Braced to crush unrest, Iran’s rulers heed lessons of Shah’s fall — analysts

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Empress Farah at Mehrabad Airport, Tehran, Iran, Jan. 16, 1979. (AP Photo)
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Updated 06 October 2022

Braced to crush unrest, Iran’s rulers heed lessons of Shah’s fall — analysts

  • Kasra Aarabi: ‘The one striking similarity the current protests have with 1979 is the mood on the streets, which is explicitly revolutionary ... They don’t want reform, they want regime change’
  • Alex Vatanka: ‘Today, the Bazaar has nothing to defend, as it no longer controls the economy which is now in the hands of the Guards’

DUBAI: Iran’s clerical rulers will likely contain the country’s eruption of unrest for now, and prospects of the imminent dawn of a new political order are slim if history is any guide, four analysts said.
The protests, which began over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini her arrest by morality police, have spiralled into a revolt against what protesters said was the increasing authoritarianism of its ruling Islamic clerics.
However, the chances of this snowballing into the kind of uprising that rapidly unseated veteran Egyptian and Tunisian rulers in 2011 seem remote any time soon, since Iran’s rulers are determined to maintain their grip on power at any cost.
For decades, the clerical establishment has used its loyal elite force, the Revolutionary Guards, to violently crush ethnic uprisings, student unrest and protests against economic hardship. So far the Guards have been relatively restrained, but they could be mobilized quickly.
If the protests persist, the Islamic Republic will turn to its usual solution: “unrestrained violence against unarmed civilians to quash the protests this time around,” said Kasra Aarabi, the Iran Program Lead at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.
Already, the protests have lasted nearly three weeks – turning into one of the biggest demonstrations of opposition to Iran’s Islamic clerical rule in years.
Although the volume of protests cannot be compared to the 1979 Islamic revolution, when millions took to the streets, the solidarity and unanimity of protesters calling for the downfall of the clerical establishment are reminiscent, analysts said.
“The one striking similarity the current protests have with 1979 is the mood on the streets, which is explicitly revolutionary ... They don’t want reform, they want regime change,” said Aarabi.
“Of course, no one can predict when this moment will happen: it could be weeks, months or even years ... But the Iranian people have made up their mind.”
Challenging the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy, protesters have burned pictures of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and chanted “Death to the Dictator,” unfazed by security forces using tear gas, clubs and, in many cases, live ammunition.

But Iran’s top rulers are determined not to show the kind of weakness they believe sealed the fate of the US-backed Shah.
To human rights campaigners at that time, the Shah’s great error was to alienate the population with torture and bloodshed. But in hindsight some historians say the Shah was too weak, slow and irresolute in repression.
“The regime’s approach is far more reliant on repression than the Shah,” said Alex Vatanka, director of the Iran Program at the Middle East Institute.
Rights groups said the state crackdown on protests has so far led to the death of at least 150 people, with hundreds injured and thousands arrested.
Officials say many members of the security forces have been killed by “thugs and rioters linked to foreign foes,” echoing Khamenei’s comments on Monday in which he blamed the United States and Israel for fomenting the “riots.”
Shortly before the revolution, Iran’s Shah appeared on national TV, saying: “As Shah of Iran ... I heard the voice of your revolution ... I cannot but approve your revolution.” His opponents saw that as a sign of fragility. “Khamenei had learned the lesson, as he lived through the revolution, that if you tell the people you’ve heard their voices and that you are wrong, this is the end of your leadership. He doesn’t want to do that,” said Vatanka.
Nevertheless, Khamenei’s unyielding rhetoric also carries risk, Vatanka said. “If Khamenei does not listen ... and stop this nonsense that protests are all foreign-led, there will be more protests,” he said. Demonstrations have spread from Amini’s native Kurdistan province to all of Iran’s 31 provinces, with all layers of society, including ethnic and religious minorities, joining in.
“These broad-based protests have attracted almost all segments of the population whose grievances have not been addressed by the regime,” said Vahid Yucesoy, a specialist on political Islam based in Canada.
A popular political Kurdish slogan used in the Kurdish independence movement, “Woman, Life, Freedom” that was first chanted at Amini’s funeral on Sept. 17 in the Kurdish town of Saqez, has been used globally in protests against her death.
Fearing an ethnic uprising, the establishment has adopted a restrained repression instead of the iron fist strategy it displayed in the past, analysts said.

The protests are “secular, non-ideological to some extent anti-Islamic,” said Saeid Golkar, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
“Iranians are revolting against the clergy ... who use religion to suppress the people,” he said.
The anti-Shah revolt reverberated around provincial cities, towns, and villages. But what paralyzed his rule was strikes by oil workers, who turned off the taps on most of the country’s revenue, and by bazaar merchants, who funded the rebel clerics.
While university students have played a pivotal role in current protests with dozens of universities on strike, there has been little sign of the Bazaar and oil workers joining in.
“Bazaaris were important during the 1979 revolution as, at the time, they saw the Shah’s economic reforms as against their interests and therefore backed the revolution,” Vatanka said.
“Today, the Bazaar has nothing to defend, as it no longer controls the economy which is now in the hands of the Guards.”
The Guards, loyal to Khamenei, is an industrial empire as well as being a powerful military force. It wields political clout and controls Iran’s oil industry.


