After the death of Mahsa Amini: The anger of the Iranians

An allegedly “un-Islamic” headscarf was Mahsa Amini’s undoing. The apparently violent death of the 22-year-old by Iranian moral guardians has caused an uproar in the country.

There have been violent protests in several cities for days. They are directed against the brutality of the religious police, but also against the clique of rulers and their rigid ideas of morality and obedience. Anger at those in power seems to be great.

Iranian women have been required to cover their hair in public since the 1979 revolution. However, many only wrap around a loose cloth that leaves most of their hair free.

Since demonstrations against headgear five years ago, and especially since hardliner Raisi took office last year, the religious police have increasingly aggressively enforced wearing headscarves. Opponents of the regime are therefore calling on women not to cover their heads in public.

Many Iranian women wear a scarf as a loose head covering.
Many Iranian women wear a scarf as a loose head covering.
© REUTERS / Wana News Agency

Mahsa Amini also wore a loose headscarf, as photos of her on social media show. It is not known whether she rejected the strict form of headgear for political reasons.

The young woman lived in Saqez in western Iran’s Kurdish region and was visiting Tehran with her parents when she was arrested last Tuesday and then taken to a police station.

Amnesty International said the moral guardians wanted to force her to cover her hair completely according to the rules of the Islamic Republic.

The authorities speak of heart failure as the cause of death

The religious police beat Amini on a bus after her arrest, according to several media outlets, citing eyewitnesses. The young woman fell into a coma and died in a hospital three days later. The authorities explain the death as heart failure.

A headscarf worn in an
A headscarf worn in an “un-Islamic” way was Mahsa Amini’s undoing.
© IranWire/via REUTERS/IRANWIRE

But her family emphasizes that she had no heart disease. Iran International, a media of the exile opposition, reports, citing hospital sources, that Amini has suffered severe head injuries from beatings. She was already brain dead when she was admitted to the hospital.

Women are said to have cut off their hair as a sign of anger

Hundreds of people attended Amini’s funeral in Saqez on Saturday and chanted anti-regime slogans. Women took off their headscarves as a sign of anger, the British BBC reported. Others are said to have cut their hair.

On Sunday evening, police officers fired tear gas at demonstrators in Sanandaj, the capital of the Iranian province of Kurdistan. There were also protests in front of the hospital in Tehran where Amini died. On Sunday, students from Tehran University took to the streets, activists reported.

Prominent Iranian artists and athletes condemned the actions of the religious police. Authorities throttled the internet to make it harder to distribute videos and calls for demonstrations.

The security apparatus feels strong.

Guido Steinberg, Science and Politics Foundation

According to observers, however, the unrest does not pose an immediate threat to Raisi’s government. “The mere fact that the morality police believe they can drag a young woman off the street and mistreat it with impunity shows how strong the security apparatus feels,” says Guido Steinberg by the Science and Politics Foundation.

And: The leadership of the Islamic Republic has been able to use violence to suppress much larger protests in recent years.

Iran's President Raisi is considered a hardliner.
Iran’s President Raisi is considered a hardliner.
© IMAGO/SNA / IMAGO/Alexandr Demyanchuk

The fact that Raisi ordered an investigation into Amini’s death during a trip abroad could be an indication that the mullahs are concerned. However, it is unclear whether the President is interested in honest information or whether he wants to calm the public without holding those responsible to account.

In any case, Iran expert Steinberg sees only cosmetics in Raisi’s announcement. “For the regime, it’s about big issues like the nuclear deal, the economic crisis or relations with Russia and China. From the perspective of those in power, the death of a young woman is little more than a minor annoyance.”

Every second citizen in Iran is younger than 30 years

In Iran, more than every second citizen is younger than 30 years and has therefore not experienced any other system of government than the Islamic Republic. However, the Islamization of the country since the revolution more than 40 years ago has not turned most young Iranians into supporters of the regime. On the contrary.

According to experts, many of them are disillusioned with corruption, unemployment and the economic crisis and want to leave the country; in Germany, Iranians are among the largest groups of asylum seekers.

There is a wide gulf between the regime and many young Iranians, says Lena Loch of the Friends of Europe think tank. Mahsa Amini’s death may have increased it.

A large gulf also exists between the regime and the Kurdish minority. Amini was Kurdish and was called Jina Emini. Kurds are persecuted in Iran, criminalized and forced to assimilate.

The province of Kurdistan, where the young woman lived, has a particularly high unemployment rate and access to education is difficult. Arbitrary arrests by the authorities are frequent.

Arrests were also made at Amini’s funeral. Kurdish parties in Iran have called for a general strike over the death of the 22-year-old – as a sign of protest.

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