Why Has the Iranian Government Taken the Risk of Reintroducing the Morality Police?


ByNesreen al-Harbi

Against the backdrop of escalating public anger following the death of Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in morality police detention, national protests erupted in Iran calling for the abolition of the morality police. The Iranian political establishment was destabilized and caught off-guard, in addition there was much confusion. The Iranian government resorted to violence to attempt to suppress the wave of anger and protests, however, this was to no avail with protests mounting further, risking the existence of the political system. In light of this escalating pressure, the Iranian government had no choice but to temporarily dismantle the morality police. The hijab is deemed as a political symbol and the bedrock of the Iranian political system, hence it was no surprise when the morality police was reintroduced and resumed foot and vehicle patrols to enforce the hijab on July 16, 2023. This move intended to spread fear among women breaching hijab protocols and entrench the power of the Iranian political system.

Nearly one year after the death of Amini and the subsequent wave of protests and the mounting pressure under the protest slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom,” the Iranian government has been unable to reach an agreement with the Iranian people. The resumption of morality police patrols on the orders of the Iranian president and judiciary has triggered a furious backlash on the Iranian street. To avert this new crisis, the Iranian government claimed that the resumption was upon the demand of the Iranian people who wanted to feel safe and strengthen family bonds. A couple of questions are important to raise here: why did the Iranian government not consider the security and political dimensions of reintroducing the morality police? Why has it allocated a vast budget to the morality police considering the economic crisis facing the country? Supporters and members of Iran’s “hardliner” current advocated the return of the morality police as well as the religious strata in the country. They insist on imposing the hijab and believe that the morality police will enforce hijab protocols and halt any further wave of tensions or confrontation between the Iranian people and the government. They also argue that the morality police can shield Iranian society from immorality, sexual harassment, violations of Islamic values and traditions as well as breaches of public order, and any other consequences that may have arisen from the national protests.

On the other hand, opponents argue that the morality police is a tool of state oppression against the Iranian people, perpetrating injustice and depriving society of freedom and rights all under the pretext of religion. They believe that the Iranian government has resorted to reintroducing morality police patrols at this specific time to distract the Iranian people from demanding their basic rights such as decent living standards.

Despite the risks associated with the reinstatement of the widely reviled morality police, the Iranian government decided to take this decision. The Iranian people may take to the streets again to force the Iranian government to reverse its decision. Iranian politicians who are close to the establishment have warned of a potential backlash that may turn into a social movement led by women and this could threaten to topple the Iranian political system.

Rubbing salt into the wounds, the Iranian government, in addition to resuming morality police patrols, introduced a new bill known as the “Hijab and Chastity Law” which imposes stringent punishments on women for violating hijab protocols including hefty fines and five to 10-year jail sentences. The punishments also include the detention of owners and managers of public places who allow their employees to take off the hijab. This is in addition to closing and banning stores, companies, restaurants, clinics and pharmacies whose female employees do not comply with hijab protocols. The Iranian government introduced this bill to reinforce its implacable stance on the hijab issue and its unwillingness to reverse its decision on the matter. In anticipation of popular outrage, the Iranian government imposed strict security measures across the country’s major cities and deployed 400 security officers dubbed as the “Hijab Observers” to Tehran’s metro.

In a nutshell, the new measures and punishments accompanied with the resumption of morality police patrols, despite warnings of protests restarting, indicate that the Iranian government is unwilling to make any compromises when it comes to the hijab. The government’s allocation of 103 billion tomans to the morality police is reflective of its commitment to the matter. The Iranian people, who reacted with anger to the latest decisions, are waiting for any new violations against women by the Iranian government as happened with Amini. Only time will tell what happens next but what is clear is that the Iranian people are angry and oppose the government’s policies that have failed to remedy the deteriorating socioeconomic conditions.

 Opinions in this article reflect the writer’s point of view, not necessarily the view of Rasanah

Nesreen al-Harbi
Nesreen al-Harbi
Researcher of social studies, Rasanah IIIS