Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 00:46 | SYDNEY
Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 00:46 | SYDNEY

Iran: Why bad haircuts tell you more than CNN

This post is part of the Iranian elections 2009 debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

18 June 2009 10:12

This post is part of the Iranian elections 2009 debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

The author has served as a foreign official in Iran.

We can be sure of very few things about the recent unrest in Iran, but one thing we know is that we aren’t seeing the full picture. Foreign media has been restricted from reporting freely on the demonstrations. For fear of losing their broadcast licence — and hence their ability to report at all out of Iran in the future — they are, with immense frustration, toeing the line. This means that we are left with Facebook updates, Tweets and YouTube videos to see what is really going on.

Judging from what I’ve seen from videos and photos sent to me from friends in Tehran, the violence is serious. What is less clear is how widespread this is. You only have to look at the photos of the vengeful beatings administered by the basij — the regime’s thuggish volunteer militia — to see that almost everyone on the receiving end has a raffish, gelled haircut and brightly coloured clothes. 

Attempts at fashion are the preserve of the North Tehrani elite. Until we see ordinary Iranians in dull, colourless clothes and unfashionable moustaches burning motorbikes, we can surmise that this unrest is limited in participation, and therefore most likely in duration too.

That the protests have lasted this long is surprising. The regime does not lack the ability and the willingness to shut down the demonstrations more forcefully. Clearly, they fear the repercussions of doing so.

This hesitation — and the climbdown represented by the Guardian Council’s announcement that some results will be recounted — is invigorating to the reform movement. In this respect, what has not been said is as revealing as what has been said. The fact that Mousavi has been able to get away for so long without calling for an end to the demonstrations — a demand that has presumably been made of him in no uncertain terms by the regime — shows the degree of strength he feels he has.

He won’t be able to get away with it for much longer. The point has been made, though, and when normal life resumes, Iranians — including the regime — will know that open dissent lies closer to the surface than they thought last week. 

Photo by Flickr user misterarasmus, used under a Creative Commons license.