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Iran's leader: "Do everything to stop them"

FEMALE FIGHT / For far too long, Western authorities have relied on Iranian reforms and an illusion of a vibrant democracy. A Europe that has committed itself to human rights and feminist values ​​in foreign policy must now – also regarding Women's Day on 8 March – support Iran's women and give them the opportunity to be heard. Women in Iran are no longer fooled by the hope of reform.


Iran has seen its biggest demonstrations in years, sparked by the violent death of Mahsa Jina Amini in police custody after morality police arrested her for not wearing a hijab in accordance with regulations. It is no coincidence that the main message chanted by the protesters is "Woman, life, freedom". Misogyny has always been an important part of politics in Iran.

Ayatollah Khomeini's first act, days after returning to Iran from French exile in 1979, was to swing the sword of revolution against the country's women. Almost every law that had been introduced during five decades of positive social progress for women was to be sacrificed for his idea of ​​Islam.

Khomeini lowered the age of marriage for girls to nine. Men were again allowed to marry four women.

#Khomeini repealed Iran's progressive family protection law 15 days after taking power. He lowered the age of marriage for girls to nine. Men were again allowed to marry four women and have as many Shia "temporary marriages" as they wished. Women no longer had the same right to divorce as men, who could divorce whenever they wanted. Female judges became a thing of the past.

Since then, schools in Iran – especially girls' schools – can be real torture chambers: anyone who does anything outside the rules has to leave the school, and life for most students is hell. For decades, things like a small pocket mirror, white socks, a hair band under the obligatory headscarf or loose strands of hair have been enough to provoke discrimination and exclusion.

The main barrier for Iranian womanr – according to an analysis by the well-known feminists Mehrangiz Kar and Azadeh Pourzand – is not Islam, which can be interpreted in different ways, but the theocratic system of the Islamic Republic.

The political authorities are more afraid of women than of their ideological rivals. Control of women is control of society. "From a legal perspective, women have suffered the most in the Islamic Republic's more than forty-year-long experiment," concludes Kar, who is a lawyer and human rights activist.

The fear of the atomic bomb

If there are to be any profound changes in Iran, it will happen because of the women who have sacrificed for decades to achieve change. Women have been on the front lines of the fight against injustice for years. They are not part of the powerful elite – they stand in opposition to it and know the essence of the regime.

But why hasn't the West recognized and reacted to the uprising in Iran much earlier?

From a foreign policy perspective, Western debate has about human rights in Iran has been hindered by the fear of an Iranian nuclear bomb. The West has been preoccupied with nuclear agreementn, negotiations as old as the people who now take to the streets. But today's generation is completely indifferent to a deal. And the opposition between the 'reformers' and those who stand for a more conservative line has created the illusion of a lively democracy. We have not understood who is actually in power in Iran. We have been blind to the growing senselessness of the 'reforms'.

The American-Iranian political scientist Karim Sadjadpour speaks of two parallel regimes working together: “Those in power take hostages, build nuclear programs, support regional militias, carry out assassinations and are inaccessible to Western officials. Those without real power deny these activities and are accessible to Western officials.”

A serial liar installed by the Ayatollah

All political factions in Iran are part of the Islamist establishment. They want to ensure theocraticone's survival and maintain the form of government of God's representative on earth. The factions' means are different, but the goal is the same. Nevertheless, we still act as if there was a diametrical contradiction between liberal-progressive and illiberal-reactionary groups in Iran.

We have willingly ignored the elephant in the room: that the dictatorship of the law places Gods sovereignty over human sovereignty. It claims to be the only true interpretation of Islam, to which all society must conform. It legitimizes politically motivated violence. It does not allow a separation between state and religion. The system has been virtually incapable of reform since 1979, despite all so-called reformwant.

"Reform is {…} a very valuable resource that requires fewer victims than a revolution," says Maryam Karimbeigi, an opponent of the regime. “Our system deceives you with reformers whose smiling faces hide how the system works. The illusion that you have freedom of choice, that you can choose between two camps. The system has taken over the ideas of 'reform' {…} so that we cannot use it as a tool.”

