Add to the chaotic nature of street protests and heavy-handed government response that have overtaken Iran is the confusion now over if the country will be rid of its oppressive morality police. The enforcers of the ruling mullahs’ concept of public piety first set the demonstrations in motion when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died at their hands after being arrested for not properly wearing her hijab.
Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said last Thursday that the police, who mainly enforce Iran’s rigorous decency laws including around women’s dress, would be abolished, before state media quickly hedged the statement and suggested the decision hadn’t been made.
And the roving squads are still at work, so a suggestion or a promise means little in the streets. Best to heed the protesters’ telling response to the potential revelation about the morality police’s abolishment: instead of jubilation, the announcement was met with dismissiveness, as the demonstrators demand much more sweeping changes to the country’s society and laws. If they try to now walk this decision back, they will only be adding more fuel to the fire of public discontent.
In fact, this should show the ayatollahs that even keeping their minor concessions, whatever they may be, is not going to be nearly enough to keep that fire from growing and consuming them. The abolishment of the morality police is a good start, to be hopefully followed by a rollback of the restrictive hijab laws, which Montazeri also said was on the table.
Yet what the demonstrators have put themselves at great personal peril — at least 300 people have been killed since September, and that’s likely a significant undercount — to show is that this isn’t going to fizzle out until Ayatollah Khamenei and his ultraconservative theocratic government fundamentally release their stranglehold on the state. In practice, this will mean stepping back and allowing other ideological factions to make their case to the public, and accepting this might mean that the Iranian people decide they want something else from their leaders.