Iran scraps morality police after months of deadly protests

Updated 04 December 2022

Iran scraps morality police after months of deadly protests

  • Women-led protests swept Iran after a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin died in the custody of the morality police in September
  • The morality police were established under hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to 'spread the culture of modesty and hijab'

TEHRAN: Iran has scrapped its morality police after more than two months of protests triggered by the arrest of Mahsa Amini for allegedly violating the country’s strict female dress code, local media said Sunday.
Women-led protests, labelled “riots” by the authorities, have swept Iran since the 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin died on September 16, three days after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran.
“Morality police have nothing to do with the judiciary” and have been abolished, Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
His comment came at a religious conference where he responded to a participant who asked “why the morality police were being shut down,” the report said.
The morality police — known formally as the Gasht-e Ershad or “Guidance Patrol” — were established under hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to “spread the culture of modesty and hijab,” the mandatory female head covering.
The units began patrols in 2006.
The announcement of their abolition came a day after Montazeri said that “both parliament and the judiciary are working (on the issue)” of whether the law requiring women to cover their heads needs to be changed.
President Ebrahim Raisi said in televised comments Saturday that Iran’s republican and Islamic foundations were constitutionally entrenched “but there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible.”
The hijab became mandatory four years after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the US-backed monarchy and established the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Morality police officers initially issued warnings before starting to crack down and arrest women 15 years ago.
The vice squads were usually made up of men in green uniforms and women clad in black chadors, garments that cover their heads and upper bodies.
The role of the units evolved, but has always been controversial even among candidates running for the presidency.
Clothing norms gradually changed, especially under former moderate president Hassan Rouhani, when it became commonplace to see women in tight jeans with loose, colorful headscarves.
But in July this year his successor, the ultra-conservative Raisi, called for the mobilization of “all state institutions to enforce the headscarf law.”
Raisi at the time charged that “the enemies of Iran and Islam have targeted the cultural and religious values of society by spreading corruption.”
In spite of this, many women continued to bend the rules, letting their headscarves slip onto their shoulders or wearing tight-fitting pants, especially in major cities and towns.
Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia also employed morality police to enforce female dress codes and other rules of behavior. Since 2016 the force there has been sidelined in a push by the Sunni Muslim kingdom to shake off its austere image.


State news: Iran executes 4 people it says spied for Israel

Updated 04 December 2022

State news: Iran executes 4 people it says spied for Israel

  • Executed prisoners identified as Hossein Ordoukhanzadeh, Shahin Imani Mahmoudabadi, Milad Ashrafi and Manouchehr Shahbandi

TEHRAN: Iranian authorities executed four people Sunday accused of working for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, the state-run IRNA news agency said.
IRNA said the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guard announced the arrests of a network of people linked to the Israeli agency. It said members stole and destroyed private and public property and kidnapped individuals and interrogated them.
The report said the alleged spies had weapons and received wages from Mossad in the form of cryptocurrency.
Israel and Iran are regional arch-enemies.
IRNA identified the executed prisoners as Hossein Ordoukhanzadeh, Shahin Imani Mahmoudabadi, Milad Ashrafi and Manouchehr Shahbandi.


Delay in enacting law against underage marriage sparks concern in Egypt

Updated 03 December 2022

Delay in enacting law against underage marriage sparks concern in Egypt

  • Parliament’s legislative and constitutional affairs committee decided to postpone the final approval of the draft law until it received a response from Al-Azhar Al-Sharif

CAIRO: A delay to a new draft law, currently pending before the Parliament of Egypt, that criminalizes marriage under the age of 18 and increases the punishment for violators, has sparked controversy in the North African country.

The hold up is due to Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, the Islamic scientific body, which has yet to determine the extent of the proposal’s agreement with Shariah law.

Mohamed Sultan, a member of the parliament’s human rights committee, told Arab News: “The House of Representatives submitted a new draft law that increases the punishment for violators of the crime of underage marriage, whether it be parents, authorized persons or lawyers. The Cabinet approved the draft law in April.

“We aim to eliminate this negative phenomenon — as underage marriage is a crime against children — in addition to its negative impact on society. At this age, they are not capable (of taking) responsibility for forming a family and raising children, and this is a flagrant assault on the childhood stage.

“The draft law stipulates that it is not permissible to marry a person who has not reached the age of 18. Whoever marries or participates in the marriage of a male or female under the age of 18 will face a fine of between 20,000 Egyptian pounds ($814) to 50,000 pounds, and a prison sentence no shorter than six months.”

