As more women forgo the hijab, Iran’s government pushes back

Above, a woman without wearing a mandatory Islamic headscarf in northern Tehran. More women are choosing not to wear the hijab publicly in Iran in open defiance of authorities. (AP)
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Updated 10 May 2023
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As more women forgo the hijab, Iran’s government pushes back

  • Authorities have made legal threats and closed down some businesses serving women not wearing the hijab
  • Some women said they have had enough — no matter the consequence

TEHRAN: Billboards across Iran’s capital proclaim that women should wear their mandatory headscarves to honor their mothers. But perhaps for the first time since the chaotic days following Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, more women — both young and old — choose not to do so.
Such open defiance comes after months of protests over the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the country’s morality police, for wearing her hijab too loosely. While the demonstrations appear to have cooled, the choice by some women not to cover their hair in public poses a new challenge to the country’s theocracy. The women’s pushback also lays bare schisms in Iran that had been veiled for decades.
Authorities have made legal threats and closed down some businesses serving women not wearing the hijab. Police and volunteers issue verbal warnings in subways, airports and other public places. Text messages have targeted drivers who had women without head covering in their vehicles.
However, analysts in Iran warn that the government could reignite dissent if it pushes too hard. The protests erupted at a difficult time for the Islamic Republic, currently struggling with economic woes brought on by its standoff with the West over its rapidly advancing nuclear program.
Some women said they’ve had enough — no matter the consequence. They say they are fighting for more freedom in Iran and a better future for their daughters.
Some suggested the growing numbers of women joining their ranks might make it harder for the authorities to push back.
“Do they want to close down all businesses?” said Shervin, a 23-year-old student whose short, choppy hair swayed in the wind on a recent day in Tehran. “If I go to a police station, will they shut it down too?”
Still, they worry about risk. The women interviewed only provided their first names, for fear of repercussions.
Vida, 29, said a decision by her and two of her friends to no longer cover their hair in public is about more than headscarves.
“This is a message for the government, leave us alone,” she said.
Iran and neighboring Taliban-controlled Afghanistan are the only countries where the hijab remains mandatory for women. Before protests erupted in September, it was rare to see women without headscarves, though some occasionally let their hijab fall to their shoulders. Today, it’s routine in some areas of Tehran to see women without headscarves.
For observant Muslim women, the head covering is a sign of piety before God and modesty in front of men outside their families. In Iran, the hijab — and the all-encompassing black chador worn by some — has long been a political symbol as well.
Iran’s ruler Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1936 banned the hijab as part of his efforts to mirror the West. The ban ended five years later when his son, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, took over. Still, many middle and upper-class Iranian women chose not to wear the hijab.
By the 1979 Islamic Revolution, some of the women who helped overthrow the shah embraced the chador, a cloak that covers the body from head to toe, except for the face. Images of armed women encompassed in black cloth became a familiar sight for Americans during the US Embassy takeover and hostage crisis later that year. But other women protested a decision by Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordering the hijab to be worn in public. In 1983, it became the law, enforced with penalties including fines and two months in prison.
Forty years later, women in central and northern Tehran can be seen daily without headscarves. While at first Iran’s government avoided a direct confrontation over the issue, it has increasingly flexed the powers of the state in recent weeks in an attempt to curb the practice .
In early April, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that “removing hijab is not Islamically or politically permissible.”
Khamenei claimed women refusing to wear the hijab are being manipulated. “They are unaware of who is behind this policy of removing and fighting hijab,” Khamenei said. “The enemy’s spies and the enemy’s spy agencies are pursuing this matter. If they know about this, they will definitely not take part in this.”
Hard-line media began publishing details of “immoral” situations in shopping malls, showing women without the hijab. On April 25, authorities closed the 23-story Opal shopping mall in northern Tehran for several days after women with their hair showing were seen spending time together with men in a bowling alley.
“It is a collective punishment,” said Nodding Kasra, a 32-year-old salesman at a clothing shop in the mall. “They closed a mall with hundreds of workers over some customers’ hair?”
Police have shut down over 2,000 businesses across the country over admitting women not wearing the hijab, including shops, restaurants and even pharmacies, according to the reformist newspaper Shargh.
“This is a lose-lose game for businesses. If they warn (women) about not wearing the hijab as per the authorities’ orders, people will boycott them,” said Mohsen Jalalpour, a former deputy head of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce. “If they refuse to comply, the government will close them down.”
Bijan Ashtari, who writes on Iranian politics, warned that business owners who had remained silent during the Mahsa Amini-inspired protests could now rise up.
Meanwhile, government offices no longer provide services to women not covering their hair, after some had in recent months. The head of the country’s track and field federation, Hashem Siami, resigned this weekend after some participants in an all-women half-marathon in the city of Shiraz competed without the hijab.
There are signs the crackdown could escalate.
Some clerics have urged deploying soldiers, as well as the all-volunteer Basij force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, to enforce the hijab law. The Guard on Monday reportedly seized an Iranian fishing boat for carrying women not wearing the hijab near Hormuz Island, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.
Police also say that surveillance cameras with “artificial intelligence” will find women not wearing their head covering. A slick video shared by Iranian media suggested that surveillance footage would be matched against ID photographs, though it’s unclear if such a system is currently operational .
“The fight over the hijab will remain center stage unless the government reaches an understanding with world powers over the nuclear deal and sanctions relief,” said Tehran-based political analyst Ahmad Zeidabadi.
But diplomacy has been stalled and anti-government protests could widen, he said. The hijab “will be the main issue and the fight will not be about scarves only.”
Sorayya, 33, said she is already fighting for a broader goal by going without the headscarf.
“I don’t want my daughter to be under the same ideologic pressures that I and my generation lived through,” she said, while dropping off her 7-year-old daughter at a primary school in central Tehran. “This is for a better future for my daughter.”


