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Mahsa Amini: How Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi braved massive burqa protests despite mass furore

The death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman arrested by the morality police for allegedly flouting mandatory dress codes, triggered mass protests in Iran. The widespread protests brought massive turbulence in Iran's politics in 2022.

Written By: Ajeet Kumar @Ajeet1994 New Delhi Updated on: May 20, 2024 22:30 IST
Mahsa Amini
Image Source : AP Mahsa Amini

Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, who tragically died in a helicopter crash at 63, was a staunch disciple of the nation's supreme leader. Dubbed "The Butcher of Tehran" due to his involvement in the mass executions of thousands in 1988, he steered the country alongside Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, overseeing the enrichment of uranium to near weapons-grade levels and orchestrating significant drone and missile raids on Israel.

The unexpected passing of Raisi, alongside Iran's foreign minister and other officials, docks amidst Iran's grappling with internal discord and navigating its relationships on the global stage. 

Who was Ebrahim Raisi?

Primarily a cleric, Raisi's behaviour often leaned towards that of a preacher rather than a traditional statesman, exemplified by his act of kissing the Quran, the Islamic holy book, before the United Nations, and his rhetoric when addressing the world. He previously ran Iran's judiciary. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 2017 against Hassan Rouhani, the relatively moderate cleric who as president reached Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The leader stood staunchly whenever any controversies surrounded the Middle Eastern nation. In fact, Raisi's leadership was widely praised in the Iranian political arena when he remained unwavering despite a call by Israel to counterattack Tehran.

Mahsa Amini: An incident that could change Raisi's political ambitions 

In 2022, when the death of Mahsa Amini sparked nationwide protests against the country's mandatory headscarf, or hijab, laws and its ruling theocracy, Raisi stood by the Islamic laws even though Western leaders including US President Joe Biden pushed him to alter the morality laws.

On September 16, 2022, Amini, aged 22, passed away in a hospital following her arrest by the country's so-called morality police for purportedly not adhering to the authorities' standards regarding her hijab. Subsequently, she was transferred to Iran's Vozara detention facility for participation in a "re-education class." However, after only 26 minutes into the session, she collapsed, prompting her transfer to a hospital half an hour later, as detailed in the report.

This triggered months of some of the biggest protests against the Islamic Republic's Shi'ite clerical rule ever seen and drew international condemnation.

Following Amini's tragic passing, demonstrations erupted, resulting in the reported deaths of over 500 individuals, including 71 minors, with hundreds sustaining injuries and thousands being detained, according to human rights organisations. Additionally, Iran conducted seven executions connected to the unrest.

During the protests, numerous journalists, lawyers, activists, students, academics, artists, public figures, and members of ethnic minorities, along with relatives of protesters who lost their lives in the turmoil, reportedly faced arrests, summonses, threats, or dismissals from their jobs. 

How did Raisi manage West's pressure after Amini's death? 

Biden acknowledged Amini's role in sparking a significant movement, stating that it had reverberated throughout Iran and beyond. Iran's Foreign Ministry rebuffed Western expressions of support for women's rights within Iran, denouncing them as "double standards and falsehoods."

Iran attributes the unrest to its Western adversaries and dismisses critiques of its legal system, contending that criticisms stem from a misunderstanding by rights groups regarding its Islamic laws. Raisi also denounced the West's judgement and called it Western "double standards" on human rights.

In March, a United Nations investigative panel found that Iran was responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Amini's death after her arrest for not wearing a hijab, or headscarf, to the liking of authorities.

Raisi: A leader who stood by his words

Despite this, Raisi stood by his words and did not alter any laws and rejected West's suggestion to dilute the so-called morality policing. Indeed, in the most recent incident, the Iranian President endorsed a significant offensive against Israel in April. This assault involved the launching of over 300 drones and missiles at the country, purportedly in retaliation for a suspected Israeli strike that resulted in the deaths of Iranian generals at the country's embassy compound in Damascus, Syria. This event marked a further escalation in the ongoing shadow conflict between the two nations, which has spanned several years.

Also Read: Ebrahim Raisi: Iran's 'death committee' President whose ill-fated helicopter crashes in foggy weather

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