The protest movement in Iran continues to grow in intensity.
Historian and Iran specialist Jonathan Piron, says the government seems more inflexible than ever, contrary to the prosecutor general’s announcement that the morality police had been disbanded.
“The morality police haven’t been abolished in Iran,” he said. “The prosecutor general’s words were ambiguous and were misinterpreted. The obligation for women to wear headscarves is not up for debate and authorities haven’t made any concessions on this point. They are continuing policies of oppression.”
Relaxing obligations for women to wear the hijab, first enforced in 1983, does not seem like a step the authorities are willing to take.
“The regime cannot go back on the decision to make headscarves mandatory for women,” said David Rigoulet-Roze, researcher and Middle East specialist at France’s Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques (IRIS). “If it did so, it would be as if it were denouncing itself. The hijab is part of its DNA. From this perspective, the regime cannot be reformed, because it cannot change its very identity.”
It is hard to envision a scenario that would see Iran’s female protesters start wearing headscarves again, said Rigoulet-Roze.
“They will no longer wear the veil, preferring to risk their lives. The point of no return has probably been reached. Even women who still want to wear headscarves support those who don’t and the freedom of choice that they are fighting for.”
Rigoulet-Roze fears that as more women remove their headscarves as a symbol of defiance, violent reprisals will increase.
Since protests began in September, at least 448 people have been killed and 18,000 imprisoned in Iran, human rights organisations have reported.
Yet widespread dissent continues. Strikes went ahead in shops and universities in multiple cities, such as Shahin Shahr near Isfahan, where the movement is strongly supported. Workers in a petrochemical factory in Mahshahr also went on strike.