Iran’s repression discrediting Shiite Islam among the population

In a country where the regime uses religion to ensure its legitimacy, the repression of the protest movements in Iran that began last September, after the death of a 22-year-old student following her arrest by the religious police, has created negative impressions of Islam in the minds of a part of the population, said Cyrus Schayegh, a professor at the Geneva Graduate Institute, in an interview with Raphaël Zbinden of the Catholic news agency (February 26). But Schayegh also warned against reducing the issues to the religious dimension. “Various religious, ethnic, political and cultural aspects are intertwined,” he said. He pointed out that ethnic minorities that are opposed to the regime, such as the Kurds and Baluchis, also belong to Sunni Islam. However, the repression does have consequences, not only for the stability of the regime but also the perception of Shia Islam in Iran. This is symbolized in the acts of individual women knocking the turbans off Shiite clerics’ heads in the street.

Source: Georgetown University Global Engagement.

According to Schayegh, as early as the Islamic Republic’s establishment in 1979, some mullahs had been concerned about the consequences for religion of being closely associated with the political system. A few representatives of religious circles are now speaking out, “but they are still few in number, and the regime is doing everything it can to silence them.” The core of the regime is not ready to reform, while the reformists within the regime are hesitant about what to do. According to reports, atheism and agnosticism are gaining ground among the population. Other Iranians are turning to Sufism. There is also a known interest in alternative spiritualities (New Age). Still others are embracing Christianity, practicing it in secret, although Schayegh pointed out that it is very difficult to estimate their numbers. Overall, Schayegh estimated that 20 to 25 percent of the population is clearly pro-regime, for various reasons. The majority is in the critical camp, but only a minority is willing to speak out publicly or demonstrate, while all the others remain silent and do not want to take risks. The outcome is uncertain, although a point of no return has probably been reached in Iran’s evolution.