UN: Complex medical equipment ‘purposefully broken’ in Gaza hospitals

Updated 14 sec ago
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UN: Complex medical equipment ‘purposefully broken’ in Gaza hospitals

  • Speaking to journalists in Geneva via video link from Jerusalem, he described seeing “medical equipment purposefully broken, ultrasounds — which you will know, is a very important tool for helping ensure safe births — with cables that have been cut”

GENEVA: The UN has decried the intentional destruction of complex and hard-to-obtain medical equipment in Gaza’s beleaguered hospitals and maternity wards, further deepening risks to women already giving birth in “inhumane, unimaginable conditions.”
Recent UN-led missions to 10 Gaza hospitals found many “in ruins” and just a couple capable of providing any level of maternal health services, said Dominic Allen, the UN Population Fund or UNFPA representative for the state of Palestine.
He said that what the teams found at the Nasser Hospital complex, long besieged by Israeli forces during their operations in the southern city of Khan Younis, “breaks my heart.”

BACKGROUND

The World Health Organization has described the difficulty of bringing complex medical equipment into Gaza even before the current war erupted in October.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva via video link from Jerusalem, he described seeing “medical equipment purposefully broken, ultrasounds — which you will know, is a very important tool for helping ensure safe births — with cables that have been cut.”
“Screens of complex medical equipment, like ultrasounds and others with the screens smashed,” he added.
The World Health Organization has described the difficulty of bringing such equipment into Gaza even before the current war erupted following Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack inside Israel.
Allen warned that this “purposeful, wanton destruction in the maternity ward,” coupled with other damage and lacking water, sanitation, and electricity, was complicating efforts to get what was previously the second-most important hospital in the Palestinian territory up and running again “to provide a lifeline.”
Meanwhile, at Al-Khair, another specialized maternity hospital in Khan Younis, “it didn’t seem as if there was any piece of working medical equipment,” he said, lamenting that the birthing rooms “stand silent.”
“They should be places that give life, but they just have an eerie sense of death.”
Only 10 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are currently even partially functioning.
And Allen said that only three of those were now capable of assisting the estimated 180 women giving birth across Gaza every single day — around 15 percent of whom suffer complications requiring significant care.
The hospitals that can provide such care are thus facing significant capacity constraints.
The Emirati Hospital in the south, the main maternity hospital in Gaza currently, is, for instance, supporting up to 60 births every day, including as many as 12 Caesarian sections, he said.
Given the heavy pressure on the facility, women are discharged just hours after giving birth, “and after C-sections, it is less than a day,” Allen said, stressing “that increases risks.”
He said there was a risk in the number of complicated procedures linked to “malnutrition, dehydration, and fear, which impact the pregnant woman’s ability to give birth safely and carry their baby to full term safely.”
A doctor at the Emirati hospital had told Allen that “he no longer sees normal-size babies.”
Amid a “completely crippled” health system in Gaza, the UNFPA is “deeply concerned about the ability to provide postnatal care,” he said.
He said the agency was deploying midwives and midwifery kits to makeshift school centers to help fill the gap.
The current war started after Hamas launched its unprecedented attack on Oct. 7.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed more than 34,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children. according to the territory’s Health Ministry.

