Iran over the abyss. Where can the rejection of hijabs and the vice police lead

Makhsa Amini’s death came after the Western and then Saudi media carried out an entire operation to discredit the authorities on the subject of the hijab.

On December 4, the UAE-based Arab channel Al Arabya reported that “after two and a half months of mass protests, which caused international outrage and shocked the regime in Iran. The country’s attorney general announced the abolition of the vice police“.

The point was to abolish the structure which, according to the opposition, led to the death of the Iranian girl of Kurdish origin, Mahsa Amini.

The Attorney General’s words did not cause a strong reaction in the Iranian-speaking media until the speech of the Attorney General attracted the attention of Western and Arab journalists in the context of the debate in the Iranian society on the abolition of the hijab.

The same evening, the Iranian news agency Al-Alam hastened to report that the news about vice police closure did not follow from the Prosecutor General’s words. According to the media, Iran’s Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, in response to a reporter’s question during a press conference, simply explained that the Vice Police patrols were not subordinate to the judiciary and that the judiciary would continue to monitor public behavior.

Al-Alam, however, did not refute Montazeri’s statement a few days earlier that within 15 days the parliament and the advisory council would announce their vision of the problem of the wearing of the hijab.

Although no other official in Iran has confirmed the abolition of police patrols, there has been no official denial either.

Expert on Iran Nikita Smagin believes: “The authorities are still confused and have no idea what to do. That’s why the honest answer is: we don’t know yet what has been decided on the vice police case. The Iranian authorities can still change their mind 10 times“.

He cites the following fact. The reformist newspaper Sharq contacted the Tehran police press office on December 5 and tried to clarify what was happening with the vice police. The answer was as follows “This is not the time to talk about it. The police will make a statement when they see it necessary.” When they tried to clarify “The prosecutor made a statement yesterday, how is this not the right time?“. The head of the police press service replied “Am I the prosecutor? Go and ask him.

Vice Police

After the 1979 Iranian Revolution, when the pro-Western Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown and the monarchy abolished, a new administration was established under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini. Shiite religious leaders came to power in the country and the way of life changed from secular, which was essentially during the Shah, to religious. The “cultural revolution” affected religious life, the whole information policy, culture, education and other spheres.

After the revolution, various patrols were formed to deal with social issues, which were perceived by the authorities as extremely important. As an example, among such issues were women’s clothing and relations between boys and girls.

During the presidency of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a plan to “struggle against the wearing of the chador” was adopted under the aegis of the republic’s Interior Ministry in 1996.

On August 4, 2004, the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, at the suggestion of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, approved the “Strategy for the Development of a Culture of Chastity and the Hijab“. The Code of Ethics was formed in its present form at the end of the reformist President Mohammad Khatami administration in 2005. The ” Vice Police” patrols were guided in their work by this document.

Since then, there have been no changes in the norms related to the hijab. Under the current, more conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi, the vice police began to follow them a little more strictly.

The vice police monitored the adherence of Iranian citizens to Islamic norms and rules: that women were appropriately dressed, that Iranians did not drink or dance in public places, etc.

Now the norms regarding the hijab, which have been in force for almost four decades, may be adjusted. At the end of November, members of parliament, along with the Supreme Council for the Cultural Revolution of Iran, initiated a committee on questions about the hijab of Iranian women, including its legal status.

The group met on November 30 with the parliamentary commission on culture. “The results of the Iranian parliamentarians’ discussions are to be announced in 15 days,” Iranian Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said.

Reasons for the protests

Protests in Iran began on September 16, the day a 22-year-old Kurdish girl, Mahsa Amini, died. She died in hospital after being there for several days without regaining consciousness. She was taken to the hospital from the police station after she was detained by the vice police on September 13.

The probable reason for the girl’s detention was that her appearance did not comply with the norms of Iranian etiquette. The opposition accused the authorities, and specifically the vice police, of the girl’s death.

The statements that the girl had been beaten by the police did not come from Mahsa’s parents. They were first voiced live on a Persian-language TV channel in London, and then spread on social networks. The police responded by releasing video from internal cameras that did not show any hint of beating of the girl. However, some activists called the video a montage.

The president of Iran has set a task to deal with the incident and identify the causes of the girl’s death. He contacted her family, offering his condolences to her relatives.

The investigation revealed that Mahsa died of natural causes. The doctors found that the girl had serious diseases, that she had previously undergone surgery for a brain tumor, suffered from epilepsy and type 1 diabetes. Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi stated that medical evidence refutes the allegation of a beating. Medical experts also concluded that there had been no beating. However, all the explanations given by the authorities did not reassure the opposition.

On September 17, a spontaneous rally gathered at Makhsa Amini’s funeral in the town of Sakez. The Western media actively and very quickly supported the protests, accusing the Iranian authorities of being cruel to ordinary Iranians and of infringing on women’s rights.

It is noteworthy that the tragic incident with Mahsa took place at the very moment when the Western and then the Saudi media conducted a lengthy operation to discredit the hijab issue in Iran.

