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Mahsa Amini has become a powerful symbol of Iran’s oppression of women

The death of a 22-year-old woman arrested by Tehran ethics police last week for allegedly failing to properly adhere to the headscarf has caused new wounds to a scarred nation.

Iran – which has suffered the murders of young protesters demanding more freedom from the regime – has been deeply saddened by the passing of Mahsa Amini, and is currently mourning. The last picture Her life, coma in her hospital bed just days before her death, were all a reminder of the dangers facing Iranian women.

She is not a political activist and has no record of speaking out against social and political restrictions, as many ordinary Iranians do on social media. In her last picture Just before her arrest, Amini, who grew up in a religious, traditional family in the northwestern Kurdish town of Saqqez, looked like a typical happy girl when visiting Tehran with her family. She is preparing to start college this month. The long black coat and a black scarf, revealing only a little hair, did not even violate the rules of the Islamic Republic.

The tragedy of her death could now prove costly for the regime, which has over-expanded enforcement of the Muslim dress code in an attempt to rein in the wave of secular modernity.

The women who resisted peacefully and consistently boundary over the past four decades – and those who dare to walk the streets and eat in restaurants with their headscarves over their shoulders – are now questioning why they should accept religious laws. After Amini’s death, women took to the streets for the first time since the Islamic revolution of 1979, burning their scarves to protest the mandatory wearing of the hijab in towns and cities around the country. country.

Amini’s family alleges she was beaten between being forced into an ethics police car and her transfer to a remedial class because of the necessity of covering up Islam. Police showed CCTV video to prove she got out of the car and entered the classroom seemingly unharmed.

However, the distrust was ingrained and it was people’s perception that prevailed. I asked a few women who had been taken to Vozara – the notorious moral police center in Tehran – if they had witnessed physical and verbal violence used against women. They said yes. They said those who resisted arrest or shouted at police would risk punishment.

Since Iran’s hardliners tightened their grip on power and intensified their repression of women’s clothing over the past year, more and more women have gone through Vozara. This further increased the hatred between women and their families. A friend who has been sent to Vozara a few times this year has vowed to join the protest for the first time, no matter the cost.

Everyone knows that this week’s street protests will not succeed in reversing the obligation to wear the hijab, but people are now encouraged to speak out against the strict enforcement.

In the immediate future, the authorities are cautious. Hardly any high-ranking politicians defended Amini’s arrest. President Ebrahim Raisi promised investigations, saying she felt like his “natural daughter”. High-profile figures across the political sphere have clearly failed to endorse the Ershad patrols – the ethical police surveillance teams now nicknamed death traps. Some hard-line and conservative members of parliament even believe that the street shootings should end well.

Increasingly, women are drawing support from men and religious factions who now sympathize with their campaign. A 46-year-old mother who was arrested on the street and taken to Vozara last month told me she was horrified to hear her 24-year-old son discuss plans with his friends to Burn down ethical police cars to protest Amini’s death. Ali Karimi, a former soccer star, said on Instagram that Iran’s next opposition leader will be a woman.

Since her death, Amini has become a puppet for civil disobedience. Others include Neda Agha-Soltan, a 26-year-old woman shot dead in central Tehran during the unrest in 2009, and Sahar Khodayari, 29, who set herself on fire in 2019 after being sentenced to prison for Dress up as a man to get permission to enter a football stadium.

At Amini’s funeral on Saturday, women took off their headscarves in solidarity. On her grave is a simple message: “You will not die. Your name will become a codename”.

najmeh.bozorgmehr@ft.com

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