In the first reform period under Khatami, things looked promising: many newspapers and other publications were established, legally recognized voluntary organizations were founded, and the spirit of the times moved towards greater freedom for women and more openness and contact with the West.

After eight years of Khatami's presidency, the presidential election was surprisingly won by a man unknown to many Iranians: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It took a few months to realize that Ahmadinejad was a serial liar installed by the Ayatollah.

Ahmadinejad filled the ministerial posts with members of the Revolutionary Guard and prepared for the apocalypse and the return of the world savior. In Iran, the situation for dissidents and human rights activists became more dangerous: the number of executions quadrupled during Ahmadinejad's first term of government (2005–2009).

Protesters, including one woman holding up a headscarf, gather to demonstrate against the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran on September 23, 2022 in Berlin, Germany.. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

A failed rebellion

The reformist faction's last hope was the so-called Green Movement in 2009, when millions took to the streets to protest peacefully – and in vain – against the electoral fraud that kept Ahmadinejad in power. Demonstrators took to the streets shouting: "Where's my ballot?"

But the demonstrations came to a brutal end – and a young woman became a symbol of this failed uprising. The video that showed the world that Neda Agha-Sultan bled to death, lasted 47 seconds. It is a testimony that captures the essence of everything that happened in Iran in 2009. A young philosophy student, hit by a bullet fired by paramilitary troops, dies in the street in the arms of his singing teacher.

Neda, who just before her death shouted "Down with the dictator", was for the recently re-elected president one of the scum of society. He referred to three million peaceful protesters who had protested election fraud in Tehran as "dust and dirt" and bad losers.

Political quasi-trials, with absurd forced confessions broadcast on state television.

The Revolutionary Guard spoke of the "great conspiracy against the Iranian people" and of a "color revolution" initiated by Western secret services. We know the names of 78 people who were killed. But thousands were arrested, and many detainees were tried in political quasi-trials, with absurd forced confessions broadcast on state television.

The universities were 'cleansed' again, reform-friendly newspapers were shut down, and the internet increasingly became the "filter net". But the West, led by US President Barack Obama, was evasive instead of acknowledging the Iranian protesters and supporting them.

On March 7, 1979, After Khomeini Demanded That All Women Wear Hijab, Tens of Thousands Demonstrated The Next Day — On International Women's Day — Without Hijab In Protest.

In the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections, the reformers, who had been marginalized and forced to the right, had no choice but to support the "moderate" Hassan Rouhani.
During the Rouhani government, there was a sharp increase in the number of civilians killed by the regime. Those in favor of reform were less concerned with political freedom than with economic freedom and trade with the West. They had become the smiling face of the regime that negotiated with the West to have the sanctions lifted – and especially when the nuclear agreement was signed in 2015.

Arrested and tortured

On the night of November 15, 2019, the National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Company announced, without warning, that subsidized petrol prices would partly be abolished and rationing introduced. There was an uproar across the country: the interior minister noted protests in 29 of 31 Iranian provinces. People left their cars in the street or blocked the roads with bricks.

Working-class neighborhoods were transformed into battlefields. Thousands of protesters in more than 200 cities blocked traffic, set fire to police cars, banks and shops, set fire to gas stations and even mosques and religious centers. Even portraits of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a monument to the revolutionary leader Khomeini were set on fire.

The state quickly began to talk about foreign interference, mob violence and vandalism. More than 7000 people were arrested – including minors at school and injured in hospital. Many were tortured. More than a month after the uprising, Reuters reported that the supreme leader had personally given the order: "Do everything to stop them."

The security forces were convinced that the protesters wanted to overthrow the Islamic Republic. But unlike in 2009, when the international media had closely followed the course of events – even after their correspondents had been exiled from Iran – these protests in 2019 received little attention in the West.


In June 2021, the regime elected a loyal soldier as president: cleric Ebrahim Chairman, a former judge partly responsible for the execution of at least 5000 political prisoners in the first years after the revolution – the largest mass killing in Iranian history. As a justice he had passed death sentences quickly and efficiently; as president, he now carried out the Supreme Leader's will quickly and precisely.

Once again, the EU remained silent on the election of the new president and even sent an envoy to Raisi's inauguration. They indicated that they were ready to cooperate with the new government. The EU's message, repeated by national governments, was that a 'thaw' had begun: the nuclear agreement had to be relaunched as quickly as possible, and nothing must be allowed to jeopardize the agreement.

