“Women, life, freedom.” erupts from the hearts of tens of thousands of Iranian citizens fighting for justice and change, engulfing the streets of Iran amidst arrests, killings, and torture. The protests began with one woman’s death in police custody but quickly grew to a call for fundamental change in Iranian society according to Vox.
On September 16, 2022, Mihsa Amani, a 22-year-old Kurdhishi Iranian woman, was murdered by the Morality Police, her death a result of severe beatings by a singular facet of the cruel government present in Iran. In response to Amani’s death, Iranians demand an end to social oppression as a result of the dictatorial and theocratic government present in Iran.
While the Iranian protests of 2022 were fueled by a specific instance of government brutality, this isn’t the first time Iran has seen intense protests by its people towards the regime; the Islamic Revolution in 1979 among the most notable. During the 1970s, Iran’s monarchical government ran as a dictatorship under its Shah [king] Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Pahlavi was known for his positive impact on the social aspects of Iranian society, his modernized views transforming Iran from its conservative and traditional past to a liberal society. Unapproving of the freedoms given to women under the monarchy of Shah Pahlavi, Islamists, primarily male, set out to “restore” the role of women in Islamic society. These protests succeeded and in 1979 Iran was under a new leader:
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Khomeini created Iran’s current government; a combination of theocracy, democracy, and dictatorship. He created a doctrine in which he expressed that “the supreme leader is mandated to rule with absolute authority as ‘God’s representative on Earth’”, after creating this doctrine he appointed himself to the role of Iran’s supreme leader and began a rule grounded in the influence of the Quran.
The second-class status of women that was being supported by the Islamists, who brought Khomeini into power, reflected itself into Islamic Republic’s civil law. Aligning with Khomeini’s theocratic ideals, women were subject to an abounding list of restrictions still heavily enforced today: women are prohibited from traveling outside of Iran without obtaining permission from a “male guardian”, “the testimony of a woman in court is worth half that of a man’s”, women are prohibited from singing and dancing in public, “and perhaps the most visible symbol of women’s second-class status in Iran is the enforcement of the compulsory hijab”.
The 1979 Islamic revolution would not have succeeded had the Iranian Army not betrayed their king and the monarchy he stood for, therefore, Khomeini did not trust the Army to indefinitely support his rule. This insecurity caused Khomeini to create a complex multi-layered government, ensuring that even if one facet of it decides to oppose Khomeini, it will not be enough to culminate his power. This new government entailed everything being controlled by him, the supreme leader, with its democratic aspects existing as a mere facade for the public.
The legislative branch of the Iranian government, holding the elected president and parliament, is controlled by an appointed guardian council, so even if an elected figure has a desire to bring change, they have no avenues to do so; this guardian council easily rejects laws and even filters out candidates who partake in the presidential elections. As Iran grew on the global stage, Khomeini decided that he needed to have tighter control of his people so he created groups such as the Basij and, murderer of Mihsa Amani, Morality Police “instructed to ruthlessly defeat” any actions against his stringent laws, even exhibiting public executions to ensure order.
The Morality Police have been at the forefront of suppressing the current Iranian protests. Since September 2022, over five hundred protestors have been killed and over 16,000 have been arrested by this group, these high numbers a result of authorities in Iran being “allowed to take it upon themselves to interpret rules”, resulting in arbitrary and violent encounters. Iran has had a history of protests because the current structure of Iran’s government, led by Khomeini, and now by the current supreme leader Ali Khamenei, gives them no other choice.
The 2022 Iranian Revolts have been the most significant instance of Iranian protest in the 21st century; instead of tackling a specific issue, these protests are fighting for complete government reform. While women have always been a focus of the regime’s Islamisation, this is the first time women have effectively taken initiative in the protests against the Islamic Republic through burning their hijabs and cutting their hair, a direct insult to Iran’s theocracy. Based on the Islamic religion, women’s beauty must be preserved and hidden, so by burning their hijabs and cutting their hair, women are endangering their lives for the betterment of Iranian society.
In a country as conservative as Iran with powerful religious foundations, it is impossible for anti-compulsory-hijab laws to be passed, therefore the burning of hijabs is undeniably connected to regime change. Amani’s death was a symbol of resistance not just for women, but all Iranians “suffocated by decades of brutality, corruption, and negligence” at the hands of their supreme leader.
As the 2022 Iranian protests advance into 2023, accumulating intensity and global support, it is unpredictable what the outcome of these protests entail. Iran’s regime has had extensive experience with terminating protests against its government and this experience may result in the current protests’ end. However, the 2022 Iranian protests have developed into a substantial movement for independence, one that has the undeniable capacity to reform Iran’s regime. Regardless of the outcome, the world’s view towards Iran and its government has changed forever, but more importantly, so have the views of Iranian citizens.