It intensified when in a provocative speech, Rouhani asked hardliners to stop “interfering in people’s lives.” On the anniversary of his election, he slammed opponents who still “think we’re living in the Stone Age.” This is not new. Even before his election in a largely forgotten interview with the youth magazine Chelcheragh, then presidential hopeful Rouhani hinted that even those who don’t observe the Islamic veil in the “desired way” can be good people. “Before the revolution, many women in our society did not wear the hijab – but were they not virtuous humans?” On the campaign trail, Rouhani vowed to rein in the morality police, an organ the president does not directly control. But attempts to shuffle police commanders and move morality police under the jurisdiction of his own interior ministry have been defeated by more powerful conservative forces in the establishment.
What’s painfully apparent from all this is that it’s summer in Tehran, which in recent memory has meant a renewed push by hardliners who control the disciplinary forces to redeploy the morality police in larger numbers to keep tabs on those who stray from the ambiguously defined public dress code. But as we enter Rouhani’s first full summer as president, it’s clear the presence of the morality police does not approach levels under Ahmadinejad.