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Big protests over little scarves are threatening to destabilize the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In mid-September, Iran’s morality police arrested Mahsa Amini, 22, for allowing a few strands of hair to escape her scarf, violating laws Iranian officials say are necessary under their orthodox Islamic views. Hours later, after she was put in a re-education center, she was admitted to the hospital “without any vital signs and brain-dead,” reported Time magazine.

Within hours of the public seeing images of Amini, dying in a hospital bed due to head trauma, protests were erupting across the country like wildfire. Led by women, the protesters carried pictures of Amini, burned their headscarves and shouted “woman, life, freedom.” They burned images of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iranian police clashed with the demonstrators, arresting at least 1,200 people, CNN wrote. At least 76 have died, the BBC reported.

Protests have swept Iran in recent years. But they have reflected discontent over economic issues and concerns about election rigging. These new protests are more serious because Iranians marching in the streets are challenging the theocratic social rules that govern Iranian society. That’s why they might leave a permanent mark on Iranian society, Foreign Policy magazine noted.

Iranian leaders have blamed American-based provocateurs for seeking to destabilize the country. “Washington is always trying to weaken Iran’s stability and security although it has been unsuccessful,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry told Reuters.

They may have a point. According to the New Yorker magazine, a 46-year-old Iranian dissident journalist and mother, who works from an FBI safe house in New York City, has orchestrated a social media campaign that has helped spur and coordinate the protests.

Iran also targeted their Kurdish community – Amini was Kurdish – by conducting strikes across the border on the headquarters of three Iranian Kurdish opposition parties, killing 13 and wounding 58, including children, the Washington Post reported.

Analysts say the blame-game by Iranian officials is pure deflection, calling it an uprising “by the Iranians, inside Iran, against the Iranian regime.”

Hardline President Ebrahim Raisi helped trigger the protests with his recent crackdown on moral crimes like women failing to wear their headscarves properly, or at all, the New York Times reported. Under the previous president, moderate Hassan Rouhani, the police didn’t zealously enforce such laws.

But now, millions of women are harassed for “improper hijab,” according to human rights groups. Meanwhile, “numerous” women are serving more than a decade in prison for failing to wear a headscarf, reported Amnesty International.

Raisi has even used facial recognition technology to catch women flouting the law, the Washington Post added. Under his rule, officials beat a girl who was identified in a video as not wearing a scarf, then compelled her to apologize on public television.

Observers don’t think the republic will fall due to the protests. But if it does, they fear the chaos that would result, citing how civil war often followed when authoritarian governments in the Middle East fell during the Arab Spring, the Intercept wrote. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps might impose military law rather than allow a democratically elected leadership to replace the country’s current leaders.

Who would have thought a scarf would cause so many problems?

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