He added: “Anyone who incites the marriage of minors is also punished with the same penalty, and the child is not considered criminal or responsible for this crime.”

Parliament’s legislative and constitutional affairs committee decided to postpone the final approval of the draft law until it received a response from Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, which is the largest religious institution in Egypt.

Ahmed Al-Sawy, editor-in-chief of Sawt Al-Azhar newspaper, told Arab News: “Al-Azhar and its Grand Imam Sheikh Al-Tayyib resolved the issue of child marriage years ago by defining a legal age for marriage, and the scholars supported all efforts to criminalize child marriage.”

Al-Sawy cited statements by Al-Tayyib in which he said: “When talking about this issue, we must differentiate between minors in two senses — the first is the girl has not yet reached the age of puberty, and the second is the girl has just reached puberty but is yet to be psychologically and mentally ready for marriage.”

He added: “I do not think that marriage with minors who are yet to reach puberty was something that existed, occurred, or was a phenomenon that attracted attention. Rather, what used to happen was the girl’s marriage right after reaching puberty.”

Al-Tayyib previously stated: “The issue of determining the age of marriage for girls is subject to the circumstances of the era and changes … and the fact that the law now sets the age of marriage at 18 years is welcome, and there is no objection to this.”

Islam Amer, an Islamic scholar and marriage expert, told Arab News: “I demanded more than once to criminalize the customary marriage for those under 18, and I am now calling on parliament to issue a law that criminalizes marriage under the legal age because early marriage is a violation of children’s rights.”
 


Over 200 killed in Iran protests: top security body

Updated 03 December 2022

Over 200 killed in Iran protests: top security body

  • The country's Supreme National Security Council said the number of people killed during unrest sparked by her death "exceeds 200"
  • A general in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps this week, for the first time, said hundreds of people had lost their lives in the unrest

TEHRAN: More than 200 people have been killed in Iran since nationwide protests erupted over the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, the country’s top security body said Saturday.
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died on September 16 after her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s dress code for women.
Quoted by the official IRNA news agency, the country’s Supreme National Security Council said the number of people killed during unrest sparked by her death “exceeds 200.”
It said the figure included security officers, civilians and “separatists” as well as “rioters” — a term used by Iranian officials to describe protesters.
A general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps this week, for the first time, said more than 300 people had lost their lives in the unrest.
The security council said that in addition to the human toll, the violence had caused millions of dollars in damage.
Oslo-based non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights on Tuesday said at least 448 people had been “killed by security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests.”
UN rights chief Volker Turk said last week that 14,000 people, including children, had been arrested in the protest crackdown.


Iran’s hijab law under review: attorney general

Updated 03 December 2022

Iran’s hijab law under review: attorney general

  • Protesters have burned their head coverings and shouted anti-government slogans
  • "Both parliament and the judiciary are working (on the issue)", of whether the law needs any changes, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said

TEHRAN: Iran’s parliament and the judiciary are reviewing a law which requires women to cover their heads, and which triggered more than two months of deadly protests, the attorney general said.
The demonstrations began after Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died in custody on September 16 after her arrest by Iran’s morality police for an alleged breach of the dress code.
Protesters have burned their head coverings and shouted anti-government slogans. Since Amini’s death a growing number of women are not observing hijab, particularly in Tehran’s fashionable north.
The hijab headscarf became obligatory for all women in Iran in April 1983, four years after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the US-backed monarchy.
“Both parliament and the judiciary are working (on the issue),” of whether the law needs any changes, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said in the holy city of Qom.
Quoted on Friday by the ISNA news agency, he did not specify what could be modified in the law.
The review team met on Wednesday with parliament’s cultural commission “and will see the results in a week or two,” the attorney general said.
President Ebrahim Raisi on Saturday said Iran’s republican and Islamic foundations were constitutionally entrenched.
“But there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible,” he said in televised comments.
After the hijab law became mandatory, with changing clothing norms it became commonplace to see women in tight jeans and loose, colorful headscarves.
But in July this year Raisi, an ultra-conservative, called for mobilization of “all state institutions to enforce the headscarf law.”
Many women continued to bend the rules, however.
Iran accuses its sworn enemy the United States and its allies, including Britain, Israel, and Kurdish groups based outside the country, of fomenting the street violence which the government calls “riots.”
A general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps this week, for the first time, said more than 300 people have lost their lives in the unrest since Amini’s death.
Iran’s top security body, the Supreme National Security Council, on Saturday said the number of people killed during the protests “exceeds 200.”
Cited by state news agency IRNA, it said the figure included security officers, civilians, armed separatists and “rioters.”
Oslo-based non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights on Tuesday said at least 448 people had been “killed by security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests.”
UN rights chief Volker Turk said last week that 14,000 people, including children, had been arrested in the protest crackdown.