Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, February 05, 2018

Iranian protests

Do big changes begin with small gestures?

Tired of Their Veils, Some Iranian Women Stage Rare Protests
Climbing atop a five-foot-tall utility box in one of Tehran’s busiest squares… an Iranian woman removed her head scarf, tied it to a stick and waved it for all to see.

It was no small feat in Iran, where women can be arrested for publicly flouting the Islamic requirement that they cover their hair.

But there she stood, her curly hair blowing in the breeze. No one protested. In fact, she was applauded by many people. Taxi drivers and older women took her picture. The police, who maintain a booth in the square, either did not see her or decided not to intervene…

She was not alone…. several other women, a total of six, according to social media accounts, made the same symbolic gesture: taking off their head scarves in public and waving them on a stick, emulating a young woman who climbed on the same sort of utility box on Dec. 27 and was subsequently arrested. Activists say she has since been released, but she has still has not resurfaced in public…

The protests, still small in number, are nevertheless significant as a rare public sign that dissatisfaction with certain Islamic laws governing personal conduct…

And some said this might just be the beginning. “My guess is that more of these protests will follow,” said Nasrin Sotoudeh, a lawyer and human rights activist. “It’s obvious that some women want to decide for themselves what to wear.”

That remains to be seen, but the protests have already gained enough attention to provoke angry reactions in some quarters.

“These protests are done by instigators, saboteurs and vandalists and anarchists,” said one critic, Kazem Anbarlooie, the editor in chief of the hard-line newspaper Resalat. “Recently our enemies were communists and liberals, now Americans are provoking masochists against us.”…

The Islamic head scarf, or hijab, is seen by Iranian ideologues as a pillar of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The law regarding the scarf has been enforced since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and a head scarf is obligatory for every woman in the country, even tourists and visiting foreign dignitaries…

During the past decade, influenced by the rise of the internet, satellite television and cheap foreign travel, many Iranians have grown deeply resentful of rules that they can see for themselves are out of step with most of the rest of the world. Many have become relatively secular and feel increasingly unwelcome in the fixed-in-stone state version of Shiite Islam, and many have taken to flouting the rules whenever and wherever they feel free enough to do so…

In past years, the morality police zealously enforced the rules, arresting women and men who violated them. But under the current president, Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, those officers have largely been taken off the streets.

Their removal was a gesture to a radically changed society, but it was also a recognition that there were not enough enforcers available to control a society that resents and rejects the rules. Women without head scarves can been seen everywhere in Tehran, in their cars, in shopping centers and even on the street, but always with the scarves draped over their shoulders, as if they have only just slipped off…

See also: Iranian Chess Player, Shunned for Refusing to Wear Hijab, Will Play in U.S. 

Iran and Saudis’ Latest Power Struggle: Expanding Rights for Women

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