Amini’s story has brought Iran’s disciplinary apparatus back into the limelight, raising questions about the accountability and impunity enjoyed by the country’s clerical elite.
“It would be difficult to find an average Iranian woman or an average family who does not have a history of interacting with [the morality police and re-education centers]”, said Tara Sepehri Far, senior researcher in the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “That’s how present they are.
The morality police are a law enforcement force with access to power, weapons and detention facilities, she said. They also control the recently introduced “re-education centres”.
The centers act as detention centers, where women – and sometimes men – are taken into custody for violating state rules of modesty. Inside the facilities, inmates receive lessons on Islam and the importance of the hijab (or headscarf), then are forced to sign a pledge to abide by state dress regulations before being released.
The first such facility opened in 2019, said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, adding that “since their establishment, which has no basis in any law, agents from these centers have arbitrarily detained countless women on the pretext of not conforming to the state-mandated hijab.”
“The women are then treated like criminals[s]arrested for their offence, photographed and forced to take a course on wearing the hijab and Islamic morals,” he added.
Iran had dictated how women should dress long before the establishment of the current Islamic Republic. In 1936, pro-Western leader Reza Shah banned the wearing of veils and headscarves in a bid to modernize the country. Many women resisted. Then the Islamic regime that overthrew the Shah’s Pahlavi dynasty made the hijab compulsory in 1979, but the rule was not enshrined in law until 1983.
A task force with all the powers of a law enforcement agency, the vice squad is responsible for ensuring compliance with the rules.
A survey by a research center linked to the parliament in 2018 showed that there has been a decrease in the number of people who believe the government should mandate the wearing of headscarves. And a 2014 report from the Iranian Student News Agency showed a 15% increase in those who think the hijab shouldn’t be compulsory.
There has also been a shift in rhetoric among the country’s leaders, calling for “education” and “correction” as opposed to the forceful implementation of Islamic values, says researcher, Sepehri Far.
Amini’s death seems to unite Iranians of different mindsets, says Sepehri Far, adding that criticism of the incident comes not only from opponents of the regime, but also from citizens with no history of dissent, as well as from those who are close to power.
“This time the protesters are not just demanding justice for Mahsa Amini,” Ghaemi said. “They also demand women’s rights, their civil and human rights, a life without religious dictatorship.”
While there is a sense that the regime may feel vulnerable, some wonder whether the current movement will expand or simply weaken in the face of state repression.
“Not only are these protests brutally repressed [on] and contained every time, but there is no leadership,” said Tara Kangarlou, author of “The Heartbeat of Iran,” who grew up under the gaze of the morality police.
“As we grow into adolescence, we make sure to avoid[ed] streets we knew the morality police vans would be parked [on] over the weekend,” Kangarlou said.
She says young Iranians have evolved within the “oppressive system” in order to live their lives, but “the average Iranian is fed up.”
Tunisian counter-terrorism police arrest former leader
Tunisian counter-terrorism police detained Ali Laarayedh, a former prime minister and senior opposition Ennahda party official, for a day after investigating allegations that jihadists had been sent to Syria, Reuters quoted lawyers as saying on Tuesday. In the same case, police also temporarily postponed a hearing for Tunisian opposition leader and speaker of the dissolved parliament, Rached Ghannouchi.
- Background: Last month, several former security officials and two Ennahda members were arrested on charges related to Tunisians traveling abroad for jihad. Security and official sources estimate that around 6,000 Tunisians have traveled to Syria and Iraq over the past decade to join jihadist groups, including IS. Many were killed there while others escaped and returned to Tunisia.
- Why is this important: Ennahda denies the terrorism charges, calling the allegations a political attack against an enemy of President Kais Saied. Ghannouchi, 81, has accused Saied of an undemocratic coup since seizing most power last summer, shutting down parliament and swooping in by decree, powers he has largely formalized with a new constitution ratified in a referendum in July.
Saudi Arabia buys a pair of SpaceX astronaut seats
- Background: People familiar with the arrangement told Reuters the deal was privately signed earlier this year with Houston’s Axiom Space, which organizes private missions to US spacecraft for researchers and tourists. Saudi astronauts will board SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule to the space station for a stay of about a week early next year.
- Why is this important: The Saudi astronauts will be the first from their country to travel into space aboard a private spacecraft. Saudi Arabia will also become the latest Gulf country to forge ties with US private space companies, which are becoming key players in diplomacy in a field long dominated by government agencies such as NASA.
Turkish, Israeli leaders meet face-to-face for first time in 15 years
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Lapid’s office said. It was the first face-to-face talks between the two countries’ top leaders since 2008.
- Background: “Yesterday I had a productive meeting with @RTEdogan,” tweeted Lapid, “the first between the Turkish President and the Israeli Prime Minister in almost 15 years”. Lapid added that the relationship between the two countries is “the key to regional stability”, while bringing “tangible benefits to our two countries”.
- Why is this important: Relations between Israel and Turkey had been strained for many years, mainly over the Palestinian cause. But ties have warmed of late, and in August the countries said they would restore full diplomatic ties and renew their ambassadors.
What is the trend
Egyptian soccer star Mo Salah’s tribute to Queen Elizabeth has sparked heated debate among his compatriots on social media.
The Liverpool player tweeted a photo of the monarch on Monday with a message to mark her passing: “My thoughts are with the Royal Family on this historic and emotional day.” Some of his Egyptian fans weren’t so enthusiastic, criticizing his condolences to the monarch of a country with a controversial colonial past.
Sudanese writer Mohammed Abo Zaco called out some of Salah’s critics for hypocrisy, pointing out that it was apparently acceptable for Arabs to support British football clubs and drive British cars, but not to pay tribute to the Queen. who was buried on Monday.
European football clubs are immensely popular in the Arab world, with some owned by regional governments, including Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain. Salah lives in the UK.
By Mohamed Abdelbary