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Did Iran Actually Abolish Its Morality Police?

Vague remarks made by Iran’s attorney general have been met with confusion and skepticism.

By , a reporter at Foreign Policy.
People protest against the Iranian regime in Istanbul.
People protest against the Iranian regime in Istanbul.
A protester holds a photo of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini as another waves Iran’s former flag during a demonstration against the Iranian regime and in support of Iranian women in Istanbul on Oct. 2. BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at the controversy surrounding Iran’s notorious morality police, El Salvador's crackdown on gang violence, and the world this week. 

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What Actually Happened to Iran’s Morality Police? 

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at the controversy surrounding Iran’s notorious morality police, El Salvador’s crackdown on gang violence, and the world this week. 

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


What Actually Happened to Iran’s Morality Police? 

Iran’s notorious morality police force may have been disbanded, Iranian Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri suggested on Saturday in vague and ambiguous remarks that have been met with confusion and skepticism. 

Montazeri had been responding to a question about the force, which enforces Iran’s conservative dress code and appears to have been less publicly active in recent weeks. 

“The morality police has nothing to do with the judiciary, and it was abolished by those who created it,” Montazeri said, adding that the judiciary is continuing to monitor behavior. He did not offer further details or any explanation. 

Without separate corroboration, as of Sunday night, it remained unclear if the force had actually been abolished. Montazeri does not direct the morality police, state media said, and some outlets said foreign media have taken his words out of context, the Washington Post reported

“It’s not 100 percent sure that this is a done deal,” Alex Vatanka, director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute, told Foreign Policy on Sunday. “It could be that they’re just testing the waters to see how it will be received by the protesters.”

Iran’s most recent wave of anti-government protests erupted in September when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died while in the force’s custody. In the months since, security forces have launched a deadly crackdown to stamp out dissent, though the defiant demonstrations still show no sign of slowing. This week, protesters have planned a three-day strike

On Sunday, Iranian lawmaker Nezamoddin Mousavi appeared to strike a conciliatory tone toward protesters, reportedly saying Tehran believes “paying attention to the people’s demand that is mainly economic is the best way for achieving stability and confronting the riots.”

The “Iranian regime is still very much in the thinking and planning stages. They know what the problems are; they don’t know what the solutions ought to be,” Vatanka said. “They’re worried that if they make the wrong kinds of concessions, that this protest movement will feel emboldened.”

In an interview on CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed his support for Iran’s protesters—sentiments also echoed by Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s Iran envoy, in a recent FP Live conversation with FP’s Ravi Agrawal. 

The U.S. position is “one of support for the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people and for their fundamental freedoms and rights that all citizens across the globe should enjoy,” Malley said. “We have made clear we are mobilizing international attention and putting the spotlight on what’s happening in Iran at a time when the Iranian regime is trying to hide and distort what’s happening.”


The World This Week

Monday, Dec. 5: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meets his counterpart from Azerbaijan, Jeyhun Bayramov.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog visits the United Arab Emirates. 

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visits India. 

Tuesday, Dec. 6: South African lawmakers debate holding impeachment proceedings against President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Lavrov meets his counterpart from Turkmenistan, Rashid Meredov.

Wednesday, Dec. 7, to Friday, Dec. 9: Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Saudi Arabia. 

Friday, Dec. 9: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meets Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas.


What We’re Following Today

Russian oil price cap. The European Union, G-7, and Australia have agreed to a set a $60 per barrel price cap on Russian crude oil in a bid to deprive the Kremlin of crucial revenue; the cap is set to take effect today

On Saturday, the Kremlin said it would not accept the cap, further underscoring uncertainty about how effective it will be in practice. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has criticized the cap as “weak.” Negotiators were “trying to avoid hard decisions,” he added

El Salvador’s gang violence. El Salvador has deployed 10,000 police and soldiers to extract gang members in Soyapango, a town known for its significant gang presence, in its latest clampdown on gang violence. “Soyapango is totally surrounded,” President Nayib Bukele tweeted. “8,500 soldiers and 1,500 agents have surrounded the city, while extraction teams from the police and the army are tasked with extricating all the gang members still there one by one.”

Since announcing a state of emergency in March, authorities have arrested more than 50,000 people accused of gang involvement. Rights groups have warned of major human rights infractions, including arbitrary detentions and torture.


Keep an Eye On 

South Korea’s labor protests. Protests swept Seoul on Saturday, days after the government ordered 2,500 striking truck drivers of cement to resume working—or face potential jail time or hefty fines under a controversial law. Of the thousands of protesters, many were part of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. For more than a week, more than 20,000 truckers have been on strike for improved minimum wage protections.

Indonesia’s regressive new laws. Indonesian lawmakers are expected to approve a new criminal code that would ban sex outside of marriage, disparaging Indonesia’s president and institutions, and living with a significant other prior to marriage, Reuters reported. The code will likely pass on Dec. 15

“We’re proud to have a criminal code that’s in line with Indonesian values,” Edward Omar Sharif Hiariej, Indonesia’s deputy justice minister, told Reuters. Human Rights Watch’s Andreas Harsono warned it would be a huge “setback to Indonesian democracy.”


This Weekend’s Most Read

Sanctions on Russia Are Working. Here’s Why. by Agathe Demarais

Why Switzerland vs. Serbia Is Really All About Kosovo by Aleks Eror

China Has India Trapped on Their Disputed Border by Sushant Singh


Odds and Ends 

Soccer players weren’t the only ones battling for victory in Qatar last Friday. On the sidelines of the World Cup, another tournament was also underway: a camel beauty pageant.

With a prize of $55,000, the stakes were high. In the past, people have gone to extreme lengths to ensure that their camels are as beautiful as can be. Last year, more than 40 camel contestants were banned for receiving Botox treatments and undergoing other prohibited cosmetic procedures.

Christina Lu is a reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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