Last week in the Middle East and North Africa, state authorities continued their imposition of state-sanctioned morality and religious norms and announced new regulations on religious practice. In Iran, state authorities shut down various clothing stores for not adhering to the regime’s compulsory dress code. Meanwhile, in Yemen, pro-Houthi forces issued guidelines detailing a dress code for university students. In Egypt, state authorities announced new guidelines for religious practice for the upcoming Islamic month of Ramadan, which will begin on 2 April. In Palestine, tensions increased between Israelis and Palestinians, especially in Al Quds city, as Israeli forces launched operations to secure commemorations of the two-day Jewish holiday Purim.
Last week in Iran and Yemen, state authorities tried to impose their interpretations of Islamic morals on their citizens. In Iran, police shut down and sealed 16 clothing stores in Lorestan province for selling clothes that did not abide by the regime’s compulsory dress code for women. Authorities sent warning letters to a further 36 businesses and forced them to sign a written commitment to comply with the required dress code. Women are required to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes to disguise the shape of their bodies under the dress code imposed after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution (Reuters, 16 June 2008). The sealing of shops and stores is in line with the regime’s policy of putting pressure on women to observe the mandatory veil while also fighting what the regime calls the “Western lifestyle” (HRANA, 17 March 2022). Also, in Saveh city, Iranian cyber police forces arrested a citizen for publishing “immoral images and videos on social media” (HRANA, 16 March 2022). These arrests in Iran are part of a larger campaign by the regime to impose its interpretation of Islamic values on the populace and to punish those breaking its strict morality laws. Since beginning coverage in 2020, ACLED-Religion records nearly 200 religious imposition events in Iran involving state forces targeting morality-related issues, like women’s attire, gender-mixing, and inappropriate audiovisual content.
In Yemen, the pro-Houthi Dhamar University issued a circular providing guidelines for an approved dress code for men and women university students last week. The circular prohibits various things, including specific haircuts, tattoos, accessories, tight clothes, open-toe sandals, nail polish, nose piercings, and make-up. The stated aim of the circular is to ensure the maintenance of the “religious identity” of society and the general public moral code (Khabar Agency, 14 March 2022). This new circular is the latest in a longstanding campaign by Houthi authorities to impose a moral and religious code that is in line with their interpretations of each.
In Egypt and Iraq, state and religious authorities announced new guidelines for religious practice last week. In Egypt, the Ministry of Religious Endowments announced new coronavirus measures ahead of Ramadan pertaining to religious practice. Tarawih prayer — a prayer held specifically during the Islamic month of Ramadan — will be permitted this year, with some restrictions. These restrictions resemble those issued last year, with Tarawih prayers to be limited to half an hour and only permitted at mosques where Friday prayers are held. In contrast to 2021, though, women will be allowed to pray Tarawih at mosques (Ahram Online, 21 February 2022). In Iraq, the Martyr Al Sadr office in Najaf — a leading Shiite authority — announced that media channels must gain approval from their subcommittees before broadcasting Friday prayers or orations on satellite channels and social media. The reasons behind this decision are unknown.
In Palestine, Israeli operations exacerbated ongoing tensions in the Old City around Purim, the two-day Jewish holiday, which this year ended on the evening of 17 March. Purim is celebrated every year on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar, which generally falls in late winter or early spring (Siasat, 18 March 2022). In Hebron city, Israeli military forces closed the Old City area and forced Palestinian merchants to close their stores. Soldiers also fired tear gas at Palestinian civilians and forced them to leave the area to secure Israeli settler celebrations of Purim. Meanwhile, in the Al Aqsa compound, Israeli settlers entered the site and practiced Talmudic rituals, which are forbidden according to the status quo affirmed in 1967 (Al Jazeera, 14 September 2020). In response, Palestinian religious leaders urged Palestinians to intensify their access to Al Aqsa compound to confront increased Israeli settler activity at the compound during Purim.
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