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Foreign Policy

Iran’s Hijab Protests Present Instability of Khamenei’s Rule



The most recent spherical of mass protests in Iran erupted over the dying of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old lady. She died on Sept. 16 by the hands of the so-called morality police for allegedly violating Iran’s guidelines on obligatory veiling in public.

Amini’s tragic dying is yet one more reminder of how the Islamist rulers in Tehran stay tone-deaf to the calls for of the Iranian individuals. Opposition to obligatory carrying of the veil, or hijab, is one in an extended record of public grievances.

The violence that led to Amini’s dying was not unintentional. It’s half and parcel of Iranian Supreme Chief Ali Khamenei’s perspective towards any political dissent. He continues to imagine that violent repression will drive protesters to retreat. However his coverage decisions are solely deepening uncooked public anger in opposition to the Islamic Republic. Not solely is Khamenei inciting the Iranian individuals in opposition to the regime, however his insistence on obligatory hijab-wearing is splitting the Islamic clerical class.


Khamenei engineered for Ebrahim Raisi to develop into Iran’s president in sham elections held in June 2021. As soon as in workplace, Raisi was alleged to concentrate on creating jobs, constructing new housing, and tackling corruption.

None of those guarantees have been saved. As an alternative, the Raisi authorities has allotted additional funds to the nation’s safety forces to extra strictly implement Iran’s obligatory hijab legislation. There are reports that Iran is now trying to introduce Chinese language-style mass digital surveillance of the general public.

Why concentrate on imposing such a extremely unpopular coverage? In Khamenei’s thoughts, compromising with the Iranian individuals in a single space will solely lead to a cascade of calls for for change in others, from home to overseas coverage. That’s why Khamenei, from the highest, has given orders to crack down on the “anti-hijab” motion.

In latest months, the regime has been adamant about utilizing violence and harsher jail sentences to discourage what it calls the “grand sedition” behind the anti-hijab marketing campaign. It has even inspired pro-regime members of the general public to take issues into their very own fingers and confront people who defy the principles on obligatory hijabs in public.

This has created new and contentious fault traces in society, splitting the minority that assist obligatory hijab-wearing from the majority that oppose it and who see it as a basic infringement on fundamental human rights.

In contrast to any time since 1979, a youthful technology of Iranians, significantly ladies, are actually rallying round opposition to obligatory hijab guidelines to not solely defy this one legislation however the entirety of the Islamic Republic’s draconian social-religious dogma and the lengths to which it goes to impose its values on society.

Because the authorities have fumbled attempting to counter this opposition—typically leading to violent arrests which are captured on video and distributed on varied social media platforms—the regime in Tehran has desperately sought to hyperlink the anti-hijab motion to overseas intelligence companies. Most not too long ago, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence claimed to have arrested 300 of its “ringleaders,” people who, it mentioned, labored for the “enemy.”

Among the many regime’s senior management, obligatory hijab-wearing has develop into a nonnegotiable litmus take a look at for anybody who professes loyalty to the Islamic Republic. In its ideological messaging, the regime more and more seeks to painting the “hijab” as a pillar of the Islamic Republic, with out which the political order can be in danger.

This messaging is each insincere and proper on the similar time. It’s insincere because it was not one thing the Khomeinists who took energy in 1979 initially pledged to do, nor was it a part of the political pact they struck with people who supported the revolution. Necessary hijab-wearing was solely enshrined into legislation in 1983, when the Khomeinists realized it was an efficient method to socially, and due to this fact politically, management the stressed Iranian society.

Totalitarian and authoritarian regimes search to manage societal affairs by means of a set of fundamental guidelines that they implement at a excessive value. It’s all about exercising political management by means of totally different means. In that sense, it’s right to say that obligatory carrying of the hijab is a pillar of the Islamic Republic.

As soon as obligatory hijab-wearing is challenged and probably revoked, the pondering goes, opponents will merely transfer on to contest the regime’s different cherished insurance policies, corresponding to its anti-U.S. or anti-Israel stance or its incessant protection of the idea of the “supreme chief.”

In the meantime, among the many clerical class, this coverage has all the time had each supporters and opponents. The latter don’t imagine that there’s any non secular provision within the Quran that mandates it. They argue the idea of the hijab is talked about seven occasions within the Quran. Nonetheless, it’s not about obligatory veiling however relatively the separation and modesty of ladies. Such totally different non secular interpretations have existed for the reason that starting of the regime, when outstanding figures like former jurist Mohammad Beheshti and former theologian Mahmoud Taleghani rejected obligatory hijab-wearing.