A plan to install facial recognition technology in metro stations to punish 'improperly veiled' women.

But the new government pushed for a 're-Islamisation': increased morality policing in the streets and even a plan to install facial recognition technology in metro stations to punish 'improperly veiled' women. What happened to Mahsa Jina Amini – a story of threats, psychological terror and violence – is a story that millions of Iranian families have experienced: the worry when their daughters disappear; the humiliation of having to collect their children from the police station and the fear that their children will end up behind bars, or be beaten and whipped, if they resist.

After the failed uprising in 2019, Khamenei gave a speech, 'coincidentally' on International Women's Day. He referred, among other things, to MeToo movement and described the headscarf as a woman's best defense: Thanks to the hijab, Islam had eliminated sexual abuse, he claimed.

The international community seemed to agree with him: In April 2021, Iran was re-elected to the UN Women's Commission, a body that promotes equality and the empowerment of women worldwide.

But even if the world, and especially the West, remains silent, the latest protests – tragically but characteristically triggered by a mistakenly used headscarf – show that women in Iran are no longer fooled by the hope of reform. They know that the regime sees control over women's bodies as the key to controlling society.

Chador-clad women today in Iran's Qom City. Photo: Mostrafameraiji (Creative Commons)

When an Iranian woman who had lived in the West for decades urged people to go to the polls in Iran's June 2021 presidential election — regardless of the fact that no real opposition was allowed — an Iranian mother commented that her 18-year-old son was shot when he protested in November 2019. She addressed everyone regimedefenders living in the West: "If the government could be reformed, it would already have been reformed. How many more, how many thousands of lives must be buried in the cemetery?”

Her appeal is aimed at everyone in the West. Will we finally listen to the brave, desperate people on the street? In a time that many Iranians experience as the darkest in their history, Western media are criticized for not reporting with the same clarity and zeal as before 1979 – especially on human rights crimes and abuses.

Women's struggle and mass crimes

The Iranian human rights activist Roya Boroumand has witnessed in his years of exile in Washington how unjust regimes test the West – and how repression in Iran increases when the rest of the world remains silent. "The strength of the persecutors lies in their ability to convince the persecuted that the world does not hear them, that they are irrelevant," says Boroumand.

At a time when the West emphasizes diplomatic relations with Iran and a reactivated nuclear deal is given importance, the question arises whether the Western negotiators are aware of their responsibility: to convey a message of solidarity to Iranian women, to openly condemn violations of human rights and to condemn the repressions .

These have the UN's resources on their side, the legal channels and resources of the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva – and the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows them to prosecute serious crimes in foreign countries. They have the opportunity to hold the Islamic Republic accountable for its mass crimes – which are still being committed.

Many Iranians find it monstrous that the West has reopened negotiations with the regime in Tehran about the nuclear agreement when the blood of killed protesters has not had time to dry. The West's belief that Iran's rulers will abide by international agreements while continuing to mistreat their own citizens is infinitely naive, they say. The money that the nuclear deal will fill the treasury with will actually enable the regime to persecute and imprison even more people.

God's sovereignty legitimizes politically motivated violence.

A confident Europe – one committed to human rights and feminist values ​​in its foreign policy – ​​must support the people of Iran, especially Iranian women, and give them a chance to be heard.

During the 40 years after the revolution has women's rights has often been portrayed as a half-time program, even though the struggle has already led to profound societal changes and continues to do so. The story of Iranian women is also the story of growth, of unexpected power, of enormous courage. The women's movement is unstoppable, like the Iranian poet Simin Behbahani, called 'Iran's lioness' wrote (see

“You will exterminate my being, but I remain in this land

As long as I can bear it, I will continue to dance...


I speak as long as I live; rage, roar and riot

I do not fear your stones, I am a flood and you cannot hinder my flow.”

The article is based on the author's book Iran – freedom is female (2021, Rowalt Verlag). This abridged edition was previously published in German by Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik (11/2022) and translated by Iril Kolle (with the help of English) © Eurozine (MODERN TIMES is a member of this network).

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