Massive protests continue in Tehran, which have become commonplace in the Iranian capital, while the country is now experiencing an important social shift: women on the streets refuse to wear hijabs. This was stated in a conversation with The Insider by an Iranianist, senior lecturer at the Institute of Classical Oriental and Antiquity at the National Research University Higher School of Economics Maxim Alontsev, who returned from Iran a few days ago.
“The situation in cities is different. In Tehran, where there are a lot of police, visitors are warned not to photograph the protests and the police officers who are on duty everywhere. Protests in Tehran are what people live with all the time, because today they are protesting on this street, tomorrow on another. Sometimes it is brutally suppressed, and sometimes it resolves itself.
People go to protests after work for a couple of hours. An important social shift that I have noticed is that women on the streets are refusing to wear a headscarf. This is a bold and striking political gesture. In other, more touristy cities, such as Isfahan, which is located further south, the situation is somewhat calmer. There are also protests there, but they are smaller and not as violent. Some protests are ethnically tinged - in Balochistan and Sistan, Kurdistan, where the protests are suppressed quite seriously and there are already dozens of victims.
The Iranians have accumulated dissatisfaction with the religious dictate and this is a speech against the religious establishment. In addition, this is a generation gap. Those who are now in power mostly came during the revolution. There are several generations between the people in power and the protesters, and this is an anti-clerical protest against the rigid religious dictate in society and such a wide presence of clerics in power.
Mostly young people and students protest, but I also saw women in their 40s and 50s without headscarves. Removing the headscarf is a silent protest, a powerful political gesture. Universities are trying to put pressure on students, transferring to online education, which we have loved since the coronavirus pandemic. There are many videos where high school girls refuse to wear a hijab. The situation itself, due to the death of Mahsa Amini, who was accused of not being properly dressed, served as a trigger for unrest, and all this acquired an anti-clerical marker. It's not just women taking to the streets these days. The feminist component is very bright, there is a lot of female content, the feminist narrative goes in a good way. But men also come out to protest, this is not an exclusively female protest.
There are a lot of people in uniform on the streets, who can be called “cosmonauts” for our example, they don’t just stand around like that. There are already casualties in Tehran, police are on duty in the center, and social networks are jammed every evening, WhatsApp and Telegram as the main coordination platforms, as well as VPN services. The authorities do not take the protests very seriously, there was a Friday speech by an imam in the city of Ahvaz, in which he said that all the protesters are drug addicts, alcoholics, young people from single-parent families, and more serious Iranian officials claim that these are all the machinations of external forces , for example, the United States and even Saudi Arabia. These statements look like an attempt to wait until the protests resolve themselves and not react seriously.
Perhaps the protesters are taken seriously, but the authorities are trying to sit it out by making some concessions. A year or two ago, a woman in the center of Tehran without a headscarf would have been approached by the vice police and said, "Put on a headscarf," but they don't do that now. Girls walk freely, and no one makes any remarks to them. Is this a protest? From some point of view, yes. In six months, walking without a headscarf in Tehran will become the norm, but this norm is established, including with the permission of the authorities. The fact that they call the protesters drug addicts sold to Americans or people who have played enough video games is an attempt to say something without saying anything meaningful.
Now the German authorities are trying to play it safe, recommending that they leave Iran so that German tourists do not end up in jail. The British consulate also tells its citizens that if something happens, the authorities are not ready to provide security and do not give guarantees that they will get the British out of prison if they get there. In general, the British have been advised not to visit Iran for several years, because of which students who study the Persian language suffer.”
Protests erupted in Iran after the vice police arrested 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 13 in Tehran for allegedly violating the country's strict hijab law. The family was told that she would be released from the police station after a "re-education session". Later, doctors diagnosed Amini with a stroke and a heart attack, her kidneys failed, and the girl fell into a coma, on September 16 she died in an Iranian hospital. Witnesses reported that Amini was beaten in a detention van, but this was denied by police. Officials also deny all allegations and say that the deceased simply started having heart problems. Amid protests, the German Foreign Ministry called on its citizens to leave Iran due to the threat of arbitrary arrest and jail time.
In October, Iranians protested after Asra Panahi, a 16-year-old Iranian woman beaten by security forces, died. She was beaten for refusing to sing a song praising the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The spontaneity of the protests, the lack of a well-coordinated leadership and clearly defined tasks do not yet allow us to talk about the beginning of a revolution, noted orientalist Nikolai Kozhanov. According to him, even if the Iranian authorities manage to survive the current crisis, it will be difficult for them to regain the confidence of the population, and large-scale reforms of the country are already inevitable.