An ‘emerging secular, democratic consensus’ stares Iranian theocracy in the face

Special An ‘emerging secular, democratic consensus’ stares Iranian theocracy in the face
only 26 percent of Iranians with a university degree pray five times a day. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 23 November 2022

An ‘emerging secular, democratic consensus’ stares Iranian theocracy in the face

An ‘emerging secular, democratic consensus’ stares Iranian theocracy in the face
  • Report by Tony Blair Institute for Global Change says ongoing protests reflect yearning for secularization of society
  • Expert says young people witnessing great changes taking place in the region want similar developments at home

LONDON: On Sept. 13, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman, was arrested in Tehran for violating the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women. In the custody of the Gasht-e Ershad — the “Guidance Patrol,” or morality police — she suffered a catastrophic head injury and, after three days in a coma, died in hospital.

Her death was the trigger for hundreds of protests across the country, which have seen men and women take to the streets in vast numbers, with women openly shunning the obligatory wearing of the hijab and cutting their hair in public in a gesture of defiance.

Now a new report from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change — TBI — backed by two consecutive polls of thousands of Iranians, has concluded that the widespread rejection of the hijab is nothing less than a symbol of a nationwide yearning for regime change.




Such is the “unprecedented secularization” sweeping Iran that the TBI concludes that “Iran’s society is no longer religious.” (AFP)

The current protests are “no flash-in-the-pan moment,” says Kasra Aarabi, co-author of the report and the Iran Program lead at TBI’s Extremism Policy Unit.

“The protests we are seeing now are unprecedented in their longevity, and in their size. But they are a continuation of the trend for unrest that emerged in 2017, since when we’ve seen Iranians consistently taking to the streets.”

Aarabi, a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington and a native Farsi speaker, believes that the current unrest, some of the worst seen in Iran since the revolution in 1978 replaced the modernizing regime of the Shah, is a pivotal moment for Iran.

“This is the beginning of the end of the Islamic Republic,” he said.

“It’s been clear for years that the Iranian people don’t want reform, they want regime change, the downfall of the Islamic Republic in its entirety and the creation of a secular democracy.”

Young people in Iran, he says, are witnessing the great changes taking place elsewhere in the region, from the bridge-building of the Abraham Accords to the great modernizing reforms in Saudi Arabia, “and they’re thinking, ‘Why can’t we have that?’”

The TBI report draws on two polls carried out among tens of thousands of Iranians, which demonstrate the extent to which Iran has become a secular society, despite more than 40 years of life under a hard-line Shiite theocracy.

Key findings include that men and women in Iran are almost equally opposed to the mandatory wearing of the hijab, rejected by 70 percent of men and 74 percent of women.

This opposition also spans what might otherwise be expected to be the divide between town and country, where people are traditionally considered to be more conservative in outlook.

Only 21 percent of urban Iranians believe in the practice, support that rises only to 28 percent among rural communities.

Predictably, rejection of the compulsory wearing of the hijab is strongest among younger people — 78 percent of respondents aged between 20 and 29 oppose it.

Yet the practice is also opposed by 68 percent of Iranians aged between 30 and 49, and 74 percent aged over 50 — the so-called revolution generation.

Only a small minority of Iranians support the practice — just 13 percent of women and 17 percent of men.

The hijab protests, says the TBI, are clearly about regime change: 84 percent of those who oppose the dress code also want to see an end to the Islamic Republic.

Furthermore, “the anti-regime protest movement in Iran is fundamentally secular,” said the report, adding that “76 percent of Iranians who want regime change, also consider religion unimportant in their lives.”




New report showes the widespread rejection of the hijab is nothing less than a symbol of a nationwide yearning for regime change. (AFP)

In fact, such is the “unprecedented secularization” sweeping Iran that the TBI concludes that “Iran’s society is no longer religious.”

Only a declining minority in the theocratic republic follows the Islamic obligation to pray five times a day, ranging from 33 percent of rural Iranians to only 26 percent of urbanites.

Analyzed in terms of education, only 26 percent of Iranians with a university degree pray five times a day, while the percentage for people with a high-school diploma or lower is little different, at 28 percent.

Although the report, “Protests and polling insights from the streets of Iran: How removal of the hijab became a symbol of regime change,” was published on Tuesday, it contains previously unpublished data from two surveys carried out in Iran in 2020 and 2022.

This, says the TBI, demonstrates that the issue of the hijab and the yearning for the secularization of Iranian society has been simmering for years.

