Women In Iran Are Removing Their Head Scarfs

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 


Vida Movahed takes off her headscarf and holds on a stick in Tehran in late December, protesting Iran’s hijab rules. (Abaca Press/SalamPix/Sipa USA/AP)
 March 8 at 4:01 PM 
 Iranian women have been raising a new challenge to their Islamic government, breaking one of its most fundamental rules by pulling off their headscarves in some of the busiest public squares and brandishing them in protest.

While these guerrilla protesters number only in the dozens, Iran’s government has taken notice of their audacity. On Thursday, planned demonstrations to coincide with International Women’s Day were preempted by a heavy police presence on the streets of the capital, Tehran.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, marked the day with sharply worded tweets skewering Western countries for the immodesty of their women and trumpeting the virtues of the headscarf, or hijab.

“By promoting modest dress (#hijab), #Islam has blocked the path which would lead women to such a deviant lifestyle,” Khamenei tweeted in English. “Iranian women today, declare their . . . independence and export it to the world while preserving their ­#hijab.”

It was precisely the opposite message that one young woman hoped to send when she climbed atop a tall, metal utility box on a Tehran sidewalk in January and took off her headscarf, hoisting it overhead on a stick for all to see.

 1:15
Women wave hijabs in protest in Iran

An activist group posted videos in February of women in Iran with their hair uncovered, waving garments in protest. 

“I was really stressed,” said the woman, an artist who because of safety concerns asked not to be identified by her name. Instead, she called herself “Azadeh,” which means “one who is free” in Farsi. “At the same time, I felt powerful. People aren’t used to seeing women without veils.”

As she held her headscarf aloft, passersby snapped photos on their phones and urged her to come down before police arrived. Headscarves are mandatory, and her lone protest was against the law.

She escaped without incident, but not before her photo spread across social media, inspiring others to do the same.

In recent months, dozens of Iranian women like Azadeh have staged similar demonstrations against the compulsory veil, standing bareheaded atop raised utility cabinets and concrete benches in some of Iran’s most popular squares. They have been arrested, harassed and even charged with crimes — but also celebrated by reformists and other Iranians who have been sharing the women’s photographs on social media.

Iran is one of two countries that legally require women to wear head coverings in public, along with Saudi Arabia, though the practice is widely followed in other Middle Eastern and South Asian countries.

The hijab protests, which come amid general discontent in Iran over the economy and other social ills, have fueled the debate over the treatment of women and strict moral codes inside Iran.

Iranian activists had called for demonstrations Thursday, but activists and journalists described a large deployment of police in central Tehran, where officers conducted body searches and security vehicles blocked some streets. Social media reported some arrests, but these were not independently confirmed.

In his tweets, Khamenei praised Islam for keeping women “modest” and in defined roles as educators and child-bearers. “The features of today’s Iranian woman include modesty, chastity, eminence, protecting herself from abuse by men,” Khamenei tweeted. In the West, he said, “the most sought after characteristics of a #woman involve her ability to physically attract men.”

The stakes for both sides of the debate are high. The veil has served as one of the most potent and visible symbols of the Islamic republic, a system in which ultimate authority resides with unelected theocrats.

But for many in a post-revolution generation that is more educated and tech-savvy, such restrictions are discriminatory and oppressive.

“The compulsory veiling of women in public — be they religious or not — has been a hallmark of Iranian political and social life since 1979,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington. “As life in Iran continues to be punctuated by political and social protest, mandatory veiling has been a popular target.”

In the 1930s, Iran’s ruler, Reza Pahlavi , banned the hijab, or veil, as part of a modernization drive. But when a cleric-led uprising ousted Shah Reza’s son in 1979, Iran’s Islamic revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, announced an edict mandating the hijab. On March 8, 1979, in the midst of the revolution, tens of thousands of women marched against what was then a new law requiring modest dress.

Since then, all women have been required by law to wear a headscarf and long, loose clothing in public. They are also “subject to entrenched discrimination” in daily life, Amnesty International says, “including in access to divorce, employment, equal inheritance and political office.” Iranian women, for instance, are banned from singing in public, cannot attend public sports events and need a husband’s approval to get a passport or travel outside the country.

In recent years, however, women have pushed the boundaries of the hijab, allowing their headscarves to slip and reveal much of their hair, especially in cosmopolitan Tehran.

President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who has championed change, has urged Iran’s ruling clerics to relax the social restrictions.

In December, Tehran’s police chief said his deputies would no longer arrest women for violating the Islamic dress code, and the government also recently rolled out a public relations campaign targeting the harassment of women on the street and the subway.

In February, Rouhani’s office released a 2014 report on Iranian attitudes toward the hijab. According to the study, 49.8 percent of Iranians oppose government intervention to enforce the veil, which they consider to be a private matter.

