Keeping out the Kardashians: Iran’s latest crackdown

May 21
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Kim Kardashian, head of the conspiracy to undermine the Islamic revolution, according to Iran's hardliners
Kim Kardashian, head of the conspiracy to undermine the Islamic revolution, according to Iran's hardliners

Financial Times 
Friday, 20 May 2016

Kim Kardashian, the American reality television star, may be famous around the world for her revealing pictures on social media but for Iran’s hardliners, she has a more sinister identity as the face of a modelling conspiracy threatening the security of the Islamic Republic.

Mostafa Alizadeh, a spokesman for the state-run Centre to Combat Organised Cybercrime, this week alleged that Ms Kardashian had collaborated with Instagram, the social media platform, to encourage Iranian women to post images of themselves violating obligatory Islamic dress code and undermining the country’s morals.

The plot, he said, was masterminded by some Gulf Arab states and Britain, who deployed “serious financial support” to target women and young people.

To counter the threat, ‘Operation Spider II’ was launched. Some 150 beauty salons and photo studios in Tehran were shut down and around 30 models, make-up artists and photographers were prosecuted — eight of whom remain in detention.

The incident was more than just a tussle over dress codes.

Hardline segments of the Iranian regime — mainly based in the Revolutionary Guards, the judiciary and the outgoing parliament — believe that despite last year’s nuclear agreement, the US wants to bring about regime change in Tehran, through a ‘soft’ campaign encouraging young people — and women in particular — to challenge the Islamic revolution’s ideology through social media.

But reformists say the crackdown, which has also seen some concerts cancelled and occupants of cars stopped for ‘un-Islamic’ behaviour, is part of an increasingly tense power struggle between hardliners and moderate forces close to president Hassan Rouhani, who seeks re-election next year.

“Hardliners are targeting people’s hope in reforms and reformists,” said one pro-reform analyst. “The main intention is to make people become disappointed with Mr Rouhani and show that his presidency has brought them nothing but more social and political restrictions.”

One of Ms Kardashian’s supposed co-conspirators, Elham Arab, who posted pictures of herself on Instagram modelling wedding dresses, this week appeared in court, her long blond hair tucked modestly into a black scarf. In a televised ‘confession’ she spread the hardline message.

Hardlinersare targeting people’s hope in reforms and reformists . . . to make people become disappointed with Mr Rouhani and show that his presidency has brought them nothing but more social and politicalrestrictions.

“Instagram helped massively in this [moral] deviation,” Ms Arab said, adding that she had “voluntarily” decided “to share a bitter experience with other girls” about a business which brought “regret” and an income that was “not worth” the lost dignity and destroyed the prospect of marriage.

Other women have also borne the brunt of the hardline campaign. An unusually heavy sentence was imposed on Narges Mohammadi, a human-rights activist who was sentenced to 16 years of jail last week. Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who has sided with pro-reform groups, has also been threatened with prosecution after she posted pictures of herself with followers of the Baha'i, an outlawed offshoot of Shia Islam.

But the crackdown has failed to convince many ordinary Iranians that the hardliners are motivated by religion or even ideology.

A woman teacher in the capital said: “This is a country where prostitutes freely advertise on social media and look for customers in the streets, but educated and professional women end up in jail.”

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