Iran protests a display of women’s power

Iran protests a display of women's power 2022 10$largeimg 433662452

saba naqvi

senior journalist

IRAN is a resilient nation that has kept the West and the US in check and has 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.

There is now resistance within the resilient country from a section of Iranian women, spectacularly shedding 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 college 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 say the number is much higher. . Tehran’s attorney general has said 400 people arrested during ‘riots’ in the capital have been released after they vowed 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 awakening emotions. So much so that on October 4, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi called for national unity even as he acknowledged “weaknesses and deficiencies” in the Islamic Republic; he was quick to add that Iran’s enemies were fueling the riots.

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Twitter on September 23 that “we took action today to promote Internet freedom and the free flow of information for the Iranian people by issuing a general license to provide them with greater access to digital communication to counter the Iranian attack. government censorship. Power battles are taking place and the official Iranian view is that women and groups outside the country are stoking the protests with the help of some ‘misguided’ young men from Iran and hostile foreign powers.

The official news agency of the Islamic Republic, IRNA, quotes Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian as saying that during the internal unrest in the US that led to the occupation of the Capitol in 2021, the internet was shut down in that country.

The headscarf 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, in the shah’s time, 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 group of students who took over the US embassy). USA for 444 days, beginning November 4, 1979).

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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. Besides 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 Guardian Council. Presidents have oscillated between moderate and conservative. Ranging from least to most conservative, the clerics in charge need to think seriously about 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, which 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 your population the option to dress? However, the regime is unlikely to be overthrown internally and even external intervention has been out of the question, even more so in the changing global balance.

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The real problem in Iran is that when women are given education and employment, they would be empowered enough to get angry if pushed about whether the headscarf has slipped to a level where the morality police , itself an abomination, can start to drag. them for questioning. 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 and cannot wear. Meanwhile, the country’s women have shown bravery, brilliance and resilience, and in doing so become iconic across the globe.