Outcry in Iran

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Jess Diez
Managing Editor & Research Associate, Middle East Policy Council

September 27, 2022

Mass demonstrations have erupted in almost every major city in Iran since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested on September 13 by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the regime’s compulsory head covering dress code. Amini was hospitalized following her arrest and died three days later. The Iranian government has responded forcefully to the protestors, invoking over 40 casualties, and has imposed internet disruptions to deter further protests. Various countries and public figures, including Elon Musk who activated Starlink internet service in Iran, are speaking out against the Iranian government.

Amini was outside of a metro station with her brother when she was stopped by the morality police for wearing her hijab incorrectly. Following her death, Amini’s cousin relayed witness testimonies to Western media, stating that the morality police ‘insulted and tortured’ Amini. According to Al Araby, Amini’s cousin Erfan Mortezaei revealed that a witness “informed their family of Mahsa’s ordeal, which occurred in a van on the way to the police station, following her arrest…Amini began to ‘lose her vision and felt faint’ after arriving at the station following the abuse she was subjected to. He also stated that it took ambulance workers ‘half an hour to reach her’ and ‘one and half hours before she was admitted to hospital.’ According to Mortezaei, Amini suffered a blow to her head and was dead ‘from a medical point of view’ when she arrived at Kasra hospital in Tehran.”

The Morality Police, who remain accused of beating her, mantain that she died from ‘natural causes,” in turn triggering nation-wide anger towards the police, also known as Gasht-e-Ershad. Explained in Al Jazeera, Gasht-e-Ershad was “founded more than 15 years ago. The Iranian establishment had previously employed different types of patrols to enforce its mandatory hijab rules, either through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or other forces that were later merged into the law enforcement force…The officers enforce the country’s dress code by issuing a verbal warning but some are occasionally detained. Detainees are brought to a centre where they are ‘re-educated’ on proper dress codes for hours. They are then made to sign documents pledging not to repeat the offence. Family members are then called to pick them up.”

Amini’s death sparked Iranian outrage over a ‘long list of grievances’ including societal concerns as well as socio-economic difficulties as well. Expanded in Arab News, “State media reported Monday that authorities in a northern Iran province have arrested 450 people during more than 10 days of protests…Iranian women, fed up with the morality police’s heavy-handed approach, have been posting videos of themselves online cutting locks of their hair in support of Amini. Protesters who have taken to the streets have been chanting ‘Death to the moral police’ and ‘Women, life, freedom.’ In acts of defiance, female demonstrators can be seen taking off their headscarves, burning them and dancing in the streets.”

The Middle East Eye highlighted analysis on the condition of anonymity in relation to these demonstrations specifically, citing a political journalist: “What I’m seeing is a large number of people united for reaching their goals. Unlike previous protests, today people are chanting slogans and risking their life for a cultural demand, which is an end to the compulsory hijab and oppressing Iranian women. In the 2019 protests, people from the poor class mostly took part in the demonstrations. But today, people from all classes, with different thoughts, are taking to the streets. Many people who have hijab, too, are also present in the streets, along with others who all want an end to the compulsory hijab.”

However, as demonstrations in support of Masha Amini continue, rallies condemning the protests, reinforcing the position of the Iranian regime have surged as well. Written in Al Mayadeen, “the participants raised slogans supporting the Iranian security forces and published a statement rejecting the riots and calling on the judicial authorities to hold the perpetrators accountable. The statement pointed to the Iranian people’s adherence to the principles of the Islamic Revolution and its support for its political regime, adding: ‘We will never allow anyone to insult our sanctities and we will defend our principles until the last drop of our blood.’ The participants stressed that national unity and the harmony of all Iranian national components is a red line, rejecting all attempts to stir up sedition.”

Notably, this movement extends beyond the boundaries of Iran, as various Iranian government officials assert that the West is exploiting Amini’s death. According to Tehran Times, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani publicly stated: “‘American and European political leaders, their news agencies, and Persian-language media outlets supported by the West have exploited the tragic incident of the death of a young woman and backed rioters and disruptors of the country’s national security under the motto of supporting the rights of the Iranian nation’…The spokesman went on to say that the U.S. and some of its European allies have always adopted hypocritical and double standard approaches toward Iran, citing decades-long ‘inhumane sanctions’ against the Iranian as an example. ‘It is better for those who claim to be advocating the rights of the Iranian nation to give up their bogus slogans and put an end to several decades of cruel and inhumane sanctions against the Iranian nation,’ Kanaani stated.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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