“Today’s protests are the consequence of the huge gap between the regime and the people of Iran,” said Aarabi.

“Despite living under a hard-line Islamist theocracy, the Iranian people are the most secular in the Middle East. There has been a gradual process of secularization and liberalization that began in the early 1990s, which has reached unprecedented levels in the past five years.”

The new report draws on polls conducted in June 2020 and February 2022 by the Group for Analyzing and Measuring Attitudes in Iran — GAMAAN — an independent, non-profit research foundation registered in the Netherlands.

Instead of conventional face-to-face or telephone-based polling methods, GAMAAN says it uses “digital tools and alternative methods to capture the real opinions of Iranians ... allowing Iranians to answer questions about sensitive subjects truthfully, without fearing for their safety.”

A survey conducted by GAMAAN in June 2020 polled 39,981 respondents on questions relating to religion. In February 2022, 16,850 Iranians responded to questions about political systems.

Analyzed by demographic breakdown, says the TBI, “the results reveal a steadily emerging consensus on the streets, which is anti-compulsory hijab and anti-regime at its core.”

Thousands of arrests have followed as the regime has clamped down on the protesters. Some have been charged with crimes punishable by death, such as “enmity against God” and “corruption on Earth.”

This month has seen at least five executions of protesters carried out and confirmed by the state, and unknown numbers of people, including children, have been killed in the protests.

The HRA News Agency, founded in 2005 to monitor human-rights abuses in Iran, says more than 400 protesters have been killed, and at least 17,250 people have been arrested.




“This is the beginning of the end of the Islamic Republic,” says Kasra Aarabi, co-author of the report. (AFP)

Last week UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency, reported that “since late September an estimated 50 children have reportedly lost their lives in the public unrest in Iran.”

The latest was a 10-year-old boy, Kian Pirfalak, one of several people shot dead in and around protests last Wednesday (Nov. 16). He was hit by gunfire and died as he and his father were driving home in the western Iranian city of Izeh.

The protests, widely covered in the West, gained an even higher profile this week when the Iranian football team pointedly refused to sing the national anthem before their opening World Cup match against England in Qatar.

Before the game, skipper Ehsan Hajjsafi said the team supported those who had died in the protests, adding “we have to accept that the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy.”

The West, says the TBI’s Aarabi, had failed to recognize the transformation that has been taking place in Iranian society “because it was focused solely on viewing Iran, and the dissent in the country, through the lens of the 2015 nuclear agreement, and then Trump’s withdrawal from that agreement.

“But this dissent is not being driven by the nuclear deal, nor by the reimposition of sanctions. It’s being driven by life under a totalitarian, misogynistic, ideological regime, which has consistently prioritized the interests of its hard-line Islamist ideology over those of the Iranian people.”

Commenting on the report, Tony Blair, the former UK prime minister who founded his institute in 2016, said that “the people of Iran have shown extraordinary bravery and courage over the past two months. They should know they have the support of millions of people around the globe who admire the stand they have taken for freedom.

“I have always said, and I stand by this more so today, that the single most liberating event for the Middle East will come when the Iranian people finally have their freedom.

“For the ordinary people of Iran, the values that many may describe as ‘Western’ are in fact their own. Neither they nor their country should be defined by the Islamic Republic. As a great people, whose history and civilization are rich and varied, it is they and they alone who should define their own future.

“This is why I firmly believe it is in our interests today, in the West, to show our deep solidarity with the protesters risking their lives for what we so often take for granted.”

It was, he added, “time we in the West recalibrate our policy in a way that draws a clear distinction between the people of Iran and the Islamic Republic. Our efforts should serve the former.”


Beirut ‘neighborhood watch’ echoes troubled past

Beirut ‘neighborhood watch’ echoes troubled past
Updated 27 November 2022

Beirut ‘neighborhood watch’ echoes troubled past

Beirut ‘neighborhood watch’ echoes troubled past
  • The neighborhood watch is the latest symptom of the crisis that has afflicted Lebanon since its economy collapsed in 2019
  • The men deployed in the city’s Ashrafieh district offer reassurance to residents worried about crime

