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Will the Women of Iran Bring Down the Law Imposing the Veil?

There is no doubt that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi would have liked to win the sympathy of the delegates sitting at the UN General Assembly hall during his speech, but even those who could sympathize with him had in mind the sights of Iranian police chasing women, arresting them, and shooting them. The soul of Mahsa Amini, who succumbed to the wounds inflicted upon her by the Iranian police, hovered over everyone present in the room. As you might recall, Mahsa Amini was arrested because some of her hair showed through her veil, which was against the law. The Iranian regime first imposed the veil laws in 1981. But the truth is that the laws weren’t just imposed in Iran; they also made their way to most Gulf and Arab countries. Inspired by the Iranian Revolution, other counties in the region began imposing their own laws pertaining to head covering. At this time when Iranian women are revolting against the most important symbols of authoritarianism, I recall the late Fatema Mernissi, the renowned Moroccan sociologist, whose research focused on the veil. One of Mernissi’s most important books was Behind the Veil, in which she refuted the claim made by some clergymen about women’s hair and face as a fitnah – a temptation – for men. In this book, Mernissi claims that men who are afraid of seduction should lower their gaze. It seems that Iranian President Raisi remains adamant about his position on the veil, so he refused to meet CNN reporter Christian Amanpour if she were not veiled. Amanpour declined the request out of empathy with her sisters in Iran who are being killed for their rebellion against the veil. If further political unrest unfolds in Iran, President Raisi will bear the consequences, and even conservatives will hate the day he became president. The women’s revolution at the present time is not an accident but is rather a result of years of harsh and strict policing by the Iranian morality police. Iranians in general, and Iranian women in particular, were accustomed to an atmosphere of relative tolerance during the rule of Hassan Rouhani, who was more open than Raisi. But after the latter came to power, rules were changed to punish women whose headscarves are not accepted by the morality police. For example, they couldn’t use public transportation or receive social benefits. What impresses many is that this revolution led by women in Iran is that it has extended to all regions and cities, and included all sects – including Persians, Kurds, Turks, and Arabs. Most importantly, it was supported by women who chose to be veiled. The New York Times reported on September 27 that veiled women were hosting unveiled women to sleep in their homes to avoid police arrest. Many of us wonder not about the future of veiling in Iran and the Arab region, but about the future of the regime in Iran. Unfortunately, there is no law or mathematical formula that accurately predicts what will happen in Iran over the next few years. Certainly, women after September 16, 2022, in Iran are different from women before this date. If they manage to overturn the veil law, it is expected that many women on the opposite side of the Gulf will reconsider their options as well. Hopefully, I will be able to visit Iran one day in the future without seeing public signs indicating that the wearing of a headscarf is required by every woman in every public setting. –Hamed Al-Hamoud (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)