But as more and more women have staged individual protests, Tehran’s police chief, Gen. Hossein Rahimi, again took a hard line, saying late last month that his forces “will not tolerate this kind of behavior.”

Since the first woman, 31-year-old Vida Movahed, was photographed publicly unveiling in late December, more than 35 women “have been violently attacked and arrested” for demonstrating against the veil, Amnesty says. Her protest coincided with the nationwide demonstrations over poor living conditions and repression.

One woman, Shaparak Shajarizadeh, is being held in solitary confinement on charges of “inciting corruption and prostitution,” a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison, Amnesty reported.

“This is a deeply retrograde move by the Iranian authorities,” Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said of the charges in a recent statement. “It places many women at serious and immediate risk of unjust imprisonment, while sending a chilling message to others to keep quiet while their rights are being violated.”

Another woman, Narges Hosseini, was sentenced to more than two years in prison for her protest, according to her attorney, Nasrin Sotoudeh. A statement from Tehran’s prosecutor general did not name Hosseini but said a woman had been sentenced for “encouraging moral corruption.”

Iranian women “don’t put all their hope in a government that has never taken a single step” to improve their rights, Sotoudeh said. Sentences such as the one against Hosseini “will only increase solidarity among women in the movement,” she said.

In addition to the protests, women have also launched social media campaigns to raise awareness of daily discrimination.

On the eve of International Women’s Day, Iranian women started the #WeAreEqual hash­tag, sharing accounts of harassment, discrimination and violence.

“When I was in high school, a man tried to harass me in the street. I started shouting and two women approached me telling me to keep silent for the sake of my reputation,” Iranian journalist Nahid Molavi posted on Twitter. “It took me a long time to learn I shouldn’t keep silent,” she said. “And that objection does not equal the loss of reputation.”

For Azadeh, the artist, the protests mark a “turning point,” and she doesn’t know how far they may spread.

“I feel optimistic about this moment,” she said. “There are people like me who won’t turn back.”

Bijan Sabbagh contributed to this report.

In Iran, Environmentalists Now Seen as Spies

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Photo

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran arriving at a news conference, with a portrait of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, last week in Tehran. Credit Abedin Taherkenareh/European Press photo Agency

TEHRAN — The increasingly bitter feud between Iran’s president and hard-line commanders and clerics exploded into the open over the weekend with the arrest of a top environmental official and the prison death of a prominent Iranian-Canadian environmental activist who was arrested last month.

The official, Kaveh Madani, the deputy head of the Department of the Environment, was arrested on Saturday, interrogated, and apparently released on Monday by intelligence agents affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. His department posted an image of him on Twitter during a meeting on Monday with the German ambassador to Iran, Michael Klor-Berchtold.

The arrest of Mr. Madani, 36, an American-educated academic on leave from London’s Imperial College, was particularly embarrassing for President Hassan Rouhani, who had recruited him as a sign the country is ready to welcome back expatriate Iranians.

It was consistent with a series of actions taken by hard-line groups in recent months to publicly humiliate and undermine Mr. Rouhani, analysts say. They are accused of instigating the protests that shook the government around the New Year in an effort to show that Mr. Rouhani’s promises of economic growth were failing. That backfired when the protests spread to 80 cities and anger quickly turned against the Islamic establishment.

The hard-liners had been incensed by Mr. Rouhani’s decision to leak a sensitive government budget document showing generous payouts to support military adventures and conservative clerical organizations while cutting subsidies for the poor and middle class.

Continue reading the main story

“I have never seen the fight between these two factions so open here in Iran, the government versus those who are nonelected,” said Farshad Ghorbanpour, an analyst with close ties to the Rouhani government. “I’m afraid that if solutions are not found, we might see escalation and even clashes in the near future.”

The sparring is taking place against a backdrop of growing public dissatisfaction with the government over the mismanagement of the economy, corruption, bank failures and the powerful sense that people no longer want the government to tell them how to live — symbolized this month by numerous women publicly removing their hijabs to protest mandatory veiling.

With the arrests of Mr. Madani and several environmental activists including Kavous Seyed Emami, the Iranian-Canadian, the fight seems to have expanded into the environmental arena as the government confronts growing fears of water shortages this summer. The activists, some critical of the government for long-term mismanagement of water supplies, have been accused by the Revolutionary Guards of spying.

Photo

Kavous Seyed Emami in a photo provided by his family. Creditvia Agence France-Press — Getty Images

Mr. Seyed Emami, one of the founders of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Iran’s most prominent nongovernmental organization focused on the environment, was quietly arrested along with six associates in January, a spokesman for the family said on Saturday.

The spokesman said that the family had been told that he killed himself in prison after having confessed to spying. The family denies the allegation of spying and doubts he committed suicide, but the prison authorities have so far refused to return Mr. Seyed Emami’s body to the family for a proper autopsy. He was to be buried on Tuesday, and it remained unclear if the family’s wish for an independent autopsy would be granted.

Also unclear is where the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, comes down in the feud between the hard-liners and Mr. Rouhani. Mr. Khamenei has long sought to balance opposing factions to preserve his power, and analysts said he would be unlikely to take a strong stand on one side or the other until he felt he had no choice. On major decisions, like the nuclear agreement and seeking better relations with the international community, he has supported Mr. Rouhani, if grudgingly.

On Sunday, Mr. Rouhani struck back at his opponents, warning the Revolutionary Guards, the judiciary and the clerical councils that his government is considering organizing a referendum to break the deadlock between those who want change and those who want to hold it back.

“Anywhere we may have differences,” he said in a speech at the 39th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, “we should refer to the vote of the people and a referendum.”

While there is little chance of that plan succeeding, analysts say, suggesting a referendum could perhaps help Mr. Rouhani regain popularity among the middle classes who have become cynical over his inability to deliver on years of promises of a more open and transparent economy and greater personal freedoms.

“Mr. Rouhani insists on diverting attention away from his failing economic policies,” said Hamidreza Taraghi, a hard-line political analyst. “The government is not allowed to initiate referendums on everything, only in the case of a stalemate between separate powers. These are just disputes.”

Since the New Year’s protests, the pressure on the two sides has only increased, with the economy dragging and the national currency, the rial, falling sharply in value against the dollar and the euro. The government is having trouble attracting desperately needed foreign investment, because of unilateral United States sanctions and uncertainty over the fate of the nuclear agreement.

In an apparent victory for Mr. Rouhani, the minister of defense, Amir Hatami, said in January that Ayatollah Khamenei had ordered both the regular army and the Revolutionary Guards to sell off economic assets to the private sector. But the arrests and pressures indicate there will be no smooth transition, if any, analysts said.

“This country is in deadlock. I think last month’s so-called-protests were incited and encouraged by government opponents, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps,” said Saeed Laylaz, an economist close to the government. “I think the opponents of Rouhani want to show their teeth after the president has made clear he wants to harness the power and influence of the non-elected parts of the state, including the Guards

Iran: Government Cracks Down On Republican Guards Financial Scams

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE FINANCIAL TIMES)

 

