This code has expired and is no longer valid

Iran’s Hijab Protests Have Lit a Fire the Regime Can’t Put Out

Iran’s Hijab Protests Have Lit a Fire the Regime Can’t Put Out
Anti-riot police arrive from behind a burning trash bin during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, Tehran, Iran, Sept. 20, 2022 (photo by an individual not employed by the AP and obtained outside Iran, via AP Images).

On Jan. 6, 1978, the semiofficial Iranian newspaper Ettela’at ran a frontpage editorial disparaging the exiled but increasingly influential Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, reportedly at the direction of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, then the ruling monarch of Iran. In the grand scheme of the Shah’s reign, the editorial might have ended up being a historical footnote, yet another state-backed effort to tarnish a leading critic. But as fate would have it, this editorial proved to be the spark that set off the powder keg, outraging Khomeini’s followers and setting off a chain reaction of protests that ultimately led to the downfall of the shah’s regime, the rise of Khomeini and the birth of the Islamic Republic.

Today, more than 43 years later, another seemingly innocuous spark has catalyzed a similar explosion of popular outrage toward the clerical system that supplanted the shah. On Sept. 17, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died after being taken into custody by the Iranian police’s “guidance patrol,” which is tasked with enforcing the theocratic government’s mandatory hijab law. The law requires women to cover their hair with a scarf and wear loose-fitting clothes and an overcoat around their bodies.

For the Islamic Republic, which since its inception has locked up and executed thousands for their political beliefs, Amini’s death may not seem like the kind of event that could seriously undermine its authority. But it has set off a renewed wave of nationwide protests that could become the largest the country has seen in years. At a minimum, these protests create a serious new crisis for conservative Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who has been in office for a little over a year and whose success is vital for the Islamic Republic’s future.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article as well as three free articles per month. You'll also receive our free email newsletter to stay up to date on all our coverage:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having your own personal researcher and analyst for news and events around the globe. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of 15,000+ articles
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday
  • Weekly in-depth reports on important issues and countries
  • Daily links to must-read news, analysis, and opinion from top sources around the globe, curated by our keen-eyed team of editors
  • Your choice of weekly region-specific newsletters, delivered to your inbox.
  • Smartphone- and tablet-friendly website.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review