Young Iranian women sitting on the steps outside a shopping mall in northern Tehran. (AP)

August 1, 2019

During recent weeks Iran’s hardliners dominating the state have been increasingly tightening enforcement of unwritten rules concerning compulsory hijab.

As the Islamic Republic is plagued by financial corruption, discriminatory practices and rising crime figures as a result of mismanagement and chaotic clerical rule in its four-decade history, hijab is the only thing that gives the Iranian government its Islamic appearance.

Among the measures to uphold compulsory but otherwise arbitrary hijab rules in recent weeks has been an increase in the number of vice squad members who detain and punish women for not observing the “rules,” a clamp-down on women who wear “revealing” long coats and sending electronic messages to drivers of cars with women passengers who do not observe the dress code and hijab.

Meanwhile, the Tehran subway operator has promised stricter hijab control on its trains in the coming week.

The police have even encouraged citizens to spy on each other and send a text message to point out the offenders. Social media users have warned that measures like this will further fragment the Iranian society which is already dangerously divided as a result of a political system that gives all the powers and wealth in the country to clerics, military, insiders and their children and totally ignores the demands of the larger part of the society.

Those who are called in to a designated vice-squad station get jail sentences or have to pay a fine in cash, although there are also reports about individuals receiving lashes for some “offenses.”

Only in Gilan province, some 66,000 women have been called in to police stations via text messages on their cell phones, ILNA reported. In Tehran, 300,000 text messages were sent to women and many cars were detained for weeks, Iranian media quoted the city’s Police Chief Hossein Ashtari as saying.

These are only a few of sometimes over-exaggerated and often irrational moves by the government against women they call “bad hijab.” But why the government is obsessed with the idea of covering women?

The reasons presented by Iranians on social media and in the streets are sometimes conflicting. Some say the reason is that government knows it will eventually back down in the face of U.S. demands and negotiate over its nuclear and missile programs, despite its hardline pronouncements and it wants to show force to its populace.

Others on the contrary believe the government is defiant against the West but fears economic sanctions might lead to riots and tries to dishearten Iranians by showing its iron fist against women.

A more sweeping explanation is that the regime has always held hijab as one of its most important tenets and it is afraid to further compromise on enforcement. The ruling clerics fear that if they completely lose on the hijab issue, they will embolden the people end up retreating on other matters, such as their political power.

This became apparent during the December 2017-January 2018 mass anti-regime protests, when individual women took off their headscarves on busy streets hoisting them on sticks as a show of defiance.

The government has ordered tailors not to design manteaux that would reveal women’s legs although everyone has to wear trousers as a rule. The shape of legs must not be seen as if no one knows what do they look like.

In another development, the chairman of the revolutionary court in Tehran Mousa Ghazanfarabadi has threatened that those who send pictures of harsh treatment of women to social media platforms abroad, to name and shame violent behaviour, might be sentenced to ten years in jail on charges of cooperating with foreigners.

He even banned sending pictures to the “Stealthy Freedom” pages set up by an Iranian activist, Massih Alinejad, alleging that she has a contract with “belligerent governments.”

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has advised law enforcement officers to ignore “opposition by certain individuals and the media hype” against irrational treatment of women.

Whatever the reason for the clampdown on “bad hijab”, a glance at the streets in Tehran and other cities reveals that forty years after the Islamic revolution the government has still not been able to force its hijab standard on women and in the world’s longest standing show of civil disobedience Iranian women carry on wearing their headscarf in a way as if it is going to fall off any minute.

RFE/RL

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.