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Iran Attacked Israel While Also Cracking Down on Women Defying Hijab Rules

HomeWARIran Attacked Israel While Also Cracking Down on Women Defying Hijab Rules

DUBAI, April 23 – On the same day that Iran launched an unprecedented military strike against its archrival Israel, the Islamic Republic’s authoritarian government also embarked on a harsh crackdown at home, unleashing police forces to arrest women accused of defying strict hijab rules requiring them to cover their hair in public.

The timing of the two events appears more than coincidental. As Iranian drones and missiles rained down on targets across Israel, the government in Tehran announced a new “Nour (Light)” campaign aimed at enforcing the mandatory hijab law that is a longstanding pillar of the repressive regime.

According to Iranian officials, the hijab crackdown is intended to respond to demands from devout citizens angered by the increasing numbers of women appearing unveiled in public spaces in recent months. However, critics and activists accuse the real motive is to crush any wider civil disobedience and dissent at a time when Iran’s clerical rulers are vulnerable following last year’s nationwide protests.

“It is no coincidence that on the very day of the attack on Israel, police flooded the streets. They were concerned about the resurgence of unrest,” said one human rights activist in Tehran who spoke anonymously due to the sensitivity of the issue.

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Under Iran’s strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law, women are required to cover their hair and bodies in long, loose-fitting clothing whenever they appear in public. Those found violating the hijab rules can face public admonishment, fines, or even arrest.

The mandatory hijab has become a major political flashpoint and rallying cry for Iran’s opposition after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September 2022. Amini died in the custody of Iran’s so-called “morality police” after being detained for allegedly wearing her hijab too loosely.

Her death sparked nationwide protests against the regime that evolved into the worst political unrest faced by Iran’s Islamist government since the 1979 revolution. Despite a brutal crackdown, widespread civil disobedience has continued with many women appearing unveiled in an act of defiance.

As the drone and missile barrage targeting Israel began on April 13, Tehran’s police chief Abbasali Mohammadian announced the start of the new hijab enforcement campaign. “Starting today, Police in Tehran and other cities will carry out measures against those who violate the hijab law,” he declared on state TV.

Soon after, social media was flooded with images and videos appearing to show hundreds of Iranian police and plainclothes security forces taking to the streets of the capital and other major cities. Footage showed young women being violently arrested and dragged into police vans for removing their mandatory headscarves in public.

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The harsh new campaign has drawn criticism even from some within Iran’s political establishment concerned it could further inflame tensions in society. Reformist politician Azar Mansouri posted online: “Right at a time when national solidarity is more crucial than ever, the same ugly scenes (witnessed during the protests) are intensifying with more violence against Iranian women and girls! What kind of policy is this?”

Ali Rabeie, a former labour minister, questioned why the regime would provoke more domestic confrontation just as “Iranian people feel good and are proud about confronting Israel.”

But for Iran’s hardline ruling clerics, crushing internal dissent appears to have taken precedence over avoiding further societal rifts. According to one former moderate government official, the regime adopted a tougher stance to consolidate control as tensions rise with Israel.

“That is part of the rulers’ strategy to consolidate their grip on power when the country faces threats from its arch enemy Israel,” the former official said.

In the days since the hijab campaign launched, not only have women suspected of violating dress codes been targeted, but a wider crackdown on all forms of dissent appears to be underway.

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Opposition news websites report journalists, lawyers, activists, human rights advocates and students have faced arrests, summonses or other punitive measures in recent days. A former lawmaker said the dragnet extended beyond just the hijab issue, stating “we have witnessed a clear crackdown on any sign of dissent.”

For Iran’s ruling Shiite clerics, enforcing adherence to strict religious rules and snuffing out opposition voices is an existential priority as they confront growing domestic and international pressures. Dire economic conditions, crippling sanctions, and the threat of escalating conflict with Israel and the West have all raised the stakes.

By coupling its first direct strike on Israel with an intensified crackdown at home, the Iranian regime appears aimed at project strength and control at a time of vulnerability. Whether through military force against external enemies or suffocating internal dissent through oppression, the clerical leadership is resorting to itsmost authoritarian tendencies to retain power.

However, the very acts of repression risk provoking further backlash and unrest among Iranians yearning for greater social freedoms. The more the regime cracks down, the more it could stoke the flames of rebellion it so desperately seeks to extinguish.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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