The hijab issue had already been promoted for months, as if someone was preparing the ground to provide a strong resonance for the tragedy that would follow.

On July 12, for example, several Iranian human rights activists called on women to publicly remove the burqa on “National Hijab and Chastity Day”. After that, several women actually posted videos of them removing their headscarves. This was followed by videos on social networks showing cases of supposedly violent actions of supposedly “vice police” units against women who took off the hijab. Already at that time, people wrote in the comments to the videos that the videos of beatings were staged.

And as if to conclude this whole campaign, after several months of promoting the topic of the “cruelty” of the vice police against women without hijabs in Iran, it is the unwillingness to wear a hijab that supposedly becomes the cause of the girl’s death.

Makhsa Amini’s death comes at a very difficult time for Iran. There are months of negotiations on the nuclear deal with the United States, where Iran is not ready to make serious concessions to Washington, the active establishment of cooperation between Iran and Russia after Moscow announced a special operation in Ukraine. Moreover, the incident happened on the eve of Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi’s trip to the UN General Assembly, during his trip to the SCO forum.

In addition, a number of Western media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, have been writing for months about Khamenei’s poor health and the internal political struggle for his successor, which also complicates the internal political situation in the country.

In such circumstances, what happened looks very much like a provocation against the Iranian authorities.

Protest evolution

The protests, which began on September 16, are intensifying and expanding in geography. Protesters speak out against the spiritual authorities and Ayatollah Khamenei, against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and tear down banners depicting Iranian shahids. Protests are becoming more radicalized and attacks on police are becoming more frequent.

On October 15, Iranian protesters beheaded a statue of the country’s first Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini in northeastern Iran. On October 22, a group of young men burned a policeman alive.

The situation was aggravated by the fact that Amini was Kurdish, and relations between the Kurds and the central government had long been tense. The protests in Kurdish towns immediately took on a clear political and ethnic connotation.

The most active protests were recorded in Tehran and on the outskirts of the country, where Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis and Azerbaijanis live. Thus, the places of active protests were the province of Sistan and Baluchistan, the border areas in Iranian Kurdistan, Iranian Azerbaijan.

Support for the protests throughout the country was related to a multitude of unresolved internal problems: the difficult economic situation, water problems in some regions of the country, ethnic problems and excessive pressure locally, a growing lack of trust in state institutions amid years of falling living standards, including due to sanctions.

Provocations by “third forces” began at the protests literally from the very beginning. As Orientalist Alexander Knyazev noted on September 20, the deaths of some Iranian citizens look very suspicious: “…three were shot with military weapons, which are not used by any security/military forces in the province.”

The pro-Western and Saudi media covered the protests exclusively in an anti-law enforcement manner, citing numerous casualties, violence, and the killing of children. This information was actively broadcast by pro-Western NGOs and foundations.

To promote the protests, on September 26, Sky News (Britain) interviewed a certain cousin of Amini from Iraqi Kurdistan, who stated that he had received a report that a girl had been hit in the head in the police car on her way to the station, and that this is what supposedly led to her death afterwards.

In addition to the media, foreign agents joined in supporting the protests. Several foreign citizens were detained in Iran, including several Frenchmen who were seen at the protests or supporting the protests. The West began to impose sanctions against Iranian government officials.

On October 19 the Fars Iranian news agency wrote that the German Embassy in Tehran was involved in coordinating the protests. The German embassy “coordinated foreign governments and international organizations to increase pressure on the domestic situation in the Islamic republic,” the agency claimed.

To stop the supply of weapons to protesters across the border with Iraq, Iran began strikes on terrorist bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, from which weapons flowed to Iranian Kurdish areas.

Support for the protesters also came from Turkey and Azerbaijan. On Turkish television, residents of Iranian Azerbaijan were called brothers and practically urged to save them from the brutal Iranian regime. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev officially stated that relations between Tehran and Baku had become the worst and accused Tehran of oppressing Azerbaijanis living in Iran.

On October 1, 2022 a group of political and cultural figures of Iranian Azerbaijanis under the wing of Turkey in Ankara announced the establishment of the committee on formation of the Provisional National Assembly (Majlis) of South Azerbaijan.

On November 23, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said at a press conference for the media that “foreign interference [in Iran’s internal affairs] has reached its apogee over the past eight weeks.” He also noted that terrorists were entering Iran through neighboring countries in the western and eastern provinces: 76 terrorist and anti-Iranian centers had become active in Iraqi Kurdistan alone, and Israeli and American weapons were entering the country through them.

However, after the peak of protests recorded on the 40th day of Makhsa Amini’s death – October 26 – the rallies went down, radicalizing only in the outskirts. By the end of November, the downward trend in protest activity continued. The general strike of workers and civil servants in Iran did not take place.

The authorities began to divide protesters into rioters and disgruntled but peaceful citizens in their rhetoric. The possibility of separating radical elements and alienating other Iranians from them became a tactic of the authorities. They were ready to deal with the small number of rioters harshly.

On the 3rd of December the Iranian informational agency IRNA published the number of dead in the riots in Iran – 200 people.

