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Iran's Khamenei shows no sign of retreat in latest speech

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has shown no signs of relaxing the country’s cultural policies.
An Iranian woman walks past a mural showing Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the capital Tehran on March 9, 2022.

Iran commemorated Student Day on Wednesday to honor three students who were killed under the previous government in 1953. This year, however, the occasion year coincides with protests and calls for strikes from protesters who have been demonstrating since Sept. 16. 

On Tuesday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressed the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, which was established in 1984, and showed no signs that he is ready to show leniency with any of the policies that have caused protests in the country in the last three months. According to Khamenei, the most important task of the council is to “guide the culture of the country and society.” Khamenei urged the council to use its influence to steer the various organizations and groups that operate in the country. The council is compromised of a conservative-led body in addition to ministers of the current administration. 

Khamenei discussed a “cultural invasion” and an “infatuation with the West” that, according to him, the council has combatted. He said one of the achievements of the council was to promote a culture of “sacrifice” in the place of the Western values of “pride and fame.” Khamenei urged the council to use the younger generation in implementing its policies, meaning specifically conservative and revolutionary youth.

One issue Khamenei did not address was the hijab. The current protests started when a young woman was arrested for a loose-fitting hijab and died later in custody. The death sparked protests for the end of the government. According to social media posts, law enforcement has been less strict in enforcing the hijab laws across the country. However, the lack of enforcement appears to be a tactical retreat rather than a change in policy or more leniency. According to Khamenei’s speech to the council, he is not urging, publicly anyway, that officials take a softer approach to cultural issues and enforcement of government policies.    

The protests have resulted in hundreds of deaths, including dozens of security personnel. According to Iran’s judiciary spokesman, Massoud Setayeshi, regarding the 16 individuals involved in the death of Basiji member Ruhollah Ajimian, who was stabbed to death, five individuals received death sentences and 11 individuals receive long-term prison sentences. The 11 individuals who received long-term prison sentences were under the age of 18. Iranian authorities have vowed to pursue those who have caused destruction or deaths in the latest protests and have handed out heavy sentences for those involved.

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