‘Hijab’ burnt on the street… Iranian citizens outraged at the death of a woman

the start of a protest

It started with the death of a woman.

September 13, 2022. 22-year-old Mahsa Amini (مهسا امینی) was moving to Tehran with her family from Sakej, Kurdistan, western Iran. The ‘Guide Patrol’, called Iran’s “moral police,” stopped them. It was because Mahsa Amini didn’t wear her hijab properly.

Police said Mahsa Amini would be released within hours of training, but that did not happen. Mahsa Amini fell into a coma on the 16th and was taken to Kasra Hospital in Tehran. On the 16th, Amini finally died in the hospital.

According to the police, Amini violated the hijab law enacted in 1979, no assault took place during the arrest, and that Amini collapsed due to a heart attack due to an underlying disease. However, Amini’s family refuted that during the arrest, there was assault, such as hitting Amini in the head with a baton, and that Amini did not have any other diseases.

Protests broke out across Iran when news of Amini’s death became known. The protests, which started in Kurdistan, the hometown of Amini, spread to major cities in Iran, such as the capital Tehran, Tabriz, and Shiraz, and showed a nationwide pattern.

The Iranian government has arrested 1,000 protesters and announced that three people have been killed in the “illegal protests”. Hengaw, an Iranian human rights group, said six protesters were killed and more than 450 injured. The protests, which began as a tribute to Amini and protests against police violence, have led to gender discrimination and a backlash against the Khamenei regime.

Iran’s theocracy

 

see the big picture
Protesters and police clash during a protest against the mysterious death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in Tehran, Iran, on the 21st (local time).

Protesters and police clash during a protest against the mysterious death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in Tehran, Iran, on the 21st (local time).
ⓒ Tehran EPA = Yonhap News

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The fact that this protest was triggered by “police violence” against “wearing the hijab” is more important than anything else.

Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution overthrew the Safavid dynasty and established a theocracy. Iran is, on the surface, a presidential system in which the 290-seat parliament and the president are elected by popular vote. However, Iran’s head of state is not the president, and Rahvar, a religious leader, assumes the role of supreme leader of the country.

Rahvars are elected by the People’s Council of Leaders (مجلس خبرگان رهبری). The leadership council is made up only of scholars of Islamic jurisprudence. Rahvar is a tenure, once appointed, serving an indefinite term.

As such, Rahvar appoints 6 out of 12 members of the Constitutional Protection Committee (شورای نگهبان). The other six are appointed by the Chief Justice, who is also appointed by Rahvar. In the end, the 12 members of the Constitutional Protection Committee, which Rahvar will appoint, exercise powerful powers over Iranian politics.

It has the power to interpret the constitution, oversee all elections and cancel the candidacy of “inappropriate” candidates. In each election, close to 30% of candidates fail to pass this screening and therefore fail to run. Even if the National Assembly, elected by the people, passes a bill, it will not take effect unless it is approved by this committee.

Rahbar also, in the form of a decree, effectively takes control of the state administration above the president. The budget and cabinet appointments must also be approved by Rahvar. Rahvar is also the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces and Police. Although it is true that the people express their will through presidential and parliamentary elections, it is a structure that cannot fundamentally transform Iran’s social structure.


Social Conservatism and the Hijab

After the Islamic Revolution, Iranian society has steadily become conservative. In 2020, Iran’s press freedom index ranked 173rd out of 180 countries, ranking the lowest. Although women’s social activities are guaranteed to the extent that more than half of women have jobs, discrimination in real life is extreme. It is the only one in the world that prohibits women from entering sports stadiums, and women are structurally blocked from advancing into senior positions.

In particular, the aforementioned “moral police” and the guidance patrols are notorious for discrimination against women. Iran imposes severe restrictions on women’s clothing and movement, and active flogging and public hangings are being implemented. Iran carries out an average of three executions per day, the second-highest number in the world after China.

Along with the activities of the lead patrols, the compulsion for women to wear the hijab was a symbol of Iran’s conservativeization. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, when women became obligated to wear the hijab, a crowd of 100,000 gathered in Tehran at the time to condemn the forced wear of the hijab. However, the compulsory wearing of the hijab was not withdrawn.

In 1983, the Iranian parliament passed a law punishing the whiplash for not wearing the hijab in public. In 1995, a woman could be detained for up to 60 days if she did not wear a hijab. In 2005, President Muhammad Hatami resigned and hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office. It was around this time that the map patrol team was founded.

the crumbling god

Social control and coercion provoked a backlash. Protests erupted in 2009 following the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In the course of the protest, 36 people were killed, according to government estimates alone. In 2017, there was also a large-scale demonstration in which about 20 protesters were killed.

In 2019, there were massive protests that were estimated to have killed up to 1,000 people. The Iranian government has proactively shut down the internet to suppress violent protests, but thousands of people have joined the protests. Although the trigger was the economic crisis caused by the soaring oil price, the protest agenda expanded to include regime change and the ouster of Rahbar Khamenei. More than 7,000 people were arrested during the protests.

Protests in 2019 were suppressed by government violence, but they left a deep scar on Iranian politics. In 2021, there was another nationwide protest over water scarcity. This time around 10 people were killed, and the protests expanded into democratization and liberalization movements. From 2020, demonstrations have been held every month, centered on all social classes.

Whereas past protests have mainly been driven by economic reasons, the trigger for this protest was itself political. The protests started from the very political issue of forced women to wear hijabs and ‘moral police’.

Now, protesters in Iran are pointing out the social structure of the Islamic theocracy itself. It commemorates a young woman who died in a controlled and oppressive social structure. Women are burning hijabs in the streets, speaking of freedom and openness against religious authority.

Of course, these protests will not radically change the social structure of Iran. The Iranian government is already blocking some internet access. It is a harbinger of authoritarian suppression of protests. The protests that have continued over the past few years have been suppressed by the Iranian government with military and police force. This time, the ending will be no different.

But the front is gradually moving forward. The protests over oil prices are now targeting religion and theocracy itself. Even if the current protests are suppressed, it is unknown when this energy will explode with a new opportunity someday.

Citizen anger is gathering. In front of the death of a woman, the hearts of the citizens who stopped the road are gathering. It is enough to check it for now.

Addendum | This article will be published simultaneously on my personal blog, .

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