Iranian women have been among the most mistreated and abused in the world for over four decades, during which they have suffered oppression at the hands of the Iranian regime. Iran today is not a safe place for women to live and thrive, and women have been paying a hefty price for the last 43 years.
At a time when the rest of the world was striving for liberty and human rights during the 1980s and beyond, Iran was turning itself into a jail, with women becoming the target of a series of archaic laws at the hands of a regime that chose to keep the country in a time warp of its own devising. Women became second-class citizens, and they have been subject to humiliation and various forms of torture ever since.
The ongoing protests in Iran are now continuing into their third month and gaining momentum in all regions of the country. The uprising seems finally to have shaken the foundations of a regime that has appeared invulnerable over the past four decades. It started with the death of a heroic Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by Iran’s Morality Police last September for not wearing a hijab or headscarf. Her death ignited the anger of millions of Iranian women and men who are fed of the Iranian regime’s oppression in the name of religion.
News surfaced this week that the Iranian regime is about to disband the Morality Police and that the country’s parliament and judiciary will be reviewing the archaic hijab laws that have been around for over four decades. However, some Iranian officials such as Iran’s Attorney General Mohamed Jafaar Montazeri have denied that the Morality Police will be disbanded or that the hijab law, in place since the Islamic Revolution in the country in 1979, will be rescinded.
If this law is abolished and the Police disbanded, this will constitute an historic victory for Iranian women who are working to change history not just in their own country but in the rest of the world as well. There remains a chance that the Islamist regime in Iran is trying to divert the momentum of the uprising by spreading false rumours that the protesters’ demands have been met.
The regime in Iran has been a catalyst for destruction and mayhem in the entire Middle East region and the rest of the civilised world. Inside the country’s borders, it has been a nightmare to its citizens, millions of whom fled the country after the mullahs usurped power in 1979. A wave of purges followed that affected all opponents to the regime, whether they were liberals or leftists or whether they simply opposed enforced Sharia rules and the rule of the mullahs.
Iranian women have now risen up in revolt against the rule of the clerics in Iran, and symbols such as the hijab are being thrown into the streets in a declaration that they are no longer willing to be ruled by archaic laws and a gang of mullahs. This is certainly not the first revolt by the Iranian people against the regime in the country, but it seems that this revolt has rattled it more than others, probably because it is led by brave women and joined by brave men who seek the freedom of their country.
Calls for the ousting of the regime have come even from some of those closest to it. Farideh Moradkhani, a niece of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, has called on the international community to refuse to make any deals with the Iranian regime. A viral video of her plea was released by her brother two days after she was arrested by the police in Iran. Her bravery in sending a clear message to the outside world while still in Iran shows that the regime is losing its grip on the situation and that criticisms are coming even from the close relatives of its highest officials.
In her great dystopian novel that was turned into the hit TV show The Handmaid’s Tale, the Canadian author Margaret Atwood wrote about an imaginary country called Gilead that had developed from the remnants of a defunct United States and had attempted to become its successor state through a series of wars and twisted diplomatic efforts.
Childbirth had become rare in this new country, and Gilead had been turned into a prison for women who were mainly used to bring children into the world, passing them on to the commanders’ families to be raised as their own. Women were treated like servants and were punished in the harshest terms if they disobeyed their masters or the rulers of Gilead.
One of Atwood’s inspirations to write her 1985 novel and its sequel The Testaments was the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the rise of the tyrannical religious zealots that have ruled the country until today, all the while backed by the military and an oppressive security apparatus that uses heavy handed tactics against dissidents.
In her novel, Atwood describes the horrific lives of the women in Gilead who are forced to dress in uniform and are stripped of all their freedoms under the threat of torture or death. What Atwood wrote is not far from what has been the case for the women of Iran, but instead of being Christian zealots like the ruler of Gilead, the Iranian regime consists of extreme Muslim zealots.
Just like the Iranian regime today, the Gilead regime in Atwood’s novel crushed all forms of dissent, and the more it felt itself to be rotting from within, the more vicious it became against its own citizens and women. Atwood’s story may seem fictional, as no society in the 21st century should live under such tyranny, but what has taken place in Iran over the last four decades is a reality. While Atwood’s book and TV show are distressing to read or watch, the reality of life in Iran remains even worse.
Iranian women are now changing their history through their own efforts, and they do not care how many among them will fall victim to the criminal Iranian regime. They believe that there will be no other chance to win their freedoms and retake the respect that has been stripped from them by the mullahs’ regime.
This week’s events prove that they are on the right track. This is not a regime that requires reform. It is a regime that belongs to the darker chapters of human history. Its leaders must face the consequences of the crimes that they have committed against the Iranian people and the region as a whole.
* The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly