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Women… in the Republic of Sacred Subjugation

Women… in the Republic of Sacred Subjugation

Sunday, 25 September, 2022 - 08:45

In the Middle East generally and in Iran particularly, womanhood is more like a status or concept than a gender. Beyond their repression purely because they are women, the women of the region constitute a point of reference: the governed, in the face of power, resemble women victims of domestic violence in homes governed by male tyranny.

The same could be said of marginalized communities, who are forbidden from becoming independent or seceding just as subjugated wives are forbidden from divorcing their husbands.

For over a hundred years, Arab voices, intellectuals and writers, have been protesting this status quo, demanding gender equality and arguing for women’s right to an education. Our region used to see few bright moments permeate its pitch black darkness until the Khomienist revolution erupted in Iran.

Why 1979, and what makes this development so particular?

The subjugation of women in the Middle East did not start that year, of course, and Iran had not always been a fortress for women’s oppression. In fact, the total opposite is true.

The Shah’s regime, especially with regard to women’s rights, seemed relatively advanced, and it tried to make progress on this front that parallels the progress made through its agricultural reforms, which were dubbed the “White Revolution” at the time.

However, the 1979 revolution, which was led by a man who had been up in arms about the 1963 reforms that addressed women’s status and land distribution in particular, made two dangerous contributions in this regard:

On the one hand, the enslavement of women by the new regime came as part of a revolutionary and republican process. That such processes liberated women and made citizens more equal had been prevalent, even taken for granted.

But this revolution and its republic were founded on the theory of “Velayat e-Faqih” (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist), which appoints as rulers religious clerics led by one among them who is connected to God - an absolute and permanent ruler of the country and its residents by definition.

Instead of granting women the rights that had been reserved for men as revolutions and republics are supposed to, the men as well as the women were deprived of their rights.

Women’s subjugation was thus ideologized in the modern sense of the word, in addition to the old, traditional senses.

“Anti-imperialists” contributed to this ideologization, betraying their loyalty to the values of modernity and equality as they sided with the supreme leader purely because he had been “fighting imperialism.” His program was thereby glued to theirs, and after the Soviet Union and its camp collapsed a decade later on, their relationship became one of total subservience by a single lover.

However, on the other hand, the Khomeinist reaction succeeded, because it exploited religion as a pretext and played up its divine credentials, in backing into a corner the hesitant who had been frustrated with the old but also fearful of the new.

And so, a fierce competition of subjugating women, a feature of the culture of opposing “Western values” that nips every liberating or promising seed in the bud, was introduced to the region.

The corpse of Mahsa Amini recently became one of the two pillars of the scene in Iran. The “morality police” and “guidance patrol,” with all the infantilization of women that they imply, are the second.

Mahsa Amini was condemned twice, once as a woman and another as a Kurd, and this is added to her being a citizen in the Republic of mullahs, which is nothing to be envious of.

As for those who killed Mahsa and those who showed solidarity with her, they rule twice; once as the police in this life and another, as the gatekeepers of morality, in the next life.

It is also another one of the rounds of clashes with the regime. Since the end of the Iran-Iraq war in the late 1980s, which the authorities used to inhibit and suppress contradictions, the conflictual relationship became extremely transparent: every generation uses the regime to practice its protesting, and the regime uses them to practice its repression.

As well as regional and national movements, students mobilized in 1999, and the Green Revolution arose in 2009; then came the economic protests of 2017 - 2018 and the protests over rising fuel prices in 2019, when 304 people were killed and 7,000 were arrested, and after that came the protests of 2020 in response to the downing of a Ukrainian civilian aircraft that killed 176 people.

The decor that comes with these confrontations was very Iranian: on the one hand, we have the speed with which the demands become politicized, the flag burnings began, and “death to the dictator” is chanted, as well as the protests coming closer to the bazaar and their strong symbolic and representative acts, like women cutting their hair and burning mandatory hijabs.

On the other hand, the authorities resort to directly killing protesters, cutting off the internet and other means of communication with the outside world, and mobilizing regime supporters, who should not be taken lightly, neither in terms of their numbers nor the extent of their hostility to freedom and progress. Of course, there are also always announcements that “foreigners” had been apprehended and revelations about a “dubious plot” that are puked out.

If the murder of Mahsa Amini and its implications are not enough to bring down the regime, too many strong signals that can not be overlooked by observers are emerging: in addition to the ever-present pressure on women, the economic situation that is unprecedently dire, regional and national minority issues could potentially rise back to the fore, and the negotiations in Vienna could become a major failure, not to mention the fact we see conflicting news about the health of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the inheritance crisis his death could stir within the ruling group.

It would be no exaggeration to say that Iranian women are shortening the life of the regime, and it could be forced to make concessions either on the foreign relations front or with regard to mandating the hijab and the behavior of the “morality police,” or maybe both.

But in any case, each of the achievements realized by Iranian women is an achievement for the peoples of that nation, rather, for the peoples of the Middle East as a whole.

Long live Iranian women.

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