more international feel. Donya Dadrasan, an Iranian music artist with 2.5 million Instagram followers who is based in Australia, frequently posts about the morality police. She, like many others, has shared videos of herself cutting her own hair on Instagram and TikTok in support of the women of Iran.
Abir Al-Sahlani, a Swedish member of the European Parliament who was born in Iraq, pulled out a pair of scissors while speaking on October 4. Similar actions were taken in the UK by Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a former political prisoner. A number of French actors, including Isabelle Huppert, Marion Cotillard, Juliette Binoche, and Charlotte Gainsbourg, then followed.
However, the Iranian revolution’s leaders—many of whom are in their 80s—live in a parallel reality where wearing the mandatory hijab leads to the liberation of women instead of their captivity and a more purely Islamic society. According to Aarabi, the current supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, actually personally chose the former head of the judiciary, Raisi, to assist Iran in passing through Khamenei’s five mystical stages: Islamic revolution, Islamic regime, Islamic government, Islamic society, and, finally, Islamic civilisation.
Soon after assuming office in August, Raisi made the decision to examine the manner in which the laws governing the wearing of the hijab in public settings, as spelled forth in article 638 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, were being applied.
According to a 2018 report, about 70% of women either did not believe in the hijab or were among “the poorly veiled.” Support for the hijab has been declining for years.
Raisi made the decision to implement a plan termed “measures to propagate the culture of chastity” in order to combat the loss of support because conservatives now control every level of Iranian politics, which is essentially a continuation of a strategy first taken in 2005.
According to Iranwire, the 115-page plan’s main points were as follows:
  • The introduction of surveillance cameras to monitor and fine unveiled women or refer them for “counselling”.
  • Seminary students being placed in residential buildings to monitor how occupants dress in communal areas.
  • Hospital staff being required to provide “appropriate garments” to female patients on their way to surgery.
  • Fines for any individual who designs, imports, buys or sells “vulgar dresses”.
  • New disciplinary policies for female actors who work with the state broadcaster.
  • Mandatory prison sentence for any Iranian who questions or posts content online against the mandatory hijab law.
By the end of August, ladies who were deemed to be out of compliance were prohibited from utilizing public transportation or visiting banks or government buildings.
Even while they avoided metropolitan northern Tehran, the famed guidance patrols, or morality police, also grew more active and violent, notably on buses and metros. New police cars were purchased. Videos showed officers holding women, shoving them into vans, and driving them away for hour-long “re-education sessions” immediately surfaced on social media.

Media crackdowns

Masha Amini, the oldest of four children, traveled to Tehran with her family on a five-day shopping and sightseeing trip, staying at her aunt’s home, in this setting. Amini, a gifted student from a devoted family, had just received acceptance to study at Urmia University, the largest college campus in north-western Iran.
It’s unclear what transpired when she exited the subway and entered Talaqani Park while walking with her brother Ashkan and three female and two male relatives.
At least five morality police officers approached her and claimed she had not dressed according to Islamic law. Two of the women received warnings, but Amini was forced into a van and sent to a police station for a correctional lesson despite her aunt’s pleadings that she was from out of town.

A protester in Berlin holds a painted portrait of Mahsa Amini during a rally in solidarity with Iranian protests. Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA

Erfan Mortezaei, her cousin, alleged that she was beaten inside the van. Amini can be seen standing by herself, falling to the floor, then a chair, according to an edited video recording from the station that the police have made public. She experienced either a heart attack or a stroke, but it took the ambulance crew 30 minutes to get to her and an hour and a half for her to go to Kasra hospital.
Amini was actually dead to the world. She was briefly revived and placed on a life support system, but three days later, on September 16, she was finally declared dead. She was just a few days away from turning 23.
Despite the fact that the hospital’s X-rays and postmortem reports have long been publicly available, it took Iranian authorities three weeks to release a conclusive official narrative of what transpired. She had chronic heart rhythm issues, not a trauma to the head, according to the official explanation.
When she was eight years old, Amini’s family claimed she had a little neurological issue, maybe a brain tumor, but that it was managed with levothyroxine, and that only lately had a doctor declared her the all-clear.
However, it helps the police prove that she was not physically harmed. Her condition does not rule out a brain seizure, which may have occurred as a result of the intense trauma of her arrest. The family has been informed by the morality police that they were not wearing body cameras, which would have documented what actually occurred in the van.
Iranian officials and the family’s attorneys have almost little trust in one another. “All the statements that the [Iranian] establishment make about Zhina [her Kurdish name], such as her having a chronic sickness and so on, are lies and not to be taken seriously,” Saleh Nikhbakht stated in an interview with Rudaw, a major Kurdish news site.
“The killing of prisoners in these places is not something new or limited to Zhina. If she was killed in Kurdistan, they could have twisted the facts, but this time they could not.”
Amini’s father, who is still inconsolable, has been reticent to help with the formal parliamentary investigation, which has suggested a list of impartial neurologists to investigate her passing.
The fact that security personnel detained the journalists most responsible for revealing her death hardly inspires faith in the impartiality of the investigation being conducted by the authorities.
Consider Niloofar Hamedi, who writes for the liberal Sharg newspaper. On the day of Amini’s death, she captured her parents sobbing together in the hospital hallway, and she also captured the iconic images of Amini on her deathbed.

