The protests following the death of Mahsa Amini have permanently weakened the Iranian regime, even if reporting in Europe has now become quiet again. In Iran, even former supporters are turning away from the Islamist regime, and many women are taking to the streets without veils.
After the “Women, Life, Freedom” protests a year ago, it initially seemed as if the mullahs in Tehran were giving in to the anger of the population. But now the impression doesn’t seem entirely wrong that the leadership was just waiting for the issue to disappear a little from the media spotlight. Because it massively intensifies the repression. President Ebrahim Raisi even wants to monitor the headscarf requirement using artificial intelligence.
Female students dance around a fire and burn their headscarves. “Woman, life, freedom!” – it has been almost a year since the cry of this female revolution was born in the streets of Iran. In order to calm uprisings and international criticism, Iran’s hardliner President Ebrahim Raisi announced the dissolution of the notorious “morality police”. But for a few weeks now, residents of Tehran report, the squads have been checking central places again and stopping women who do not comply with the requirement to wear a headscarf. And now Islamic “customs” are to be handled even more strictly.
The “Headscarf and Chastity Law” threatens women who leave the house without a hijab or men who wear shorts with heavy fines, professional bans or up to 15 years in prison. The regime also wants to use artificial intelligence to punish violations in public spaces. “The spread of removing the hijab will definitely be stopped,” warns President Raisi.
One driver for the renewed radicalization of the theocratic and patriarchal system of mullah rule is certainly the fear factor: the end of next week marks the anniversary of the death of Jina Mahsa Amini, the woman whose death sparked protests across the country. During a visit to Tehran, the 22-year-old Kurdish woman was arrested by the moral police and taken to a “re-education center” because her headscarf was allegedly “too loose.” In police custody, she was apparently abused so severely that she died. A photo of Amini, showing her unconscious in a hospital bed, with tubes in her mouth and nose, blood on her ear and bruises around her eyes, sparked the uproar that soon became a threat to the regime’s existence. With extreme brutality it suppressed peaceful demonstrations and arrested, tortured and murdered thousands, including minors. Iran’s government is apparently afraid of a resurgence of protests. “The enemy is preparing for this anniversary,” said Hossein Salami, the top commander of the Revolutionary Guards, recently. And he threatened: “We’ll stand by our guns this time too.” Regime forces are already arresting scores of activists and relatives of killed demonstrators in order to stifle possible demonstrations in advance.
Even for people who supported the mullahs’ regime for decades, Jina’s death is synonymous with a turning point in their own biography, but also for their identity with the dictatorship. “I’m not the same person I was a year ago,” says a woman who has been very religious herself since childhood. “But now my mind says that I have to reject everything that comes from them.” By “them” she means the Iranian leadership, which claims to be acting on behalf of God. “I feel doubts within me,” says the woman. “I wonder whether there is justice, whether God really exists.” Everyone she knows is now struggling with their faith, she says. “We’re talking about young people who didn’t have high expectations. All they wanted was freedom. What crime did the young people who were executed by the state commit?”
There were more than 22,000 arrests, more than 500 people were killed and internet censorship was massively tightened. But the leadership is proving unable to stop the erosion of its religiously based claim to power and to counter the civil disobedience of many women. Across the country, women are now taking to the streets without headscarves – and, more importantly, are being supported by significant sections of the population.
“This is an achievement that nobody would have thought possible before Mahsa’s death,” says a Tehran journalist. The reaction of the power apparatus to the protests “eliminated the last ounce of hope that the system could be reformed”. Even those whose main concern was solving economic problems understood that they could expect nothing more from these power elites. “The system is weakened. It has lost all legitimacy,” she says.
According to human rights organizations, the families of 33 people killed during the protests and the families of two people executed in connection with the protests have faced severe harassment and intimidation. An independent women’s rights group wrote on social media that at least twelve women’s rights activists had been arrested. Pro-regime media, on the other hand, claim they were arrested for “preparing riots and insecurity”.
These methods, along with the new legislation, are designed to intimidate the population. Because it no longer demonstrates, but leaves the house with great civil courage. According to a survey by the regime, around 40 percent of Iranian women no longer wear a headscarf. The everyday rebellion can be observed especially in metropolises. Video footage on social media shows passers-by driving off moral guardians who want to take a woman with her hair down.
The new headscarf law uses particularly perfidious tactics: On the one hand, fines of around 950 euros are higher than many a month’s salary and it encourages denunciation. Cafes, cinemas, shopping malls, every employer is threatened with closure if they do not report women without a headscarf. Each individual should be made a overseer. Women in Iran see the new law as a blunt sword. This is also due to the way it was brought through parliament. The MPs did not dare to discuss the draft publicly in plenary session. They delegated their powers to a panel of members of the Legal, Education and Culture Committee, citing a rarely used special arrangement. This was seen by the population as a sign of indecision. “The Iranians have understood that they have the power to shape their future,” says a political scientist. “This is a dramatic change.”
The chairman of the parliamentary committee for the protection of the family is convinced that the intensified criminal prosecution will put an end to the “social anomalies” by autumn, as the regime calls the behavior of the courageous women. Surveys have shown that after a second warning and threat of punishment, 95 percent of women would adhere to the clothing regulations. Such warnings usually come via SMS and sound like this: “Dear vehicle owner with license plate In the event of an objection, please use the link below within 48 hours. If this happens again, your vehicle will be confiscated.”
The new law provides for driving bans of up to three months. So far it’s only been two weeks. This hits taxi drivers particularly hard, which is why conflicts in taxis are already occurring every day. “I politely ask women to put on a headscarf,” says a taxi driver who has already received two warnings. “But most people refuse.” With a grin, he tells us about his religious mother, who told him that he shouldn’t accept her money anyway because it was dirty.
Even large companies in the IT industry have been prosecuted because photos of employees without headscarves were found on their websites. The country’s largest online retailer had to close its offices for twelve days and then humbly publish a photo of veiled employees. The government wants to ensure that people put pressure on women out of concern for jobs and profits. But technology companies are in a quandary. They cannot afford to lose young talent who could find jobs outside Iran. Thousands of well-educated Iranians have long since followed this path.
The recent escalation by the Islamists in Iran also has to do with the aspect of “nation reputation”. Because of the bloody suppression of the protests, the USA and the EU had tightened their sanctions – but Tehran has found detours, it sells its oil to China and India, and its drones are a hit export in Russia for Putin’s bloody war of aggression in Ukraine. The Brics community of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa has just decided to include Iran in their circle. And the reconciliation with Saudi Arabia is leading Tehran further out of geopolitical isolation; even the USA is negotiating with Iran again. The nuclear talks were broken off during the protests. Now Washington is trying a mini-deal to free US prisoners in Iran.
According to observers in Iran, one in ten women in the capital alone shows themselves without a headscarf. In April, the head of the national police authority, Ahmad-Reza Radan, announced that rule-breakers would in future be identified using cameras and facial recognition software. But little followed his announcement. This may be due to the large amounts of data that would have to be evaluated in order to scan all faces throughout the day and across the board. “We decided not to allow ourselves to be intimidated,” says a student in the city center. She also appears unimpressed by the return of the morality police in July. “They are afraid because they sensed that their power was unstable.”
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