In present-day Iran, there are only a few clerics that overtly reject the hijab. What there are lots of extra of, nevertheless, are those that distinguish between it as a convention to be upheld and one thing that ought to be enforced as obligatory. In different phrases, there are clerics that assist the regime however counsel that flexibility in imposing the hijab is within the curiosity of the nation.

For instance, just a few years in the past, Mohsen Gharavian, a fundamentalist cleric, made headlines by suggesting that vacationers coming to Iran shouldn’t be pressured to put on the hijab. This kind of oblique and conditional critique is the furthest that hard-line circles will go. This group of clerics is not going to overtly defy Khamenei on the problem, and his dedication to imposing obligatory hijab-wearing is, as of right now, nonetheless agency.

Khamenei has set the tone for Tehran’s response to the anti-hijab marketing campaign, saying the ladies who manage protests have been “deceived” by overseas governments. Neither Khamenei nor Raisi appear interested by admitting that Iranian society is the driving force behind the anti-hijab motion and that it’s not, at its core, pushed by a overseas conspiracy. On this context, the regime’s management has pursued a three-pronged technique to counter the motion’s calls for.

First, they deny the existence of widespread demand in Iranian society, significantly among the many youthful demographic, to make carrying the hijab a problem of non-public choice. Subsequent, they search for methods to discourage the general public and anti-hijab activists; after which, they restrict the house for debate among the many political and clerical class on this challenge to take care of coverage readability and uniformity.

Over the course of the Islamic Republic’s historical past, the regime’s insurance policies have typically pitted its supporters and opponents in opposition to each other, however hardly ever have its actions resulted in precise violence breaking out between these two teams. That is the fact going through Iran right now, nevertheless, because the nation experiences increasingly more instances of supporters of the regime and the anti-hijab motion participating in physical altercations within the streets. Notably, this isn’t a phenomenon restricted to Tehran alone however has taken place throughout the nation.

The basis of the issue goes again to when Khamenei first inspired his supporters to “fire at will” in opposition to anybody who resists the regime and its insurance policies. Put merely, pro-regime residents can intervene and use violence to confront something they deem “unhealthy hijab,” which is itself an especially slippery idea.

This additionally illustrates, as soon as once more, how Khamenei’s political calculations about one of the simplest ways to manage society are eroding the position of the clergy and offering ammunition to essentially the most radical components in Iran. The hazard, after all, is that there can be a violent counterresponse to the heavy-handed enforcement of the hijab legislation.

The potential for a deeper societal battle can’t be ignored. In accordance with one unbiased research from 2020, 72 percent of Iranians are in opposition to obligatory hijab-wearing. Against this, solely 15 p.c assist it. One can think about the attainable tensions and violence that might erupt over this challenge on the road degree as soon as the Raisi authorities rolls out its marketing campaign to completely implement the hijab legislation, because the president has promised to do.


In the end, Khamenei is fearful that any loosening of Iran’s strict social-religious legal guidelines will invite calls for for extra change, which he sees as a Pandora’s field. Moreover, Khamenei will not be inclined to provide in to stress—definitely not when it comes from grassroots activists, whom he dismisses as simpletons who’ve fallen sufferer to Western propaganda and machinations.

The difficulty of imposing the hijab is, above all, about sustaining most political management and neutralizing opponents. Because the opposition to obligatory hijab-wearing will increase and the marketing campaign in opposition to it features momentum, there’s a actual threat of violence between supporters and opponents. This makes it tougher for Khamenei to take care of coverage uniformity on this challenge, which he needs and has thus far been in a position to obtain inside the ranks of the regime.

Specifically, senior clerics can be pressured to take a clearer stance and never obscure their actual positions as rooted of their non secular interpretations of sharia legislation. This might develop into a supply of widening divide among the many ulema (which means “non secular students”) in Iran, significantly amongst clerical supporters and opponents of the regime.

Aside from Afghanistan beneath the Taliban, which has even stricter guidelines on feminine gown, Iran is right now the one nation on the earth the place there’s a legislation on obligatory hijab-wearing. There can be all types of pressures on the regime to vary course, although that’s extremely unlikely so long as Khamenei remains to be alive.

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