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Society

An End To The Hijab Law? Iranian Protesters Want To End The Whole Regime

Reported declarations by some Iranian officials on revising the notorious morality police patrols and obligatory dress codes for women are suspect both in their authenticity, and ultimately not even close to addressing the demands of Iranian protesters.

photo of women in Iran dressed in black hijabs

The regime has required women cover their heads for the past 41 years

Iranian Supreme Leader'S Office/ZUMA
Kayhan-London

-Analysis-

The news spread quickly around Iran, and the world: the Iranian regime's very conservative prosecutor-general, Muhammadja'far Montazeri, was reported to have proposed loosening the mandatory headscarf rules Iran places on women in public.

Let's remember that within months of taking power in 1979, the Islamic Republic had forced women to wear headscarves in public, and shawls and other dressings to cover their clothes. But ongoing protests, which began in September over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody over her headscarf, seem to instead be angling for an overthrow of the entire 40-year regime.

Che ba hejab, che bi hejab, mirim be suyeh enqelab, protesters have chanted. "With or without the hijab, we're heading for a revolution."

Montazeri recently announced that Iran's parliament and Higher Council of the Cultural Revolution, an advisory state body, would discuss the issue of obligatory headscarves over the following two weeks. "The judiciary does not intend to shut down the social security police but after these recent events, security and cultural agencies want to better manage the matter," Montazeri said, adding that this may require new proposals on "hijab and modesty" rules.


A spokesman for the parliamentary cultural affairs committee, Ahmad Rastineh, recently said that "new methods" were needed to defend the regime's "sartorial values," and that parliament would debate the implementation of the original headscarf rules. He said the issue was also being "debated" at unspecified universities.

Changing the norm

Others close to the regime have given conflicting indications about whether change is actually coming. Rahimpur Ozghudi, a member of the Higher Council of the Cultural Revolution, said the people had chosen the "obligatory hijab." In principle the state could ditch the hijab, he said, but "the people don't want it."

However, leaked internal information indicates that there is far from a popular consensus supporting the obligatory hijab. Recently the Fars news agency close to the Revolutionary Guards, had its emails and communications hacked, which led to the publication online of various private conversations and documents. Among the leaked documents was a private poll taken with a sample group of just under 4,000 respondents, which showed that 51% of them want headscarves to be optional.

On December 1st, the head of the presidency's public relations office, Ahmad Salehi, said it had received "a very small number" of petitions asking for the liberalization of hijab norms, which it had duly conveyed to senior officials in spite of this being a "minority position."

In recent weeks, there have been reports and pictures of an increasing number of women appearing in public without a headscarf.

An unknown future

Some politicians insist meanwhile that the hijab must be obligatory in principle. One conservative lawmaker Aliasghar Anabestani, said on December 2 that women seen in public without their headscarf should be denied social services. Anabestani, a member of the parliamentary social affairs committee, does however favor revising the morality patrols, apparently as recommended by reformists.

The debate lags far behind the demands of the thousands of protesters voicing their rejection of the Islamic Republic.

While mandatory wearing of the hijab in public remains the law, he said, the state should consider the modalities of its implementation and make greater use of "social persuasion" about its importance.

"I didn't see the guidance (morality) patrol model and structure as successful," he stated, adding that he "[was] not saying this [just because of] the events that have happened."

Regardless of the state's intentions on the scope of personal freedoms, this debate by now lags far behind the demands of the thousands of protesters that have loudly voiced their unqualified contempt for and rejection of the Islamic Republic.

And prominent Iranian dissidents and journalists located outside the country have voiced skepticism over claims that any substantive changes have been made to the morality police.

"It’s disinformation that Islamic Republic of Iran has abolished its morality police. It’s a tactic to stop the uprising. Protesters are not facing guns and bullets to abolish morality police or forced hijab.They want to end Islamic regime. #MahsaAmini" tweeted Iranian-American journalist and women's rights activist Masih Alinejad.

Opposed Iranians are concerned the regime will try "Chinese-style" flexibility by manipulating reformists who have nevertheless worked within the system for the past 20 years to curb the protests' momentum and snuff out all dissent.

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