A woman holds a sign during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini outside the Iranian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Photograph: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Later, Hamedi was taken from her house and placed in solitary detention. She has had her Twitter account suspended. On the thirteenth day of her incarceration, according to her husband, she called him from prison. He wrote that while there have been no charges brought against her, she is allegedly doing well in a cell with eight other people.
Iranian journalists walk a fine line since they risk being fired or even imprisoned for critical tweets. Broad accusations like “disturbing public opinion” and “promoting anti-establishment propaganda” serve as a reminder to reporters of the boundaries of free speech.
However, Hamedi’s card may have been marked because she previously provided a witness account, which was reported in the international press, of how the morality police had approached a couple walking in a park with a child on April 28 and demanded their ID numbers in order to see if the woman had ever broken any moral laws before. Following an incident, the police shot Reza Moradkhani, a former Iranian boxing champion, four times in addition to Maria Arefi. He had to undergo a 12-hour emergency procedure.
The police officer reportedly took all close witnesses’ cellphones after the shooting, deleted any recordings of it, and even factory reset several of them to erase all of their data, according to the couple. After the incident, only a single picture and a brief video clip were found.
Elaheh Mohammadi, a reporter for the pro-reform Hammihan daily and the author of a scathing description of the agonizing family burial for Amini that was submitted from the family’s hometown of Saqez, was called before the court. She had covered the family’s grief at the funeral as well as their claim that a police cover-up was happening. Mohammadi had previously been afoul of the law when she revealed the circumstances within Qarchak jail during the coronavirus outbreak, leading to her writing being prohibited for a year starting in April 2020.

Mass arrests

The authorities invariably highlight incidents of violence against the police and highlight sizable, state-organized rallies in favor of the government.
However, inconclusive government denials of violence against women are common.
Online activists have shifted their attention to Nika Shakrami’s passing because she would have turned 17 this weekend. They claim that she was slain in the early days of protests in late September. Her family spent several days looking for her after she went missing before it was determined that she had passed away.
Her death was not related to protests, according to officials, who also told state media that she had fallen from a roof. Her mother claims that she did not commit suicide and that family members who seemed to endorse the government line had been coerced into making a fake confession on television.

Nika Shakrami. Photograph: Twitter

Sarina Ismailzadeh, 16, was slain by a police baton, according to her mother; authorities claim she committed herself.
According to some demonstrators who spoke with the Guardian, it was too late to turn back. One said, “We will not put up with their limitations and we will not follow the rigid dress code of the regime.” “We have the right to make decisions since it is our lives. I’ve seen dead people on the sidewalks and in the traffic, and we won’t allow their blood go to waste.
But when the number of arrests rises, their strategies might need to be revised. In the tenuous hope that the regime will willingly change the function of the morality police, the number of people on the streets has not increased, and the danger of a forced retreat now looms.
The political elite has done some soul-searching on the underlying causes of the protests and whether the frequently brutal tactics of morality police can actually influence the young generation, many of whom are losing their religious beliefs. After all, faith is a belief held in the heart.
The lowest voter turnout in a presidential election in the republic’s history made Raisi the winner in 2021, according to certain members of the elite. Only 25% of those who could vote supported him. Collectively, Tehran rejected the Iranian political farce. This mandate’s attempt to enforce a cultural crackdown was problems waiting to happen.
Ayatollah Khamenei’s personal adviser and married relative Gholamali Haddad-Adel stated at a seminar at Tehran University that “Unfortunately, our culture is swiftly sliding towards polarization between believers in God and non-believers.”
“The difficulty that the west has intended for our country is to destroy the family, since the family is the bed of religiosity, and if the family is rocked, religiosity will undoubtedly be burned from the roots,” he added, calling for a debate about the hijab in universities.
One of Iran’s most senior and senior clerics, Naser Makarem Shirazi, blamed three things for the unrest: “Foreign foes, an abandoned virtual space, and people’s economic and life concerns.”
Some have accused the west of being envious of Iran’s scientific advancements. Instead of embracing Islamism, they turn to nationalism and believe that Iran is being divided by the West.
However, the administration is obviously worried about the protests’ frequency and sees them as damaging. Hardliners are calling for them to be put an end by a historic, if largely unnoticed, crackdown in which demonstrators will be tried and punished with hirabh, or hostility towards God, which is punishable by death. This might become quite ominous.


By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter

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