The situation in Iran has been in the headlines for several days now. Iranians are in the streets, the repression is terrible, and the human toll continues to grow. You may not have taken the time to look into the subject, the tensions may have seemed unclear to you, or the news too sad to interest you. You’re right, what’s going on there is heartbreaking. However, it is important to know. To read. To understand. If you don’t mind, we’ll try to summarize the situation together. Let’s go ?
1. The movement started with the death of Mahsa Amini
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On September 13, 2022, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish girl, visits her family in Tehran. She is arrested by the morality police for a hijab that the officers do not consider sufficiently covering. Beaten before being taken away, she fell into a coma and died of her injuries three days later in hospital. The scan of his skull reveals a “bone fracture, hemorrhage and cerebral edema”, consistent with a beating.
For Slate, Nima Naghibi, a professor at Metropolitan University of Toronto, explains that “Mahsa’s death has galvanized a whole population of young people – especially women – who are frustrated to see their youth, their life, their potential, being violently suppressed by the Iranian government. ». Mahsa Amini becomes the face of a struggle against the brutal repression of women, and more broadly of youth, in Iran.
2. … In a country where tensions have been rising for months
Where to start ? The Iranians themselves compare the situation to “a covered pot, boiling. When the steam begins to thicken, the regime very slightly lifts the lid so that it is evacuated and that it does not boil over. ». Mahsa’s death is the boiling point. Before that, various elements fueled the fire: the election of Raïsi in June 2021, an ultraconservative, contributing to reducing the (already very meager) freedom of Iranian women; the carte blanche given to the “morals police”; a particularly serious economic context (with a youth unemployment rate of 27% and annual inflation exceeding 40%); a total lockdown of the political and judicial systems, etc. All these tensions, combined with the humiliation suffered by the women and the drama of Mahsa, lead to an explosion of anger.
3. What is this “morality police”?
In Iran, dress rules (especially for women) are strict. People who do not comply with these rules are suspected of “bad morals”. In this idea, the Islamic Republic of Iran created, in 2005, this “police of morality”, responsible for enforcing the obligations, in particular that relating to the proper wearing of the hijab. They also check that women are not wearing pants that are too tight, colors that are too bright, nail polish or short sleeves. If a woman is arrested, at best, she is forced to sign a paper, committing her to respect the law. At worst, she is placed in detention, abused, even… Beaten to death, like Mahsa.
4. The revolt is not only feminist, and the demands are plural
Since a 1983 law, women in the Islamic Republic of Iran have been required to cover their hair and neck in public places. The first demand is the repeal of this law. More broadly, the demonstrators expect a separation between religious and political powers. This revolt has an essential feminist dimension, but that’s not all: according to some specialists, including Chowra Makaremi, an anthropologist who spoke for France Info, Mahsa’s death also describes a form of racism and class discrimination. For her, “Her arrest is linked to the fact that not only did she come from the working class, but she was also Kurdish. ». The revolt also turns against “a theocratic regime of social and economic domination”in which ethnicity and social class matter.
5. …And these are not the first protests for women’s rights in the country
1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran is not yet established, and the freedom of women, already crushed. Ayatollah Khomeini considers this freedom to be the main obstacle to his political project. He then made the Islamic veil compulsory in the workplace, and the headscarf in public places. The woman loses all the rights which had been granted to her until then, in particular the law of protection of the family, custody of the children in the event of divorce, the right to travel without the agreement of the husband (he, authorized to marry 4 women at the same time), … On March 8 (International Women’s Rights Day) of the same year, the first demonstration against these laws was held in Tehran. The protesters unite under the same message “no scarf, no punches”, protesting against a veil, symbol of a complex segregation. They believe that these obligations have the sole purpose of repressing their identity, standardizing them with dark-colored clothing, and transforming women into a shadow of themselves.
6. Protesters adopt several strong symbols
First, a rallying cry: in 1979, we chanted “neither scarf nor punches!” “. In 2022, we chant “Woman, life, freedom”. A slogan that marks a turning point in history, affirming “yes, women have the right to live and to be free”. It is the awareness of a whole people, which no longer expresses itself through negation. “Jin, Jiyan, Azadî” in Kurdish, “Women, Life, Freedom” in English”: Women. Life. Freedom.
Then the hijabs burn. During the demonstrations, the women gather around the fire to dance, hair in the wind, and throw their scarves into the flames. A strong symbol of emancipation, as in the video below, captured in Sari, a city in northern Iran. To burn one’s veil is to demonstrate one’s rejection of the Iranian theocratic regime. It’s an act that seems to us simply metaphorical, when in reality… It can be punished with the death penalty in Iran.
Finally, women cut their hair. Whether activists in the middle of demonstrations or artists on stage, several women grab their locks and roughly cut them with scissors. In Iran, hair is a sign of beauty that must be hidden. To cut them is to decide for yourself your notion of beauty, and your body. In some Eastern cultures, cutting one’s hair is a symbol of mourning or protest. It is also this definition that the gesture espouses: the mourning of dead Iranian women for a dress code, and the anger of those who go to fight for freedom.
7. For its part, the regime mortally suppresses the uprising of the people
The crackdown on protests against Iran’s religious power is claiming new lives every day. Monday, October 3, less than twenty days after the start of the movement, the balance sheet already reported 92 dead, killed in the repression. The regime also shuts down the Internet at regular intervals to block communications, preventively arrests citizens, imprisones those it suspects of having demonstrated, and kills people in the street. In 1979, the government already showed that it was not afraid of bloodshed. Iranian men and women are showing that they are not afraid to risk their lives for freedom.
8. Hadis Nafaji, another face of the fight
Among the victims of the repression: Hadis Najafi, barely 20 years old, shot Wednesday, September 21 in the city of Karaj, west of Tehran. Six bullets in the head, neck and chest, fired by the police at the young woman, using a “shotgun with lead balls”. She is one of those who died for parading bareheaded. Like Mahsa Amini, Hadis Najafi has become a strong face and symbol of this struggle.
On the other hand, distrust: diverted images are broadcast on social networks. We see a blonde woman, from the back, tying her hair in a bun, in full demonstration. The video was falsely attributed to the young woman and relayed as one of her last moments of life. This is a mistake: despite the physical resemblance, the woman in the video is not Hadis.
9. The protests resonate across the country…
… And in all social classes, unlike other insurgencies! In the streets of Tehran, Mashhad or even Saqez: you don’t just find women, you don’t just find the working class, you don’t just find feminists. There are men, women, teenagers, people from all social classes, many professions. The whole country is rising up and protesting.
10. …and around the world…
Paris, Toronto, Rome, Sydney, Tokyo,… In total, more than 150 cities around the world showed their support for Iranian women, Saturday, October 1, by taking to the streets in turn.
11. … Germany even calls for European sanctions
On the European side, Berlin is asking for European sanctions to be taken against the Iranian government. On September 29, Annalena Baerbock, German Foreign Minister, wrote on Twitter “Within the EU, I am doing everything possible to put in place sanctions against those in Iran who beat women to death and shoot protesters in the name of religion”. The country asks in particular that the “dead be elucidated” so that the Iranian authorities cease their violent and bloody repression.
12. According to some specialists, these tensions could lead to a real revolution
For France Info, Chowra Makaremi (an anthropologist specializing in Iran) explains that the situation has “great revolutionary potential”. Even if it is too early to say, several factors such as the social diversity of the opponents, the unity of the demonstrators, the global scope of the movement, the different phases of the insurrection which is in particular in the process of swinging towards strike movements, or even the clear demands that undermine the legitimacy of power, suggest that the shift towards a revolution could operate over time.