 


‘Ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is top priority’

Updated 6 min 32 sec ago
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‘Ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is top priority’

  • Fidan said the main cause of instability in the Middle East was Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and Western backing for Israel

ISTANBUL: The tension between Israel and Iran should not distract from the situation in Gaza, and the priority of the international community should be ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said.
Fidan was speaking in Istanbul on Saturday during Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s visit.
Shoukry urged Iran and Israel to exercise restraint.
Shoukry’s visit to Turkiye comes amid high tensions in the Middle East following the apparent Israeli attack on Iran. Israel has said nothing about the incident.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Fidan, Shoukry said the region was concerned about the ongoing escalation.
“We’ve warned of the expansion of the conflict from the very beginning,” he said.
“We’ve called on both parties (Iran and Israel) to exercise restraint.”
Fidan said the main cause of instability in the Middle East was Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and Western backing for Israel.
“Any development that could distract us from this fact should be ignored,” he said. “Our priority should be ending Israel’s occupation in Palestine and a two-state solution.”
He said he and Shoukry discussed efforts to deliver more humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Separately, Shoukry said Egypt would host a Turkish delegation to prepare for a visit by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to Turkiye at a future date.
The ministers met as Gaza’s civil defense agency said an Israeli strike killed nine members of a Palestinian family, including six children, in the southern city of Rafah.
Five children aged one to seven and a 16-year-old girl were among the dead, along with two women and a man, according to the city’s Al-Najjar Hospital.
“Nine martyrs, including six children, were pulled out from the rubble after Israeli air forces struck a house of the Radwan family in Tal Al-Sultan in Rafah,” Gaza Civil Defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal said in a statement.

 


Emirates and flydubai resume normal operations after Dubai floods

Updated 20 April 2024
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Emirates and flydubai resume normal operations after Dubai floods

  • Researchers have linked extreme weather events such as Tuesday’s storm to climate change
  • Lack of drainage infrastructure puts countries such as the UAE at particular risk of flooding

RIYADH: Dubai’s flagship carrier Emirates and sister airline flydubai have restored normal operations after heavy rains caused severe flooding across the United Arab Emirates earlier this week, the airlines said on Saturday.
Emirates canceled nearly 400 flights and delayed many more as a result of a record storm that hit the desert city of Dubai on Tuesday, said a statement released by the airline’s president, Tim Clark.
Due to the impact of the storm, the airline suspended check-in for passengers departing from Dubai and halted its transit operations through Dubai International Airport, a major global travel hub, leaving thousands of travelers stranded.
The airport has struggled to return to normal operations after the storm flooded taxiways, forcing flight diversions, delays and cancelations.
Flydubai also returned to its full flight schedule from the airport’s Terminal 2 and Terminal 3 on Saturday following the weather-related disruption, a spokesperson for the airline said.
Clark said Emirates had provided 12,000 hotel rooms and 250,000 meal vouchers to customers who were affected. He added it would take days to clear the backlog of rebooked passengers.
The UAE has suffered the impact of the flooding for days, with roads between the city and Abu Dhabi still partially under water as of Saturday. In Abu Dhabi, some supermarkets and restaurants faced product shortages, unable to receive deliveries from Dubai.
Researchers have linked extreme weather events such as Tuesday’s storm to climate change and anticipate that global warming will lead to higher temperatures, increased humidity and a greater risk of flooding in parts of the Gulf region.
A lack of drainage infrastructure to cope with heavy rains in countries such as the UAE can put them at particular risk of flooding.


