Protests in Iran mutate into a civil disobedience movement led by women | International

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The image of the two elderly supreme leaders who have directed the destiny of Iran in the last 44 years watches ubiquitously from billboards, posters and billboards at the lives of Tehran's inhabitants. Only other faces are more present than those of the late Ayatollah Khomeini and his successor, Ali Khamenei, on the murals of the Iranian capital. Those faces are those of the martyrs in the war between Iran and Iraq (1980-1988). In those ubiquitous drawings in this gray city there is hardly any room for women. When they appear, they are in the background, and, without exception, veiled.

That is the image that many Iranians are breaking with by walking down the street with their hair uncovered, a gesture that has become the most visible act of disobedience in Iran, when the repression has largely succeeded in quelling the unleashed demonstrations. for the death of the young Mahsa Amini last September during her arrest for wearing the veil improperly. Not wearing it is a crime in Iran that can be punished with jail.

The message of that iconography without women, which pays homage to two old men and the martyrdom of those who fell in a war, contrasts with some protests whose motto has been: "Woman, life and freedom", three words chanted above all by young Iranians, a cry now barely audible in this megacity of 16 million inhabitants. However, this cry still resonates in other areas of Iran, such as Kurdistan (northwest) and Sistan and Balochistan (southeast), two regions where ethnic discrimination is added to the list of grievances of protesters who called for "bread and freedom". , in the expression of the Iranian political scientist exiled in the United States Ali Alfoneh.

Since January, the frequency and number of protests has decreased notably, says the website for monitoring the crisis in Iran Critical Threats, from the American conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute. One piece of information seems to confirm this trend: the slowdown in the death toll from the repression. As the number of demonstrations was counted, no longer by tens, but by units, that count increased more slowly, until it did dropper. Now there are around 500 deaths, according to the Iranian organization in exile Iran Human Rights, which also estimates around 20,000 detainees.

On February 3, Ayatollah Khamenei promised amnesty to those who do not have blood crimes on the condition that they show "repentance." Four other young men, all in their 20s, have been executed by hanging in Iran between December and January after participating in the protests and being found guilty of murdering members of the security forces in trials that Amnesty International defined as "a farce". .

The shadow of those young people, some hanging in public from cranes, blindfolded and their hands tied behind their backs, could have a lot to do with the decline in the number of protests. This is what Feresteh believes, the false name of an Iranian woman in her twenties who this Wednesday walked with her curly hair in the wind along the central Vali Asr avenue in Tehran, which links the wealthy northern neighborhoods with the depressed neighborhoods in the south of the city. . "People no longer demonstrate because they are afraid," this young woman muses in the alley she entered to speak to this newspaper.

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A group of young people walk through Tehran.Jaime Leon (EFE)

In Iran, speaking to a foreign journalist without authorization can lead to prisons like Evin, that Tehran prison that, not without black humour, many Iranians now compare to a university because of the number of students that have been detained there. these weeks. Feresteh shows unusual courage, but tears come to her eyes when she talks about those who "have lost their lives, in the street or on the gallows, just for asking for democracy and freedom."

The tragic fate of Mahsa Amini echoes in this girl's story. The young woman assures that she does not wear the veil because it is the symbol of "a religion that she does not want" and of a "regime that is not good" and whom she blames for having been arrested three times by the morality police . She just like Amini. The white vans with a green stripe, used by the regime's militias, of which so many Iranians like Feresteh keep unfortunate memories, are these days absent from the streets of Tehran, on the eve of February 11, when the 44th anniversary of the establishment of the Islamic Republic, after the revolution that overthrew the last shah of the country, Mohamed Reza Pahlavi.

“Mahsa was a girl like me. She was visiting Tehran and surely she was afraid, afraid that they would arrest her. As I had For me she is a symbol, ”says Feresteh.

The gesture of removing the veil in defiance of laws that many Iranians consider unfair is not the only one that indicates that the detachment towards the regime that the protests showed is still alive. Numerous videos on social networks reflected last week how in Tehran neighborhoods such as Ekbatan, in the west of the city, many residents shout slogans against the regime from their balconies sheltered in the dark of night.

Raffaele Mauriello, an Iranianologist and professor at the Allameh Tabataba'i University, the country's largest Humanities University, believes that the "civil disobedience campaign" that has followed the protests "can be compared to that of the civil rights movement in the United States ”, whose beginning was also an act of defiance of an unjust law by a woman: Rosa Parks, the black activist who refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in 1955. Like her, the professor emphasizes, the Iranians without hijabs demonstrate "a peaceful opposition that is much smarter than demonstrating in the streets."


Not far from where Feresteh dares to challenge the regime without a headscarf, in one of those acts of resistance to which the expert refers, stands the Kasra hospital, the center where Mahsa Amini died after spending three days in a coma after being arrested. . In that private hospital, foreign journalists cannot enter without permission. In the universities, another of the nerve centers of the protests, neither, warn the translator and the driver of the agency designated by the authorities to accompany this newspaper. The special envoys of the foreign media have to contract this service, which is difficult to get out of.

In Iran there is fear. Maryam, a false name for a 17-year-old Iranian, sums it up like this: "If you speak out against the regime, they find you, I don't know how, but they find you." This girl and her four friends don't wear headscarves either. Before running off to the metro stop near Tehran's Grand Bazaar, they insist: “It's not about wearing a scarf or not wearing it. What we want to change are those rules that oppress us and that leave us in inferior conditions. We are not even asking for the government to change, what we want is for the rules to change."

In Iran, women inherit half as much as men, can only file for divorce in a few cases, and automatically lose custody of children when they turn seven; their testimony is worth half that of a man and certain positions, such as judge or president, are forbidden to them. According to the United Nations, 60% of university students in Iran are women, but they represent less than 20% of the workforce. A 2021 study by Human Rights Watch found that this low presence in the labor market is not unrelated to the subordination of Iranian women to their husbands or fathers, who can prohibit them from working and traveling abroad, which deters many companies from hire them. In 2015, Nilufar Ardalan, captain of the women's soccer team, was unable to compete in a tournament in Malaysia because her spouse forbade it.

Like many other Iranians, the young Feresteh removed her headscarf for good when the demonstrations began. When she is asked if she will ever wear it again, rather than answer, she chews five letters of a word in English: “¡¡Never!” (never!).

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