BEIRUT: In the darkness of Beirut’s unlit streets, men wielding batons and torches are taking security into their own hands in an initiative they hope will keep neighborhoods safe but critics see as a worrying echo of Lebanon’s troubled past.
The neighborhood watch, launched earlier this month in some of Beirut’s most salubrious streets, is the latest symptom of the crisis that has afflicted Lebanon since its economy collapsed in 2019, paralyzing much of the state and fueling poverty in the worst shock since the 1975-90 civil war.
To supporters of the scheme — the idea of Christian politician Nadim Gemayel and organized by a civil society group he founded — the men deployed in the city’s Ashrafieh district offer reassurance to residents worried about crime.
But among critics, their appearance has evoked parallels with the civil war when the state collapsed, militias controlled the streets and Beirut split into cantons. The mayor has expressed concern it could prompt others to follow suit.
Such criticisms are rejected by Gemayel, a lawmaker in the Kataeb Party whose father, Bashir, led the main Christian militia in the civil war until he was assassinated in 1982 after being elected president.
“We are not a militia, we are not armed, we don’t have rockets or drones,” he said, referring to the heavily armed, Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah.
“The big problem we are suffering today in Beirut and all Lebanon is that there’s no electricity, there’s no security, no feeling of reassurance, and all the streets are dark,” he said, describing the state as “absent.”
“If they had done their duty and lit the streets, we would not have been forced to light the streets, and if they ... had not allowed the country to collapse, we would not be forced today to stand in the streets to reassure our people,” he said.
The initiative — which currently has 98 recruits — was launched in coordination with the security services and aimed to complement their work, Gemayel said, adding the security forces were suffering a manpower shortfall due to the crisis.
Lebanon’s security services, like the rest of the state, have been hit hard by a 95 percent currency collapse which has destroyed the value of wages paid to soldiers and police.
The United States is buttressing them with aid, including salary support.
A spokesman for the Internal Security Forces (ISF) did not respond to a request for comment.
The crisis has driven a spike in crimes, including armed robberies, carjackings, handbag snatches and thefts of Internet and telephone cables.
Still, army chief General Joseph Aoun said the army, the backbone of civil peace in Lebanon, was able to maintain order. “The security situation is under control... we have not previously accepted any violation of security and stability, and we will not accept it today,” he said.
Beirut Mayor Jamal Itani said he learnt about the initiative on the news, and was worried it could cause tension.
“Say they catch a thief from one party or people intervene with guns, then things could get out of hand,” he said.
“My second fear is that other areas will also ask for this and then each area will have a group for itself managing security in their area.”
Lebanon’s sectarian parties disarmed at the end of the war, bar Hezbollah, which kept its arsenal to fight Israel. Their pervasive influence is never far from the surface and tensions are common in a country awash with guns.
Supporters of different groups fought deadly clashes in Beirut as recently as last year.
Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center said the initiative was a clear example of security being organized locally under a political umbrella, adding that this trend had surfaced earlier in the crisis and was unfolding less visibly elsewhere.
Security, like electricity, would increasingly be enjoyed by those who could afford it, he added.
Gemayel said the finance came from local donors, with logistics organized by a security company. Recruits earn $200 a month for a six-hour shift — much needed income for many.
He expects expansion.
Shopkeeper George Samaha welcomed it.
“We were more assured because nothing is guaranteed given this bad situation we’re living,” said Samaha, 51.
But lawmaker Paula Yacoubian called it “short-sighted.”
“Are we back to the time of militias?” she said.
“This country is disintegrating and falling apart, and this is one of the things that will contribute to the fall of the country and the state.”


Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation

Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation
Updated 26 November 2022

Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation

Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation
  • The parliament has not taken a decision yet despite its discussion over the past few days
  • MP Makram Radwan sparked controversy in parliament when he submitted a request for a briefing on the amendment to the Human Organ Transplant Law

