Iran: After the death of Masha Amin, the country is facing its biggest challenge in many years

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image source, Reuters

Image caption,

Demonstration scene in Iran.

Nationwide protests over the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish girl in police custody in Iran have left the country facing its most serious challenge in years.

Police charged the young woman with violating hijab rules. However, the authorities said that he died due to health reasons.

However, the young woman’s family and many Iranian citizens believe that she died due to severe beatings in custody.

Protesters say if they don’t stand up against it now, they may one day suffer the same fate. At least thirty people have been reported dead in the protests so far.

This incident happened at a time when the people of Iran are already angry. Corruption among the country’s elite politicians, rising poverty due to inflation of more than 50 percent, deadlock in nuclear talks and lack of social and political freedoms have frustrated a large population, including the youth.

According to Iran’s Social Security Organization Research Institute, at least 2.5 million people in the country live below the poverty line and this number is increasing.

This is not a new incident of protest in the Islamic Republic of Iran. But according to many observers, this time is different than any previous incident.

Above all – it’s a women’s protest.

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Protests have spread in many cities including Tehran.

Society has changed

Civil rights organizations have been highlighting the repression of women in Iran for a long time. Basically, after the Islamic revolution of 1979, women are the most affected in Iranian society.

Immediately after the revolution, women were forced to wear the hijab and lost many of their rights. These include the right to travel and work and custody of children over the age of seven.

At that time, not much was heard from men about these changes.

“Many men are now taking part in protest demonstrations, which shows that there has been a shift in society towards progressive demands,” said Mehrdad Darvishpour, an Iranian sociologist based in Sweden.

The main slogan of this year’s protest is: ‘Women, Jiban, Mukti’ – which is essentially a call for equality and a stand against religious fundamentalism.

In addition, this year’s protests are much more participatory than before.

Earlier, during the so-called Green Movement in 2009, the middle class participated in the protest against election rigging. Even though it was a big movement then, it was limited to the big cities.

Again the movement of 2017 and 2019 was limited to the poor.

But there are reports of participation of middle-class and working-class people in this movement.

“We are actually seeing the birth of a mega movement,” said Mr. Darvishpour.

This movement is being led by women but they are also able to involve others in the movement.

Protests in Tehran.

image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Protests in Tehran.

Alternative to government

The authorities are in a difficult situation. Masha Amin’s death has also shaken a section of the government’s supporters.

Among them are some religious scholars. They questioned the tactics used by the moral police against women.

This special police force, named Gasht-e Ershad (literal translation – instruction patroller), is tasked with ensuring that people respect Islamic ideals and principles and arresting anyone found to be wearing “immoral” clothing.

According to Sharia law in Iran, it is mandatory for women to wear hijab or cover their heads with a veil. In addition, the country has a provision for women to wear long and loose clothing up to the feet to fully cover the body.

So now the government has two options: One is to change the rules regarding hijab. Again, this could encourage many protesters to demand a change of government.

Or change nothing and violently suppress or kill protesters. These may temporarily defuse the situation but will in fact only fuel the growing anger.

Many of the members of the police force who are now cracking down are also in dire economic straits. They may also change positions if the ongoing protests drag on. And the highest religious leader of the country is now 83 years old. His illness is also a concern of many Iranian citizens.

It is not clear who will take over in his absence and whether he will have the support of staunch government supporters. So this may not be the last chapter but an important one.

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