IRAN is a resilient nation that has held off the West and the US and survived economic sanctions; within the region, it remains the biggest threat to Israel and a challenge to Saudi Arabia’s influence. No political alternatives survive within the borders of the country ruled by clerics since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Now there is resistance inside the resistant country by a section of Iranian women, who dramatically shed their chadors (long flowing veils) and headscarves or hijabs. It is an incredible display of the power of women. It excites the world and damages the legitimacy of any regime when young women are murdered by the morality police and university students, and even schoolgirls, according to some reports, start an uprising. Throwing away their veils is an emblematic gesture of defiance.
There are no official figures for the death toll in the protests that began after the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on 16 September. Iran’s state television says more than 40 protesters have been killed, but independent estimates put the number much higher. . Tehran’s attorney general has said that 400 people arrested during “riots” in the capital have been released after vowing never to repeat their acts. The AP international news agency says local authorities reported 1,500 arrests across the country.
What should disturb the regime are the narratives on social media of very young Iranian women landing dead, the latest being 17-year-old Nika Shahkarami, who disappeared for a week before her body was found on a Tehran street. All this is arousing emotions. So much so that on October 4, the president of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, called for national unity even as he recognized “weaknesses and shortcomings” in the Islamic Republic; he was quick to add that Iran’s enemies were fueling the unrest.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Twitter on September 23 that “we are taking action today to promote Internet freedom and the free flow of information for the Iranian people by issuing a blanket license to provide them with greater access to digital communication to counter the Iranian attack. government censorship. Proxy battles are raging and the official Iranian view is that women and groups outside the country are fueling the protests with the help of some ‘misguided’ youth from Iran and hostile foreign powers.
The Islamic Republic’s official news agency, IRNA, quotes Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian as saying that during the internal unrest in the US that led to the 2021 Capitol occupation, the internet was shut down. in that country.
The veil is a complex issue in Iran, where women are part of the workforce and among the 15-24 age group, 98 percent are literate. The Islamic Republic does not exclude women from education and the workforce where they are present in large numbers. There are separate schools for girls and the regime claims to have encouraged education in rural Iran. During a visit to Iran in 2017, I met Masoumeh Ebtekar, then one of Iran’s four vice presidents, who had been partly educated in the US. She argued that the revolution actually helped girls get into school. , since in the countryside families felt more comfortable sending them away from home as long as religious norms could be maintained.
Earlier, at the time of the shah, he argued, a part of Iran’s society was highly westernized and completely cut off from the consciousness of an average Iranian (Ebtekar was the main spokesman for a student group that took over the US embassy). US for 444 days, beginning November 4, 1979).
Since then, there has been no serious internal challenge to the regime as all dissent has been crushed, even as Iran has been a player in conflicts from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon and remains Israel’s biggest adversary. Apart from the Vatican, it is the only significant state in the world where a religious leader is also the head of state (there is a difference with Islamic states ruled by dynasties).
The internal system is represented by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, since 1989; he is also the commander of the armed forces and security services, and elects half of the members of the unelected Guardian Council. It is an Islamic theocracy that also has elections for the office of President and Parliament, but candidates only compete after being approved by the Council of Guardians. Presidents have oscillated between moderates and conservatives. Ranging from least to most conservative, the clerics in charge need to give serious thought to how to improve the scope of women’s rights.
In 2017, I visited the city of Qom, the center of Shia scholarship in the world, and met with a member of the Assembly of Experts, a body of religious scholars, who will be tasked with choosing the next Supreme Leader after Ali Khamenei, who is 83 years old. He saw Iran as a force against the injustice of the “imperial powers” and believed that it was the only stable country in the region because it blocked the United States. But today, the cracks are showing. How do you fight injustice in, say, Iraq and Syria or even Palestine, even when you take away half of your population the choice of clothing? However, the regime is unlikely to be toppled internally and even external intervention has been out of the realm of possibility, even more so in the changing global balance.
The real problem in Iran is that when women are given education and employment, they would be empowered enough to be angry if pushed about whether the headscarf has slipped to a level where the morality police , itself an abomination, can begin to drag. them to be questioned. The best that can come out of the current resistance is some acceptance by the men in charge that it is immoral for them to make all the decisions about what women can or cannot wear. Meanwhile, the women of the country have shown courage, brilliance, and resilience, and in doing so have become emblems around the world.