Salem Radio Network News Sunday, February 5, 2023

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The Media Line: Strikes Begin in Iran as Analysts Say Regime Shows Signs of Softening

Strikes Begin in Iran as Analysts Say Regime Shows Signs of Softening

Prosecutor reportedly said that the Islamic Republic’s morality police has been abolished,but experts urge caution

By Kristina Jovanovski/The Media Line

Shops across Iran shut their doors as a form of protest, according to social media accounts, as analysts say the regime is showing signs that it is softening after a prosecutor stated that the morality police had been abolished.

Videos and photos of empty streets and stores closed during the day were posted on Monday on the @1500tasvir social media accounts, which tweeted:In continuation of the Iranian nation’s struggle against the Islamic Republic, general strikes of merchants are ongoing today, Dec. 5, including in provinces of Tehran, Alborz, Markazi, Fars, Khorasan, Kerman, Kermanshah, Bushehr, Kurdistan.”

Other users posted videos and photographs of rows full of closed shops at Tehran’s Grand Bazaar.

Protests were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, who died while in the custody of the morality police in September after they arrested her for allegedly violating the regime’s dress code, which includes wearing the hijab for women.

Arash Azizi, a doctoral candidate in history at New York University where he researches the history of socialist and Islamist movements in Iran and the Arab world, said that strikes could potentially threaten the power of the regime

“What would really start to change the game is having strike action that would really paralyze the society in a much more serious manner,” he told The Media Line.

Iran’s public prosecutor reportedly said on Saturday that the country’s morality police had been disbanded.

However, this was refuted in later reports and state media outlets suggested that the prosecutor had been misunderstood, according to The Associated Press.

Azizi said that the statement suggests some people in the regime are considering changing the hijab law; however, it is unclear to him whether the remark was made accidentally.

“There is some indication that some in the regime are seriously thinking of relaxing or changing the way the hijab law is enforced or potentially amending the law itself,” he said.

He added that what is highly significant is that a government body that sets cultural policy is reviewing directives on the hijab.

Azizi, who wrote “The Shadow Commander” about Qasem Soleimani, a top Iranian military commander who was assassinated by the US in 2020, said the current demonstrations are different because of how widespread they are in terms of geography across the country and across different sectors of society and social status.

“The regime is beyond the point in which people could ask for a change in policies,” he told The Media Line.

It really feels like an almost occupying foreign power in Iran that fails to represent Iranians at the most basic level,” he also said.

Iran has seen previous large demonstrations against the government.

Meanwhile, many high-profile figures have shown their support for the demonstrations.

Azizi believes there is a chance that the demonstrations could lead to the toppling of the regime but cautioned that the security forces in the country are perhaps even stronger than in Syria, so such a task would prove difficult.

“Could anyone have imagined that Iran’s national team would not sing the national anthem,” he said, referring to the Iranian soccer team at the World Cup in Doha, which stood in silence as the country’s anthem was played before their first match. “This really speaks to how fed up people are with the regime.”

Brig. Gen. Amit Saar, the top military intelligence analyst in Israel, said on Monday that he expects the regime to outlast the demonstrations. 

Nail Elhan, assistant professor in the Department of International Relations with a focus on Iran at Turkey’s Hitit University, said that while the talk of whether the morality police was abolished has been unclear, it is still positive news for protesters.

“This is a win for Iranians who have been fighting for their freedom for a long time. The regime can be interpreted as showing signs of softening,” he told The Media Line.

US President Joe Biden has repeatedly expressed support for the protests, at one point stating that “we’re going to free Iran.” 

That comment sparked fury in the Iranian government.

Elhan believes outside actors like the US could harm the protest by legitimizing the regime’s rhetoric that the demonstrations are being orchestrated by the West. 

He said that protesters have been accused of being spies for the US or Israel and have faced detention and torture as a result

“Under normal circumstances, international support could provide moral support and legitimacy for such movements. But, I think, the situation in Iran is different,” he noted.“In Iran, the state bases its national and international security discourse on external threats and its domestic collaborators. According to this view, Iran is fighting against the US and imperialism at home and abroad.”

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