There’s something different about the protests that have erupted in Iran over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died two weeks ago after being taken into custody by the morality police. Two days after her arrest, she was rushed to the hospital, where she died. The government says the young woman, who was in perfect health, suffered a heart attack. Much of the country doesn’t believe that.
Amini was picked up off the street by the morality police because the headscarf she was wearing didn’t cover enough of her head. That touched a raw nerve among Iranian women — many of whom have had their own run-ins with the hijab police. Beginning in Amini’s home province of Kurdistan, the protests have mushroomed to engulf more than 100 cities and have paralyzed some of the larger ones.
What sets these protests apart from other demonstrations against food prices, high fuel prices, and rigged elections is the proximate cause of the unrest: a women’s rights issue in which, presumably, most men in Iran would take the side of the government and the clerics and would almost certainly not risk life and limb to support in the streets.
Iranian women may have had enough — enough of the government controlling every aspect of their lives. Enough of the government telling them what they must wear, how they should comb their hair, where they can go, and what they can do.
More than 40 years of rule by the Islamists have failed to “de-westernize” Iran. In fact, the internet has shown young Iranian men and women what they’re missing. They see other Islamic countries with far more freedom for both men and women, and they want the same. The women see another way to live and understand that the only reason they can’t live that way is because of a bunch of religious fanatics telling them what they should wear and how they act.
And they know they can be killed for something as mundane as not wearing an article of clothing properly.
Masih Alinejad, a U.S.-based journalist who has been chronicling the revolution, believes that things will never be the same in Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini.
“For the Islamic Republic, the murder of Mahsa Amini is becoming a tipping point because compulsory hijab is not just a small piece of cloth,” Alinejad told Reuters on Tuesday in New York. “It’s like the Berlin Wall. And if Iranian women manage to tear this wall down, the Islamic Republic won’t exist.”
That might be an exaggeration. After all, the government has the guns, and they’ve shown already that they are willing to gun protesters down in the streets. The 2009 demonstrations against the rigged presidential election were far larger, with a million people marching in Tehran and 69 deaths, according to the Iranian opposition.
But these protests are a far bigger danger to the Iranian government. That danger will become apparent in the days and weeks to come. No matter what happens with the demonstrations, no matter how brutal the coming crackdown will be, Iranian women are already free in their minds. They will dare the regime to arrest them. They will fill the jails and the Islamic study centers where their “reeducation” on how to wear the hijab will be held.
So far, Iran Human Rights (IHR), says that 76 protesters have been killed. President Ebrahim Raisi will speak to the nation about the unrest today and will probably warn protesters to go home… or else.
But the women will not be moved — despite the bullseye on them. One young woman said that the size of the protests has been reduced due to the violent crackdown by authorities.
“People still are coming to the streets to find one meter of space to shout their rage but they are immediately and violently chased, beaten and taken into custody, so they try to mobilize in four- to five-person groups and once they find an opportunity they run together and start to demonstrate,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The most important protest they (Iranian women) are doing right now is taking off their scarves and burning them,” she added. “This is a women’s movement first of all, and men are supporting them in the backline.”
No doubt there are other grievances that are driving the protesters into the streets. The economy has collapsed, inflation is near 80%, and unemployment among the young approaches 40%. The government has been trying to negotiate a new nuclear deal with Biden, but as much as Biden has been willing to surrender, the negotiators need more to satisfy the wild men who surround Supreme Leader Khamenei.
But the Iranian woman is right. It is women on the front lines who are absorbing the blows from the regime’s bullies — the Revolutionary Guards. A night of blood is probably coming soon. It should be clear to the regime’s leaders that they may restore order. But they will never restore their legitimacy with Iranian women.