‘No retreat,’ vows Hezbollah deputy amid renewed border clashes

Updated 20 April 2024
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‘No retreat,’ vows Hezbollah deputy amid renewed border clashes

  • Naim Qassem promises ‘proportionate response’ to any escalation by Israel

BEIRUT: Hezbollah on Saturday launched a series of strikes against the Israeli army, targeting military sites near Lebanon’s southern border from Hermon to the coastal city of Naqoura.

The group said that it fired missiles at Israeli soldiers deployed near Har Addir mountain, opposite Rmaych, a mostly Christian village on the border.

It also targeted “spy equipment” in the Israeli outpost of Al-Raheb, opposite the Lebanese village of Aita Al-Shaab.

Hezbollah said that an operation targeting the Hadb Yarin outpost “with appropriate weapons” resulted in direct hits,” while Ruwaizat Al-Alam in the Kfar Shouba Hills was struck with with four missiles.

Sirens sounded in Even Menachem in western Galilee, and in the Shomera and Kiryat Shmona settlements in response to fears of a Hezbollah drone attack.

Israeli media later confirmed damage to farm property in Even Menachem caused by Hezbollah rockets.

Most residents have fled southern areas of Lebanon after 196 days of clashes between Hezbollah and Israel in the wake of the Gaza conflict.

Israeli airstrikes targeted a house in Kfarkela and the town of Aita Al-Shaab, while Israeli artillery shelled the town of Dhayra.

Reports said a person injured in the Kfarkela strike had been taken to hospital.

The Israeli army fired flares over villages in the western and central areas of the border region late on Friday. Reconnaissance aircraft flew throughout the night over border villages adjacent to the Blue Line, reaching the outskirts of Tyre.

Hezbollah officials said that “we will respond proportionately to any Israeli violation of the established ceiling in the confrontation.”

The group’s deputy, Naim Qassem, said: “If any escalation reaches a certain level, we will confront it as required.”

He added: “There is no withdrawal from the confrontation, and no retreat from support for and protection of Gaza.”

Fighting in southern Lebanon will continue until Israel halts its attacks on Gaza, Qassem said.

“This support is for Gaza and Lebanon as well because whoever sees what is happening in Gaza knows that if they remain silent, they will be next, and they know that if they allow the Israelis to be arrogant, the Israelis will believe they can do whatever they want,” he said.

Hezbollah Central Council member Hassan Al-Baghdadi said that Israel “has not had a worse time than now,” adding: “This can be observed from the reaction of its agents.”

 


Source close to Hezbollah says three fighters killed in Israel strike

Updated 20 April 2024
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Source close to Hezbollah says three fighters killed in Israel strike

  • Hezbollah said it had fired on several Israeli targets, including soldiers and spy equipment
  • The violence has killed at least 375 people in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Three Hezbollah fighters were killed Saturday in an Israeli strike on a house in southern Lebanon, a source close to the Iran-backed group told AFP.
“Three Hezbollah fighters were killed, and two others seriously wounded in an Israeli air strike on a house in the area of Al-Jebbayn,” the source, who asked to remain anonymous, said.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported earlier on Saturday that “enemy aircraft carried out a strike targeting a house in Al-Jebbayn, and rescue teams were headed to the area.”
Hezbollah said it had fired on several Israeli targets, including soldiers and spy equipment.
Since Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel triggered war in Gaza, there have been near-daily cross-border exchanges of fire between the Israeli army and Hezbollah, a Hamas ally.
The violence has killed at least 375 people in Lebanon, mostly fighters but including 70 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
In northern Israel, 10 soldiers and eight civilians have been killed, according to the army.
In recent days, Hezbollah has intensified its attacks against Israeli military positions, with tensions across the Middle East surging.
On April 13, Iran, which supports both Hezbollah and Hamas, launched an unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel in retaliation for a deadly April 1 air strike which levelled its consulate in Damascus.