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Iran Protests Go Beyond the Hijab: Young People Want Freedom and Opportunities

Las protestas en Irán van más allá del velo: los jóvenes quieren libertades y oportunidades

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The veil has become the symbol of the protests that have been shaking Iran for 10 days following the death of Mahsa Amini, but this Islamic garment is only the tip of the iceberg: young Iranians want freedom and opportunities.

The protests are led by the so-called 1380 generation (according to the Iranian calendar, those born since 2000).

A generation that does not want to live two lives like their parents: a public life according to the rules of the system and private life in which they break all those rules.

Amini was arrested on Tuesday 13 by the so-called Morality Police in Tehran on the grounds that she was wearing the hijab incorrectly and taken to a police station where she suffered a heart attack and went into a coma.

She died three days later in a hospital, in a death described by the police as “unfortunate” and which the authorities have attributed to health problems, something rejected by the family.

The death of 22-year-old Amini has sent her generation into the streets, with protests in at least 20 cities with powerful images of young people burning hijabs to the cry of “Women, life, freedom.”

So far the authorities recognize 41 dead and more than a thousand arrested.

“These mobilizations have been started by women and they have to continue so that no more Mahsa Amini is killed,” a young woman who has participated in the protests tells EFE.

“The only thing we want is social freedoms, to dress as we want…the hijab should not be mandatory,” says the young woman.

Thus, the hijab has become the object of the protesters’ fury.

“The hijab is seen as an element of the presence of the state, of the control of society by the state,” explains to EFE Raffaele Mauriello, Iranologist and professor of Spanish language and literature at the Allame Tabatabai University in Tehran.

For the expert, young people became accustomed to certain freedoms during Rohani’s mandate, when coffee shops proliferated, in which boys and girls got together, in something similar to bars without alcohol.

In those years, the Morality Police lost its prominence in the streets and there was a certain relaxation in the use of the hijab, which had been mandatory since 1983, shortly after the revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979.

In this context, President Ebrahim Raisi won the 2021 elections with a turnout of 48.8%, the lowest since the triumph of the Islamic Revolution and in which reformist candidates were not allowed.

With 12.8 % of blank or invalid votes, the elections underlined the disconnection between many Iranians and the system, which thus closes the door to political reforms.

After Raisi came to power in August last year the question on many people’s minds was when he would begin to more strictly enforce the dress and social laws.

By the end of June, there was an increased presence of Morality Police on the streets and arrests for improper wearing of the hijab, in addition to warnings in coffee shops for young people to behave themselves.

While the middle-aged population has accepted the return of social rigor, young people have rebelled, in protests that have managed to channel popular anger, unlike other occasions when they were reduced to fragmented social groups mobilized by the economy.

Economic crisis

That social pressure is also happening in tough economic conditions with a very tired population that has been getting poorer in Iran.

“They are putting pressure on a society under pressure,” argues Mauriello, who believes the government chose the wrong time to tighten enforcement of strict dress laws.

The country suffers from inflation of around 40% and in April the price of a large number of basic commodities, including bread, increased threefold, leading to protests with two deaths.

Then, the owner of a bakery in Tehran told EFE that there were customers who almost came to blows in his establishment.

“People have no money and are nervous,” he said.

In these circumstances, Amini’s death has been like pouring gasoline on a fire.

The question is how long that fire will last.

“I think it’s got about a week left,” Mauriello says.

The lack of leadership to channel the mobilizations together with the police repression seems to put an end to this wave of protests, which in recent days has lost vigor.

But for the moment, the Morality Police are not to be seen on the streets of Tehran.

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