Home / Opinion / Views /  Mint Explainer: Has Iran's establishment finally caved in to protestors?

Iran’s government may just have given ground to protestors as the embattled regime grapples with unrest against its rule that began around three months ago. Reports have surfaced that Tehran will abolish its infamous morality police, the Gasht-e-Ershad, in an apparent concession to protestors. Mint breaks down the latest developments in Iran:

1. Iran has laws mandating attire for women. As part of these laws, women have been required to wear hijabs since 1983. However, the enforcement of these laws has been erratic at best.

2. In 2005, a ‘morality police’ unit, named Gasht-e-Ershad, was set up by conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They enforce Iran’s dress code by maintaining a presence at public places like busy street crossings and catching those they see as violating the dress code. For women particularly, violations can be arbitrary.

3. Violators may be detained or forced to sign statements pledging to adhere to the state-mandated dress code. Estimates indicate that thousands of women every year fall foul of the Gasht-e-Ershad’s morality police. Needless to say, these units are unpopular in the country.

4. The death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who was taken into custody by the morality police for wearing her hijab improperly, sparked widespread outrage. While authorities said she died of a heart attack, witnesses alleged that she had been beaten severely by security officials.

5. After Amini’s death in September, protests broke out across the country. Three months on, demonstrations continue despite violent crackdowns by state security services. According to human rights groups, more than 400 protestors have been killed.

6. The government’s response has not been surefooted. Although it has even put protestors on death row, Tehran has been unable to prevent the spread of the protests. It was in this context that Attorney-General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri stated that the morality police “have been shut down from where they were set up". Reformist parties and major political figures have openly called for either shutting down or curtailing the Garsht-e-Ershad’s activities.

7. This was seized on by foreign media and commentators as a climbdown for Ayatollah Khamenei’s regime. However, some activists and domestic groups have disputed this interpretation of events. They claim that the status of the group is simply unclear and that a broader shift towards easing mandatory dressing codes has not been talked about.

8. Even if the morality police are disbanded, such a move may not halt protestors. Discontent over official corruption, stifling authoritarianism and unemployment has brought thousands of Iranians onto the streets. Their grievances are directed towards Iran’s political establishment as a whole.

9. A poignant example was on display at the 2022 Qatar World Cup. Iran’s national men’s football team refused to sing the national anthem. When the team eventually lost, social media was flooded with snapshots of ordinary Iranians celebrating the defeat. It demonstrates just how far disaffection has set in.

10. As such, limited reform over dress codes may no longer suffice in restoring normalcy. An overhaul of Iran’s political system, even regime change, seems on the table for protestors.

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