A new force of up to 70,000 ‘moral police’ are set to flood the cities of Iran in an attempt to battle the perceived “Western cultural invasion” of the country. The new force will have the power to fine or arrest citizens wearing necklaces, having ‘decadent’ western haircuts or keeping dogs as pets.
With the height of summer fast approaching, there is friction between those who want to wear looser, more comfortable clothing and hard-line elements that want to see tighter head-scarves and trousers that cover the ankle.
Critics of the new measures suggest they are merely a tool to crush any potential political dissent dressed up loosely as a religious and moral crackdown, designed to instil fear and panic amongst the wider population. The creation of the ‘moral police’ also highlights some of the political tensions and inconsistencies within the leadership of Iran as authority comes from the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and not President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has publicly stated that he does not approve of the crackdown.
Instead, Ahmadinejad has been appealing for members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which is made up of a number of ex-Soviet states and China, to form a more united front against the ‘colonisers and enslavers’ of the West.
The Social crackdown comes just days after the second anniversary of the 2009 election protest which was marked by a silent rally in central Tehran where hundreds of people took to the streets without banners or slogans and said they were simply going for a walk. The authorities however still dispersed the crowds through baton charges and tear-gas. Iran currently seems a State increasingly uneasy, insecure and paranoid with a wave of high-profile violent sex crimes gripping the country and the suspicious death of opposition activist Hoda Saber whilst on Hunger strike. As yet the underlying tensions have not sparked into anything on the scale of what has been seen in the rest of the Arab world.
However, Iran looks to Syria, it’s greatest ally, with extreme anxiety as any change of regime there would have a major knock-on effect in Tehran; the longer the protests there escalate, the greater chance opposition groups in Iran will be able to display solidarity.
Time will determine the success or failure of Iran’s new dress code. Its wider and more significant aim is to maintain the regime and protect it from attacks from below. Early indicators from Al-Jazeera interviews on the streets of Tehran, however, suggest increasing irritation and anger at what are seen as unnecessarily draconian measures.