Dhe calculation hadn’t worked out, so the about-face followed. “I didn’t say we no longer have a vice squad. I said it no longer exists under its previous name,” Ensiyeh Khazali, the government’s women’s representative, told students at Tehran’s Sharif University. The new unit is called the Moral Security Police. Only on Sunday, the evening before the most recent wave of strikes, did the Iranian leadership announce that the vice squad would be disbanded. Apparently there was an attempt to take the wind out of the sails of the protests. But the announcement fizzled out.
For weeks now, a rapidly increasing number of women in the big cities have not been wearing a headscarf. In order to avert the looming defeat in the Kulturkampf over the veil, the cleric Hossein Jalali, a member of the Iranian parliament’s culture committee, has now warned that the headscarf “will return to women’s hair in two weeks”. First, a woman who violates this should be warned with a short message. If it happens again, your bank card will be blocked. According to the Iranian media, police officers are again arresting more and more women who violate the unchanged headscarf requirement.
But the contradictory statements of the past few days may not only be signs of rapid about-faces – there is much to suggest that they also reflect disagreements within the Iranian leadership. While the conservative clerics insist on enforcing the headscarf on women’s hair, those who are pushing for an end to the protests want at least to relax the headscarf requirement. It is striking that the Revolutionary Guards are holding back on this question. This is taken as an indication that the protests, which have been going on for eleven weeks, are slowly driving a wedge in the hitherto symbiotic relationship between the Shiite clergy and the Revolutionary Guards.
Jalali also reacted to the protest movement’s change of strategy by threatening to block women’s bank cards. She is less and less looking for arguments with the police on the street and is now concentrating on strikes. They take place in large companies and at universities, traders and entire bazaars remain closed. Financial transactions should also no longer be processed through banks in order to weaken the system. The strategy seems to be working. More people took part in this week’s three-day strike than in the last strike two weeks ago. In more than 70 cities, the shops remained mostly or completely closed. The regime reacted by having closed shops sealed or marked with spray cans. Business owners face severe penalties.