Jawad Iqbal Jawad Iqbal

Iran’s morality police can’t save the mullahs forever

Iranian policemen march on the streets of Tehran (Credit: Getty images)

Iran’s so-called morality police, loathed and feared in equal measure, are back patrolling the streets of the country. They temporarily disappeared from view in the wake of the widespread public protests over the death last September of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman. She was arrested and beaten, and subsequently died in police custody. Her crime? Not wearing the hijab ‘properly’. She had a few strands of hair showing, enough to be deemed a violation of the strict dress code for women. She paid for this with her life. 

Iran’s leaders were rattled by the furious public reaction to her death. Thousands marched in protest, demanding rights and protections for women and a repeal of the oppressive hijab laws. Clerics were heckled in public, and there were calls for broader political changes. Many of the demonstrations were led by women, an unpalatable development for a regime that routinely denies them the most basic rights. The mullahs responded in the only way they know how. A fierce crackdown ensued, with hundreds of people reported killed and thousands arrested. A proposed new hijab bill containing a raft of ever more restrictive measures is now making its way through the Iranian parliament. Even so, some religious hardliners think the new guidelines don’t go far enough. So much for reading the public mood and acting accordingly. 

The mullahs are in for a surprise

So what does the reappearance of the morality police reveal about the regime’s thinking? The mullahs want to signal to ordinary Iranians that they are in no mood to yield to the demonstrators. They appear to think the moment of maximum unrest and danger may have passed, that the international spotlight has moved on, and that they can now get back to the daily business of crushing any form of dissent.

The mullahs are in for a surprise.

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