CAIRO: A debate has been underway within the Egyptian parliament over amendments to the Human Organ Transplant Law.
The parliament has not taken a decision yet despite its discussion over the past few days.
The amendments focus on the activation of two laws: one issued in 2010 banning organ sales, which has not yet been fully implemented due to the revolution in 2011, and one issued in 1962 regarding the organization of the eye bank.
The Health Affairs Committee in the Egyptian House of Representatives recommended that the Ministry of Health activate the provisions of the Human Organ Transplant Law passed in 2010 in which Article 8 of its executive regulations allows people to request in their wills that their organs be donated following their death.
MP Makram Radwan sparked controversy in parliament when he submitted a request for a briefing on the amendment to the Human Organ Transplant Law.
“Egypt has fallen behind many countries that have implemented the law,” Radwan told Arab News.
“Although we have an organ transplant law, it has not been activated. There can be no organ transfer without prior approval to protect doctors.”
As for the law regarding the eye bank, the matter was raised at the request of Representative Karim Badr Helmy.
Badr told Arab News: “I am not calling for something new. This was within the provisions of the 1962 law regulating eye banks.”
Helmy demanded that all cornea banks be re-operated in hospitals licensed to establish them.
He also proposed that the health minister issue a decision to set procedures for transferring the corneas of the dead to university hospitals and other hospitals of the ministry that are licensed to establish banks to preserve them.
Dr. Khaled Omran, one of the fatwa trustees at the Egyptian Dar Al-Iftaa, told Arab News that organ donation is highly beneficial, helping many patients, and is considered of a form of charity.
Omran said that a donation takes place in accordance with conditions set by the law and approved by Dar Al-Iftaa.
The first is that the patient must be legally, and not just clinically, dead
The second is that the donation must be based on a person’s will documented by doctors.
The third condition is that the donation of organs related to the reproductive system must be prevented in order to avoid any suspicion of mixing lineage.


Egypt turns to religious edicts to protect children from harmful video games

Photo/Shutterstock
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 26 November 2022

Egypt turns to religious edicts to protect children from harmful video games

Photo/Shutterstock
  • Apps can stimulate minds but also cause addiction, incite violence, Dar Al-Iftaa official says
  • Some games are used by extremist groups like Daesh to exploit young people, he says

CAIRO: One of Egypt’s top Islamic organizations, Dar Al-Iftaa, is trying to raise awareness of the potentially harmful impact of mobile games and apps on young people.

A recent report by the Global Fatwa Index showed that 33 percent of the fatwas on technological affairs issued this year were related to the subject and that many of them stressed the need to protect children from exploitation and violent or other harmful content.

“Video games and modern applications are a double-edged sword,” Sheikh Awaida Othman from Dar Al-Iftaa, the Egyptian government’s principal Islamic legal institution for issuing fatwas, told Arab News.

“Despite their ability to develop minds, they come with many disadvantages, most notably mobile addiction, spreading violence, social isolation, and the incidence of unrest and psychological disorders.

“The latest preemptive fatwas of the Egyptian Dar Al-Iftaa dealt with the issue of buying and selling currencies in video games because it is legally permissible, but with controls that must be taken into account … the game should not become a daily habit that devolves into an addiction that causes health and psychological issues and mental exhaustion.”

Echoing a finding in the fatwa index that suggested some apps could be used for political exploitation, Othman said ultra-right movements in the West relied on video games to recruit and exploit children and adolescents.

He added that in some online games users were able to create secret networks and chat without surveillance, just as members of extremist organizations like Daesh did.

The most prominent of these was Fortnite — one of the world’s most popular fighting games — as it incited violence, he said.

“ISIS (another name for Daesh) adopts the same terrorist strategy and ideology by exploiting video game platforms to recruit young men and minors, and using hidden channels of communication to ensure anonymity,” Othman said.

Sheikh Sayed Abdulaziz, secretary-general of Egyptian Family House — an initiative started in 2011 that promotes religious coexistence — said that religious institutions, families and educational and media groups needed to work together and heed the warnings about video games.

“The steady and intensive increase in video games and phone applications is difficult to monitor and therefore requires religious institutions to dedicate people to follow up on these developments and issue proactive fatwas regarding them,” he told Arab News.

“The lack of fatwas related to video games directly reaching the youth and children category requires work in parallel with religious bodies, the media, schools and universities.”

He added: “We must also pay attention to following up on new apps and making sure that they are following public morals in order to prevent the spread of material among youths that is religiously or nationally inappropriate.”

 


Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation

Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation
Updated 26 November 2022

Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation

Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation
  • Many Egyptian deputies and politicians voiced their rejection of the European Parliament’s call and asserted that it was blatant interference in Egypt’s affairs

CAIRO: Egyptian MPs and politicians have rejected what they are calling the European Parliament’s “blatant” interference in Egypt’s domestic affairs.

In a statement issued on Friday, the European Parliament called for the immediate and unconditional release of dozens of human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, activists, politicians and social media influencers currently sitting in Egyptian prisons and for the reversal of the excessive use of arbitrary pre-trial detention in Egypt.

