Iran hijab
Iran hijabiStock

After months of protests that all methods of Iranian repression have failed to suppress or even mitigate, the mullahs’ regime has begun to send messages of appeasement of a kind contrary to its nature and philosophy of action.

This regime has never made any concessions regarding its harsh policies, especially those it considers to have a religious dimension, especially the so-called morality police, a cause of constant controversy and crises for many years.

The morality police has escaped and survived all the crises and continued to work through them, ignoring all the backlash and popular anger, which this time seems to be rising to an uncontrollable degree.

Recently, Iran’s Attorney General, Mohammad Jafari Montazeri, announced the abolition of the morality police, known as “guidance patrols,” responsible for monitoring women’s compliance with wearing headscarves on the streets and in public. Montazeri said at a press conference, “The morality police have nothing to do with the judicial system and have been abolished.”

If the decision is indeed correct, it will seem political par excellence. It is intended to contain or absorb the anger that has lingered in Iranian cities since the death of a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, after she was arrested for not wearing the hijab properly.

But this does not mean a change in the regime’s practices and working philosophy.

The removal of the morality police to enforce the hijab law did not reflect the removal of the law itself, but the removal of the body to enforce it and perhaps replace it later with another tool of the executive branch, in the sense of a change in face, not a change in policy.

This concession to abolish the morality police, while difficult for the mullahs’ leadership, is unlikely to have the desired effect for the main reason that it came too late. The demands are no longer about abolishing this police force, but have gone as far as supporting the fall of the regime.

In other words, the ceiling of protests has risen and gone beyond the demand for the abolition of the vice police and the rejection of its practices.

The protests are now focused on issues and manifestations of suffering that include poverty, deteriorating living standards for the majority of Iranians, the spread of corruption, unemployment, marginalization, and violence against women and minorities. Iranian women say in published statements that they have already removed the hijab.

There is no longer any force capable of imposing it on them. From now on, their demands are related to other issues. The concession, if true, would probably send the exact opposite message to the protesters and angry people. Indeed, the regime has embarked on a path of concessions that is totally contrary to its political behavior.

This in turn means that the mullahs sense a state of weakness and a decline in their influence.

Therefore, it is difficult to say that this or any other measure can help contain popular anger and even fuel it and encourage protesters to continue protesting in various forms and through various channels in order to maintain pressure on the regime, whether it is with the aim of achieving the protesters’ basic demand, the overthrow of the regime, or with the aim of obtaining greater concessions.

In any case, it is remarkable that the mullahs’ regime has long delayed the decision to abolish the morality police, despite the fact that this apparatus has not been part of the regime’s components since its establishment in 1979, but was established under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and began its work in 2006 to force women to wear hijab.

It is alien to the Iranian culture that the first generation of leaders of the Khomeini regime believed in. This can be explained by this generation’s emphasis on creating institutions concerned with maintaining order, such as the IRGC militias with their various branches.

Notably, the annulment decision came shortly after Iranian Attorney General Mohammad Jafari Montazeri said he was considering the possibility of changing the law requiring women to wear headscarves in public.

This means two possibilities, either the matter has settled on the removal of the law enforcement authority, especially since it is the source of the crisis amidst the violence of its elements.

This step might be more useful and have a quicker impact on the protesters than waiting for parliamentary and judicial procedures to change the law itself or even repeal it, so the next step is to repeal the law if the protests continue and the decision to remove the morality police is insufficient, or there is a real trend to repeal the law.

However, the mullahs have decided to rush to announce the decision to abolish the morality police in an attempt to calm the anger, and to do so if this tactic is effective and to maintain the law. Its abolition involves a fundamental concession that far outweighs the decision to abolish the police who carry it out, who are primarily accused of violence and abuse of women.

Indeed, there are several signs that the regime is backing down and abandoning the hard line that dominated the political discourse in the first weeks of the crisis. There is a disappearance of faces and personalities known for their rigidity.

The situation has even forced itself upon President Ebrahim Raisi, who mobilized state institutions last July, just a few months ago, and called for a general mobilization to enforce the hijab law, accusing foreign powers of targeting the country’s cultural and religious values.

But he recently said in a televised statement, “The foundations of the Islamic Republic of Iran are enshrined in the constitution. But there are flexible ways to implement the principles of the constitution.”

This gives an implicit message of retreat from activism and retreat from his ideas and directions regarding the hijab law, which he believes the regime can quite possibly abandon if it believes that the “dose of freedoms” could be decisive in determining the fate of its survival in power.

The issue of the dress code and other issues are contested among the leaders and currents of the Iranian regime. Former President Hassan Rouhani’s tenure has already seen a loosening of the morality police’s commitment to enforcing the hijab law. So much so that many believed it was a green light to allow more freedoms, including those related to the dress of Iranian women.

Between Rouhani and Raisi, the situation for Iranian women has changed. Repression and extremism have increased, worsening the sense of vivacity and social crises. But the mullahs’ regime could also be headed for a retreat and concessions, which we have predicted before.

We said that continued protests would force the regime to make concessions. But the impact of this decision remains limited by the timing and size of the concessions. Curiously, however, Iran’s decision is still being challenged and questioned.

The Iranian government has not confirmed the decision, but local Iranian media reported that Montazeri’s words were misinterpreted. This is the argument that the Iranian regime always raises when it wants to withdraw from a position.

If this is true, we are facing a conflict of wings and a disagreement between the Iranian regime’s institutions and agencies on how to handle the ongoing popular protests. The morality police are administratively subordinate to the Iranian police and the Ministry of Interior, and the one who announced its dissolution is the prosecutor general of the judiciary.

This also explains why Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian avoided answering the question about the fate of the police. He did not deny the decision to abolish it, nor did he confirm it.

Dr. Salem AlKetbi is an UAE political analyst