Iranian women proving to be a thorn in the regime’s side
The death of Mahsa Amini, who hailed from a poor Kurdish family, while in morality police custody in Iran last month might have passed unnoticed in a country where arbitrary arrests, internments and the violent treatment of detainees are commonplace. But the protests that have followed might have different implications for Iran, as they are the first such widespread demonstrations against not only the headscarf, but also the regime, which for years has been claiming that society in Iran has embraced the revolution and its revolutionary ideology.
In its 44-year history, the Iranian regime has been rocked by protests related to the rigging of elections, the closure of reformist newspapers, increases in the cost of petrol, high levels of unemployment, droughts and so forth. All were put down by the brute force used by the various security apparatuses of the regime, which claims that foreign conspiracies are behind the protests. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei claimed that the ongoing protests are “riots engineered by America and the occupying, false Zionist regime, as well as their paid agents, with the help of some traitorous Iranians abroad.”
But never before have the protests touched on elements on which the regime’s legitimacy rests — its religious teachings and its fundamental design of society, which was built on its dictation of the dress code and the behavior of all its people.
Though the government in Tehran is insisting that its agents did not kill Amini, her death has caught the public mood, especially that of the Iranian women, who have long been on the receiving end of the morality police. Whether or not these protests succeed in getting some concessions from the regime, no matter how negligible, many believe that something big has shifted this time and that the women in Iran might be destined to be the authors of the next chapter of their country’s future.
Since its inception, the regime in Tehran has used all the tools in its clergy’s arsenal to force people to adhere to its strict interpretation of religion. The regime’s commitment to exporting the revolution as a model system of government has quickly morphed into yet another authoritarian imposition on the majority of the people. Consent is manufactured and its so-called religious justice has failed to become a model of social justice and access to all, but instead a design that serves the religious class and their cronies at the expense of the free and fair rule of law and prosperity for all Iranians, regardless of creed, color or race.
Over the years, the regime has adopted a violent approach to position itself as the sole defender of Muslims everywhere, using the liberation of Jerusalem as a rallying cause. However, this concept was quickly discredited, as that same narrative became the conduit for meddling in the affairs of neighboring Muslim countries, while also seeking to develop nuclear weapons to further its ambition of becoming the dominant force in the region.
The regime playbook of a heavy-handed police presence, riot police, armed militias and live bullets has been used to clamp down on demonstrators. This has managed to reduce the number of protesters on the streets in various cities, but has so far not been successful in suffocating the protests. The authorities have clamped down on social media, but people have resorted to word of mouth and printed messages on pieces of paper that are hand-delivered to spread the news of the next gathering point.
The calls of “death to Khamenei” and “death to the dictator” are no longer taboos in the Iranian streets, just like calls asking the regime to stop funding terror groups in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Palestine. But when you see the extensive burning of the veil, even in holy cities like Qom and Mashhad, then one has to hope that maybe the revolution in Iran and the regime’s long reign of darkness might be coming to an end.
During my many visits to Iran, women always hinted to me about the duplicity of their lives, such as only wearing the veil when in public. They always reminded me that Tehran in the 1960s and 1970s was like Beirut, until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1979. They proudly recounted women’s participation in the revolution alongside men of all stripes, those from the left and the religious hard-liners, working together to topple the shah. Later, they demonstrated on International Women’s Day in March 1979, one day after Ayatollah Khomeini had imposed the compulsory wearing of the hijab. The exiled cleric had returned to steal the revolution and seize power alongside his hard-line followers, who brutally liquidated all opponents.
Many believe that the women in Iran might be destined to be the authors of the next chapter of their country’s future.
One question that has been posed lately is whether Iran’s women’s rebellion is different this time. Well, the simple answer is that no one knows for sure, since the regime has entrenched itself domestically, regionally and internationally in a way that has given Khamenei the cards to play to change the course of events when the regime is squeezed. The card of the nuclear file is one that is on the table currently, while another is the regular kidnapping and detention of dual nationals, only releasing them on rainy days for huge concessions from foreign governments, such as the unfreezing of some of Iran’s assets.
It is up to Iranians to topple the long-discredited regime that has kept them under sanctions for more than four decades. One hopes the regime’s many masks will fall completely in the eyes of its people, especially the women, who seem to have given up buying the regime’s narrative that a pious and virtuous society is achievable through the imposition of the veil.
- Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist, media consultant and trainer with more than 25 years of experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy.