The Platform

'Liberty Leading the People' by Eugène Delacroix

“Liberty Leading the People” is a painting by Eugène Delacroix, and it has become a symbol of the French Revolution of 1830, otherwise known as the July Revolution. The painting shows a half-naked woman who is a symbol of freedom leading revolutionaries with the French flag in one hand and a musket in the other.

Roughly 200 years later, Iranians from all walks of life have taken to the streets of cities all over Iran, empty-handed and without weapons. In recent years, protests in Iran have been occurring at much shorter intervals compared to the past. The previous protests in 2019-2020 mainly had economic roots and were held to protest gasoline price increases and the removal of government subsidies. But now it is the root of cultural and social protests.

“While women and girls continue to be the driving force behind the protests, male students, soccer stars and striking workers have added to this show of opposition. This sort of coalition will make it harder for state authorities to suppress in spite of a violent crackdown, experts say,” NBC News reports.

Following the Iranian revolution in 1979, the government made the hijab mandatory for women, according to which women were forced to cover their hair and body in public.

“The government draws on parts of the Quran (Islam’s holy book) and the Hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Mohammad) to justify the [hijab] policy, though Muslim religious writing is not entirely clear on whether women should veil. Islamic dress codes are strictly enforced by the country’s morality police, who prowl the streets in vans detaining people who have ‘inappropriate’ clothing. They are known as gasht-e ershad (guidance patrols),” Euronews writes.

The death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody sparked the most recent protests. Mahsa had just arrived in Tehran and was arrested by the morality police because her hair and clothes were deemed immodest. The police have denied involvement in her death, but Mahsa’s family says she had no prior history of illness. Opponents of the government say that Mahsa died due to head injuries and the images of her in the hospital before her death showed her injuries.

The Iranian government in some ways mirrors the French government prior to its July Revolution in 1830. French women were denied political and social rights. Even today, women in Iran cannot hold certain jobs. In the period before the July Revolution, women were told to be good mothers and wives above all else. Similarly, Iranian women are told to obey their husbands and have babies and it is considered reprehensible for women to remain single.

After the secularization of the French judicial system, women took a step towards equality. They enjoyed financial independence, the right to divorce, and voluntary termination of pregnancy. None of that currently exists in Iran.

In Iran today, the Shiite clergy dominates all facets of life. The July Revolution was a radical rejection of the institution of the clergy and in the recent protests in Iran, most of the slogans are against the clerical class while the protestors demand the resignation of clerics from political power.

During the July Revolution, the basic demand was secularism. The Iranian protestors want the ability to chart their own course and not have their lives dictated by old men whose views of women and basic human rights haven’t evolved in decades.

The protests throughout Iran can be considered a turning point in the demand for women’s equality. The government has outlawed the formation of non-governmental organizations and women’s associations, labor unions, and student associations. Nevertheless, in recent years, Iran’s feminist movement has organized campaigns that have been suppressed. Among these was the “one million signatures” campaign which aimed to collect signatures with the aim of eliminating gender discrimination against women.

The women, men, and girls marching in many Iranian cities are demanding that the role of the clergy be limited to mosques and religious spheres. The protestors are also calling for a complete separation of religion from society. The protestors are demanding equal rights for men and women and do not believe in conservative and religious patriarchy and do not want to “export ideological revolution” to other countries.

In other words, what the Iranians want is exactly what the French were demanding during their July Revolution nearly 200 years ago.

Nozhan Etezadosaltaneh is an Iranian journalist. He has written several articles about the Middle East in Iranian newspapers, including Shargh, Etemaad, Roozegar and Bahar. He is also a PhD student at the Institute for Social and Cultural Studies in Tehran.