Iran's contentious hijab legislation has been shuffling back and forth between the parliament and the Guardian Council behind closed doors for months, despite hardliners stressing its urgency.

The spokesman for the Guardian Council, the constitutional body tasked with vetting legislation for compliance with Sharia or the Constitution, announced on Thursday that the Council has once again sent the bill back to the parliament for amendments — marking the fourth time. As in previous instances, Hadi Tahan-Nazif provided scant details regarding the specific changes required by the Council.

The bill generally referred to as the Hijab and Chastity bill, passed the parliament in September. Originally drawn up by the government of President Ebrahim Raisi in July 2023, it has undergone many changes by ultra-hardliner lawmakers who took advantage of the provisions of Article 85 of the Constitution to delegate the power of legislation to the Judicial Committee to avoid debates on the floor.

Analysts suggest that the ultra-hardline Council's reluctance to swiftly approve the legislation, contrary to the expectations of their political allies in the parliament, is not driven by public objections to its provisions. Instead, it likely arises from concerns about the potential political and security ramifications of enacting the legislation, among the highest levels of power.

Hijab enforcers harassing women at a beach in Babolsar, northern Iran

Tahan-Nazif also denied the recent claims by a hardline lawmaker, who said earlier this week that all state bodies involved in the matter of hijab legislation and enforcement, including the Guardian Council, had jointly decided to use cash fines as the primary means of forcing defiant women to comply with compulsory hijab.

The parliamentary committee in charge of the matter is under the sway of the Paydari (Steadfastness) Party. The party has its tentacles in all government institutions including the parliament where their members form an influential minority that often takes a leading role amid the weak presence of established conservative and reformist parties.

The legislation proposes various penalties including heavy cash fines for women who do not abide by the prescribed dress code.

Previously, lawmaker Mojtaba Karbasi had announced that first-time offenders would face a fine of 30 million rials (approximately $50), which would be deducted directly from their bank accounts without requiring their consent. Repeat offenders would face a fine of 240 million rials (around $400).

These are substantial amounts given the fact that ordinary monthly salaries hover around $200-250.

On Thursday the media reported that Seyed Mohammad Sadr, a member of the Expediency Council, has warned about the consequences of enacting the hijab legislation.

Women dancing at the very busy Tajrish Square in northern Tehran on New Year’s day

"The dissatisfaction of the people, especially women who constitute half of our society and the majority of whom adhere to Islam and the Islamic Revolution, will escalate if this bill is implemented. They will turn against the system (regime), leading to serious hazards," warned Sadr, who previously served as an advisor to reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

Sadr also criticized lawmakers’ plans to levy cash fines on women for unveiling or inadequate observance of hijab and to deduct it directly from their bank accounts without requiring their consent.

"This proposal will compel everyone to withdraw their deposits from banks and lose trust in the banking system. It will not only result in cultural harm and erode trust but also cause economic damage and lead to the bankruptcy of banks," he warned, seemingly alluding to social media calls urging people not to trust banks if they allow the government to infringe upon individuals' control over their bank accounts.

Since March 2023, hardliners have attempted to end women's increasing defiance of compulsory hijab and reclaim lost ground through various instructions to government bodies, but their efforts seem to have hugely backfired as the number of women who refuse to abide by the current rules has very noticeably increased since then.

The increase in the number of women appearing in public without veils, compared to the previous practice of partially covering their hair, was evident during this year's New Year (Norouz) holidays.

Celebration of the ancient festival, dancing in public, and unveiling, all despite the fasting month of Ramadan, went hand in hand in many places as a form of civil disobedience this year.

Videos shared on social media depict women in markets, beaches, and streets, including many traditional and conservative areas, with their hair openly displayed. Some videos also capture instances where men and women in black veils, protesting against the defiance of hijab, receive unabashed criticism from passersby and members of the public.

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