The opposition news agency HRANA reported that as of December 3, 470 protesters, including 64 juveniles, had supposedly been killed in the protests. HRANA also reported several tens of thousands of detainees.

Reaction of authorities and elites

The Iranian authorities have not called on the army and IRGC forces to disperse the protests. Only at the end of November were IRGC units sent exclusively to the restive border regions of Iran.

The authorities did not use harsh measures, but they did not make concessions to the protesters either. Besides, the society was not offered any changes by the authorities. The reason for the protests was primarily attributed by the authorities to the work of foreign powers and their agents against Iran. However, it is clear that part of the Iranian elite and intellectuals themselves, and probably some group in power, support the protests.

Masoumeh Ebtekar, Iran’s former vice president for women and family affairs, said in an interview with Roudad24: “Not only is the presence of this structure (the vice police) useless, but the behavior of the officers causes young people to feel fear and uncertainty“.

Iranian politician and National Trust Party founder Mehdi Karroubi sent a letter to President Raisi asking him to remove the vice police from cities.

A major milestone was the support of the protests by the relatives of Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Thus, the niece of Iran’s supreme leader, well-known human rights activist Farideh Moradkhani, in her video statement demanded that foreign powers break all ties with Tehran because of the suppression of opposition protests in the country.

The video statement by Farideh Moradhani, whose late father was a prominent opposition figure married to Khamenei’s sister, was widely circulated online after the HRANA opposition news agency reported that Moradhani had been arrested on November 23, after the video was released.

On December 7, the sister of Supreme Leader Badri Hosseini Khamenei condemned the suppression of protests and called on the Revolutionary Guards to lay down their arms. Her letter was published on Twitter by her son Mahmoud Moradhani, who lives in France.

Badri Hosseini Khamenei, who lives in Iran, has criticized the clergy since the late founder of the republic, Khomeini. “I think it is appropriate to state now that I am against my brother’s actions and express my sympathy to all mothers who mourn the crimes of the Islamic Republic from the time of Khomeini to the current era of Ali Khamenei’s despotic caliphate,” she wrote in a letter.

In addition, many film artists, filmmakers and athletes supported the protests. The Iranian national soccer team met with President Raisi at the World Cup in Qatar before going to the championship, for which it received a lot of negative feedback on social media. As a result, the national team did not even play the national anthem at the first match of the World Cup 2022. Pro-Western-minded Internet users from Iran during the time when the players were in Qatar accused the athletes of duplicity and wished the national team to lose.

Some Iranian female athletes at foreign competitions even went out without their hijabs, which was interpreted as support for the protest.

There is a split within the elite and within society. Some Iranian youths are pro-Western and want to overthrow religious authorities in the country. On November 22, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change and the Dutch Group for Analysis and Measurement of Relations in Iran (GAMAAN) published a study according to which there is a growing demand in the society for the rejection of theocracy. The survey supposedly showed that 78% of respondents between the ages of 20 and 29, 68% between the ages of 30 and 49, and 74% over the age of 50 support such an abolition.

Some of the authorities are ready for socio-economic reforms and concessions to the protesters. Others believe that the protests should be quickly crushed with the help of the army. At the same time, they are looking for the culprits in order to transfer to them all the discontent of society, which has been in an unstable state for several months and observes deaths on both sides.

The lack of a clear strategy on the part of the authorities during the protests, including the connivance of public protests and their support by various celebrities, has made the country’s leaders seem confused and indecisive.

On November 28, Amwaj.media wrote that the Iranian authorities had decided to bring the domestic opposition and moderate politicians to their side to work out some kind of consensus solution. The Iranian press hinted at the possible involvement of ex-President Mohammad Khatami in the organization of a national dialogue to resolve the crisis.

If, under such conditions, the government makes concessions to the protesters, it will definitely be perceived as an even greater weakness and will be a signal to continue pressure on the government through the streets.

At the same time, the abolition of the mandatory hijab and the abolition of the vice police, important gains of the 1979 revolution and components of the Islamic Republic, will be a major change in the politics of the country in general.

In a sense, this can be compared to the abolition of Article 6 of the USSR Constitution on February 7, 1990, when the reference to the leading role of the Communist Party was officially deleted and, in effect, the communist ideology was cancelled. The abolition of Article 6 marked the beginning of perestroika and formalized the beginning of the disintegration of the USSR.

Iranian society and the state need and have needed change, but if the government follows the path proposed by the pro-Western opposition, the innovations will come into harsh contradiction with what the country has fought for over the past 40 years and what the Iranians shed blood for in 1979. This internal contradiction will destroy the system even more. In such a situation, the authorities need to introduce only those changes that will rely on national experience and can move the country forward, rather than agreeing to Western rules that will not benefit the Iranian state.

On December 7, Iran celebrates Student Day. Student protests have already been announced at the country’s major universities. Back in 1978, the revolution in Iran began with the shooting of a student demonstration. The upcoming student protests will be an indicator of where the processes in the country will go next.

Source: Rossa Primavera News Agency

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