LONDON: Iran’s political elite appears to be split over their reaction to widespread protests in the country, with a senior figure stepping forward for the first time to question the country’s compulsory hijab laws.
Former parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani is the first figure to publicly deviate from the regime’s claims that the countrywide protests — which began after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini — are the a result of US and Israeli intelligence efforts.
An Iranian news site interviewed Larijani at length. He warned that an “extremist” policy by the government has engendered an extremist counter-reaction by the Iranian public.
Larijani said: “The hijab has a cultural solution; it does not need decrees and referendums. I appreciate the services of the police force and Basij (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps paramilitary militia), but this burden of encouraging the hijab should not be assigned to them.
“Do not doubt that when a cultural phenomenon becomes widespread, rigid response to it is not the cure. The people and young people who come to the street are our own children.
“In a family, if a child commits a crime, they try to guide him to the right path; the society needs more tolerance.
“It’s like a person has a migraine, but we write a prescription for him like a person with a heart disease and all its arteries are closed. In the issue of hijab, we were in this situation.”
The former speaker noted that before the 1979 Iranian revolution, though wearing the hijab was not encouraged by the state, many Iranian women wore the religious garment by choice.
“Islamic government means that people manage their own affairs. It is the same in terms of social justice. If the affairs are managed by the people, their talents will flourish.
“The problem is that if in a society, young people do not implement one of the Shariah rulings correctly from an intellectual and social point of view, this is not 100 percent wrong.”
Though Larijani had operated as a senior figure in Iranian politics for several decades, he was prevented from standing for the presidency last year because the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei favored Ebrahim Raisa, the eventual victor.
Further public criticism of the regime has also been seen. An opinion piece in the daily Jomhuri-ye Eslami said: “What is currently happening on the level of governance in our country is based neither on the separation of powers nor a diversity of outlooks in management.
“We have witnessed the consequence of a non-inclusive view (of governance) in our country over the past 14 months.”