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Iran Add to my FT Iran cracks down on Revolutionary Guards business network Elite force has had to restructure some companies and transfer others to the state Read next fast FT Bahrain prices $3bn, three-tranche bond deal; demand tops $15bn Members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards naval unit march at a parade in Tehran in 2011 © Reuters Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) 3 Save to my FT YESTERDAY by Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps is being forced to shrink its sprawling business empire and some of its senior members have been arrested as part of President Hassan Rouhani’s attempts to curb the elite force’s role in the economy. In the past year, the guards, who have interests in sectors ranging from oil and gas to telecoms and construction, have had to restructure some holding companies and transfer ownership of others back to the state, a regime insider and a government official told the Financial Times. At least a dozen guards members and affiliated businessmen have been detained in recent months, while others are being forced to pay back wealth accrued through suspect business deals, the officials said. One manager of a large holding company affiliated to the guards was arrested a few months ago and cash worth millions of dollars was confiscated from his house, said a businessman who has worked with the guards. A brigadier general — described as the corps’ economic brain — was also arrested this year, but released on bail, the regime insider said. The crackdown, which is being conducted discreetly to avoid undermining the guards — one of the most powerful arms of Islamic republic’s regime — began last year. It started after Mr Rouhani, a pragmatist who has criticised the guards’ role in the economy, told Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, about the vast wealth individuals affiliated to the 120,000-strong force had accumulated, the officials said. “Mr Rouhani has told the supreme leader that the economy has reached a deadlock because of high levels of corruption and the guards’ massive control over the economy,” said one regime insider, who is a relative of the supreme leader. “Other than economic concerns, Mr Khamenei feels the need to save the guards [from corruption] and has naturally thrown his support behind the move.” Khatam-ul-Anbia, the guards’ economic arm, declined to comment. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani (r) receives the official seal of approval from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic republic’s supreme leader, in August after he had won a second term © AP Iranian analysts say corruption involving politically connected individuals and entities is hampering economic development and efforts to boost growth as the country grapples with high unemployment. Two months after he secured a second term in May elections, Mr Rouhani said the guards had created “a government with a gun,” which “scared” the private sector. The president has been seeking to open up the Islamic republic and attract foreign investment since he signed a nuclear accord with world powers in 2015. But he has faced resistance from hardliners within the regime, including the guards, who critics say want to protect their interests. Under the nuclear accord, many sanctions were lifted and Iran agreed to scale back its nuclear activity. The empire There are few public details available about the Revolutionary Guards’ business interests. But some companies are known to be affiliated to the force. These include Sadra Iran Maritime Industrial Company, which builds oil tankers and is involved in oil and gas projects, and Shahid Rajaee Professional Group, one of Iran’s biggest construction companies. One of the guards’ consortiums, Etemad Mobin Development Company, bought Telecom Company of Iran, a state company, for $7.8bn in 2009. Other companies linked to the guards include Ansar Bank and Sepanir Oil and Gas Engineering. The forces’ interests stretch across many other sectors, such as health, agriculture and petrochemicals But the US has retained financial sanctions related to Tehran’s alleged support for terrorism. The Trump administration has also imposed new sanctions on companies and individuals affiliated to the guards. The measures have put off international investors who fear they could inadvertently end up doing business with entities linked to the guards’ opaque empire. There is little public information about the force’s business interests. Khatam-ul-Anbia’s website makes references to the areas it works in, including mining, petrochemicals, health and agriculture, but does not name companies. Some economists and businessmen estimate that the corps’ network of companies could be valued at around $100bn. The guards involvement in the economy is traced back to the end of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s when commanders were rewarded with contracts to build roads, dams and bridges to help reconstruct the country. The force’s business interests rapidly spread during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, a populist hardliner, as the corps was awarded state projects in strategic sectors, including oil and gas. A consortium affiliated to the guards paid $7.8bn for the Telecom Company of Iran, a state entity, in 2009. It has since become a cash cow to fund the corps and its allies, political observers say. Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s rule from 2005 to 2013 was tarnished by widespread allegations of corruption. International sanctions against the Islamic republic were also tightened during his presidency, but that presented those linked to the regime’s centres of power with the opportunity to use their networks to get involved in murky sanctions-busting deals, including selling crude, analysts say. The government official said the guards have so far been complying with Mr Rouhani’s efforts to scale back their economic interests. “Whether he will succeed or not, Rouhani is standing firm and determined to bring the guards under the general umbrella of the economy and give them projects only under certain competitive conditions,” the official said. “The country’s economy is in such a critical state that there is no choice but for the guards to go back to its main military task. The level of unaccountability and power is eating up the whole economy.” Mr Rouhani last month increased the official budget for the corps’ ballistic missile programme and overseas military campaigns in a bid to placate the guards and counter their argument that they need businesses to fund their operations, including in Syria and Iraq. “Rouhani wants the guards to be a strong military body and a powerful antiterrorism force in the Middle East but not to import cosmetics,” said the businessman. The restructuring of the corps’ businesses is being overseen by Major General Mohammad Bagheri, the joint chief of staff of the armed forces, who is responsible for the guards and the conventional military, the regime insider said. That is intended to show that the process is carried out by a bipartisan institution. But the regime insider said the overhaul can only work as long as it has the backing of the 78-year-old Ayatollah, Iran’s ultimate decision maker. “If the guards’ business interests are not rolled back today, they will take full control of the country after the leader’s death,” he said. Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don’t copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web. Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) 3 Save to my FT Latest in Middle East & North Africa fast FT Bahrain prices $3bn, three-tranche bond deal; demand tops $15bn fast FT Tunisia parliament passes controversial economic reconciliation law Qatar counters embargo with $38bn injection Saudi Arabia detains two prominent clerics Saudi Arabia to launch global PR offensive

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani Has Registered To Run For A Second 4 yr Term

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

ANKARA, Turkey — Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, who helped end the country’s diplomatic and economic isolation with a landmark nuclear deal with major powers, registered on Friday to seek a second four-year term in the May 19 election.

Despite remaining faithful to Iran’s theocratic system, Mr. Rouhani has angered hard-liners with his calls for improved relations with the West, more freedom of expression and an easing of strict Islamic rules.

“Once again, I am here for Iran, for Islam, for freedom and for more stability in this country,” Mr. Rouhani told reporters on Friday as he announced his bid.

Mr. Rouhani’s more conservative critics accuse him of having encouraged moral corruption by advocating social tolerance. Some erstwhile supporters who had hoped for radical social changes under his presidency are also critical, saying he has failed to stand up to Iran’s religious establishment.

The president’s constitutional powers are limited. Ultimate authority rests with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Political analysts said they expected Iranian voters to rally around Mr. Rouhani even though many complain that they have seen few economic benefits from the lifting of sanctions.

“Rouhani is still very popular, and he is in a very strong position,” said one analyst, Saeed Leylaz. “People will vote for him to prevent a hard-liner from winning the election.”

Born into a religious family in 1948, Mr. Rouhani, a Shiite cleric, played an active role in the opposition that overthrew the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, in 1979. He has held several sensitive jobs in the Islamic republic of Iran, including representing Ayatollah Khamenei for 25 years at the Supreme National Security Council.

Mr. Rouhani is also a member of the Expediency Council and the Assembly of Experts, two influential advisory bodies in Iran’s multitiered power structure. The latter will choose the country’s next supreme leader.

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