GlobalFirouzeh Nahavandy: “In Iran, civil disobedience is here now. It will...

Firouzeh Nahavandy: “In Iran, civil disobedience is here now. It will take different forms but it will not disappear”

Do you see signs that tend to prove that the resistance of recent years, and even more so since September of last year, has actually made it possible to advance the condition of Iranian women? In your book, you say that a “qualitative change has occurred in the positioning of women”.

What is positive for me is that women have become aware, on a large scale, of what they are going through. The events after the death of Mahsa Amini really created a kind of solidarity, first among women, against the regime. However, this did not improve their situation at all. The Islamic Republic has considerably tightened its repression against women. The movement has not resulted, apart from a real awareness, in an improvement of their situation. On the contrary, I think that the regime had, before Mahsa’s death, softened its position a little. The veil was already no longer worn well and the authorities seemed to tolerate it. This event unfortunately changed everything because the regime can tolerate the veil being worn incorrectly but not that it is removed. Moving towards such a change would undermine its own edifice. The tightening of repression shows this.

How did the hijab take such a symbolic place in the Islamic Republic?

When Khomeini took power in 1979, he tried from the first days to reestablish the obligation to wear the hijab. This led to a lot of resistance, in the form of very large demonstrations by women. For the regime, it was not only a religious obligation, it was a way of marking its differentiation from the West. It was the resistance against imperialism, the rejection of the old regime which had promoted the removal of the veil, even if Mohamed Reza Shah had not made it an obligation – but his father had. For Khomeini, the veil was the symbol of resistance to the disease of the West, as he called it. So from there, this veil constituted the DNA of this regime. But it is only in recent years that women have started to use the veil as a sign of resistance against this regime. There have been different episodes, whether on the Internet or in the streets of Tehran, where we saw Iranian women removing their veils. With the death of Mahsa Amini, this resistance movement gained momentum. Since she had been arrested because of a poorly worn veil, it appeared, to the general population, as a sign of discontent and resistance to the regime.

A month after the death of Mahsa Amini, the anger of Iranians does not weaken

Do you think, like some, that Iran has been experiencing a sort of slow-motion revolution for several years?

We are certainly in a revolutionary process which will continue but with more hidden, slower phases, and then accelerations due to particular events. For example, there are no longer any major demonstrations except in provinces where there are ethnic problems. But every time there is an execution, spontaneous demonstrations take place. There are no longer big demonstrations in the streets, but civil disobedience is there now. It will take different forms but it will not disappear.

What has changed is the positioning of men who appear to support women en masse in their fight. Is this a generational effect?

It’s new. For a year, quite quickly after some hesitation, we have seen young men join the women because it is also a protest against the regime. So, is this really support for women? I think so. In any case, we saw men going out with the veil as a sign of solidarity with women. In universities, partitions have been broken down to allow mixing between men and women, for example in the refectories where segregation separated them. So there is indeed a young generation who were already against this segregation which prohibits any coming together outside of marriage of men and women. There were already many unmarried couples living together, and even children being born to these couples. The regime was already worried. Some of the men, the younger ones, always support women. And then, it is the men who, today in the demonstrations, are paying the highest price. They are the ones who, for the most part, are arrested and executed, although there are women who are also sentenced to death and executed.

The authorities have announced that they are abolishing the morality police, which controls the application of segregation measures. How do you explain their ability to maintain social control?

First of all, in criminal law, there are punishments that have always been provided for unveiled women, and which were more or less applied depending on the period. But for the past year, there has been a period of uncertainty, because the regime did not really know how to intervene. Now, given that he absolutely does not want to give in, there are extremely diverse measures. There is this electronic surveillance (public cameras coupled with a facial recognition system, editor’s note), which works since many have testified to having received messages warning them that they were going to be punished. There are currently discussions on nearly seventy articles of law against women, namely deprivation of work, punishments against all those who tolerate in one way or another women who do not would not have worn the veil in their store, in their taxi… There are also increasingly vicious measures against women, such as condemning them to very demeaning tasks such as cleaning the dead, scrubbing toilets. The regime is becoming more and more creative in its repression.

As for the moral police as such, they have not really disappeared. It is a generic term, which has existed from the beginning and which can cover different realities. A certain body is dissolved but there is immediately another which appears to keep watch. Today, there are those called “men without uniform”, who monitor the population. They can come from the basidjis (civilian militia), where there are also women, or from the police. It’s always the same people who carry out the repression.

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