An annual test of wills between Irans morality police and women who dress in ways that are deemed unacceptable has begun in cities across the Islamic republic.
But this year, the stakes are unusually high. As Iranian leaders attempt to deflect the publics attention from economic woes spurred by crushing foreign sanctions, they risk alienating large segments of a society that is already deeply divided.
Mandatory female covering known as hijab has been a defining element of Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Although the laws regarding proper cover havent changed, some women have grown bolder in interpreting the limits of what they can wear, creating a conflict that inevitably flares each summer as temperatures climb.
The governments offensive this year has been marked by the stationing of mixed-gender teams of morality police in Tehrans main squares.
In recent weeks, 53 coffee shops and 87 restaurants have been closed in Tehran for serving customers with improper hijab or for other gender-related offenses, such as permitting women to smoke hookah pipes. Concerts have been abruptly canceled because of inappropriate dress and too much contact between male and female fans. Approximately 80 stands at an international food fair were closed last month because, officials said, the women working at them were either breaking hijab rules or wearing too much makeup.
Those arrested face up to two months in prison or even lashing, penalties that have been on the books for years but have rarely been imposed. The aggressive enforcement and stiff penalties have spawned resentment.
Irans sex cops have this weird belief that uncovered hair releases sex rays that drive men wild. One of the strange beliefs of the Islamic religious bigots is that men are not responsible for their conduct when it comes to an impulse to make a sexual assault.