The European Parliament also appealed to the member states of the EU “to support the call for the creation of an international mechanism for monitoring and reporting gross violations of human rights in Egypt at the UN Human Rights Council, as well a deep and comprehensive review of the EU’s relations with Egypt in light of the very limited progress in Egypt’s human rights record.”

Many Egyptian deputies and politicians voiced their rejection of the European Parliament’s call and asserted that it was blatant interference in Egypt’s affairs.

Hind Rashad, a member of the House of Representatives, told Arab News: “I strongly reject all lies and attempts to interfere in the affairs of the Egyptian state.”

His comment came as Egypt’s parliament asserted that the EU position reflected only a biased and subjective view of the reality in the country.

Tamer Abdel Qader, also a member of the House of Representatives, told Arab News that the European Parliament’s statement on human rights in Egypt constitutes “blatant interference” in the affairs of “a country that enjoys all sovereign rights.” He also said the statement violates UN charters, “as it included many lies, fallacies and rumors.”

Abdel Qader added: “This old school has had its...policies exposed more than once, and everyone knows what the intentions of the (drafters) of these policies (are) towards the Egyptian state, which recently launched the National Strategy for Human Rights and laid frameworks for its implementation in front of everyone.

“Among the inaccuracies in the statement is that Egypt executes children, bearing in mind that Egyptian laws criminalize the trial or execution of children…Egyptian laws stipulate that they be placed in care homes for their rehabilitation and integration into society.”

Political expert Hazem El-Gendy, deputy head of the Egyptian Wafd Party, told Arab News that the decision of the European Parliament confirmed beyond any doubt that “there is a state of hostility and ambush adopted by some international institutions against Egypt” and that these are “not sufficiently aware of the developments of the situation in Egypt.”

El-Gendy said: “The resolutions say that Egypt has been living under a state of emergency since 2017, despite the announcement by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to cancel it in October 2021 … The declaration of a state of emergency came in light of the war waged by the state and terrorist groups in Sinai.”

Mahmoud Bassiouni, member of the National Council for Human Rights, also told Arab News that the European Parliament’s statement constitutes meddling in Egypt’s domestic affairs and ignores the efforts of the Egyptian state to improve human rights.

He added that the controversial statement relied on a single source of information.


Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations

Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations
Updated 26 November 2022

Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations

Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations
  • ‘The cries of the people in Iran for justice have finally been heard’
  • The fact-finding mission comes 73 days on from the murder of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini

LONDON: Amnesty International has applauded the establishment of a fact-finding mission to investigate human rights violations in Iran as “long overdue” given the “dire situation” in the country.
Responding to Thursday’s announcement from the UN Human Rights Council that the “landmark” resolution had been passed, Amnesty’s Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said: “The cries of the people in Iran for justice have finally been heard. It not only enhances international scrutiny of the dire situation, but puts in place a process to collect, consolidate and preserve crucial evidence for future prosecutions.
She added: “We hope it marks a fundamental shift in the international community’s approach to tackling the crisis of systematic impunity that has long fueled crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations in Iran.”
The fact-finding mission comes 73 days on from the murder of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s notorious morality police.
Amini’s death ignited a tinderbox of pent-up frustrations over falling living standards and discrimination against women and minorities, and has fueled the most widespread protests seen in the country since the 1979 revolution, with no signs of the protesters backing down.
The fact-finding mission is mandated to “collect, consolidate and analyze evidence of such violations and preserve evidence, including in view of cooperation, in any legal proceedings.”
Amnesty said as the resolution was being negotiated, Iranian authorities continued to reject the findings of UN experts and human rights organizations, and have persisted in widespread use of unlawful lethal force and sought the death penalty for protesters.
Iran has faced repeated cycles of protests since 2018, all of which have been met with violent reprisals.
“States must now ensure that the mandate is made operational and sufficiently resourced without delay and call upon the Iranian authorities to cooperate fully with the mission and allow unhindered access to the country,” said Callamard.
“This vote must also serve as a wake-up call for the Iranian authorities to immediately end their all-out militarized attack on demonstrators.”
Callamard said Amnesty has “consistently” documented crimes under international law committed by Iranian authorities against protesters, including unlawful killings, unwarranted use of lethal force, and mass arbitrary arrests and detentions.
It has also recorded enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment, and the sentencing of individuals to lengthy prison terms or death.
Amnesty said: “Iranian authorities have ignored repeated calls by the international community to open criminal investigations into such crimes.
“Instead, they have sought to destroy evidence of crimes while persecuting survivors and victims’ relatives.”