Editor’s Note: A version of this story first appeared in CNN’s Middle East newsletter, a three-week look at the region’s biggest stories. Sign up here.
Abu Dhabi, UAE
A weeping Iranian woman is seen kneeling by the coffin of her dead brother She cuts her hair With a pair of scissors. Her relatives cry out for justice as she hurls at the coffin.
They were mourning 36-year-old Javad Haidari, who was fatally shot at one of the anti-government protests in Iran last week.
Images like these have encouraged women around the world to join Iranian women protesting the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. She died in a hospital on September 16 after morality police pulled her off the streets of Tehran and took her to a “re-education center” for modesty lessons.
From the Middle East, Europe and across the United States, women around the world have shown solidarity with the plight of Iranian women in rallies and demonstrations. Some cut or shave their hair in public or while filming.
Now in their 12th day, the protests have spread to more than 40 Iranian cities, including the capital Tehran. Iranian security forces have cracked down on protesters, arresting hundreds and killing at least 41, state media said. Some human rights organizations put the death toll at 76. CNN could not independently verify these figures.
So why do women cut their hair?
For many Iranian women, cutting their hair – a sign of beauty that is hidden in the Islamic Republic – is a poignant form of protest.
“We want to show them that we don’t care about their standards, their definition of beauty or what they think we should look like,” said Faizeh Afshan, a 36-year-old Iranian chemical engineer who lives in Bologna, Italy. Who was filmed with his hair cut. “It’s to show we’re angry.”
Afshan attributes the practice of cutting hair to historical cultural practices. “In our literature, cutting hair is a symbol of mourning, and sometimes a symbol of protest,” she told CNN. “If we could cut our hair to show we’re angry… we’d do it.”
The practice is mentioned in the Shahnameh, a 1,000-year-old Persian epic written by Ferdowsi and a cultural mainstay in Iran. Comprised of around 60,000 verses, this poem tells the stories of Persian kings and is one of the most important works of literature in the Persian language. In more than one instance through the epic work, hair is pulled out in an act of mourning.
“The cutting of women’s hair is an ancient Persian custom… when the fury is stronger than the strength of the oppressor,” Tweeted Wales-based writer and translator Shara Atashi. “The moment we have been waiting for has arrived. Poetry promotes politics.
In the Shahnameh, after the hero Siyavash is killed, his wife Farangis and the daughters who accompany her cut their hair to protest the injustice, Atashi told CNN.
The characters depicted in the poem are “in everyday use as symbols and archetypes,” she said, adding that poetry has helped shape the identities of Iranians, Afghans and Tajiks for 1,000 years.
“But Hafez and Khaqani’s poetry has a haircut style, always lamenting and protesting against injustice,” she said, referring to other Persian poets.
This practice is also common in other ancient cultures. The Epic of Gilgamesh, a 3,500-year-old poem from ancient Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), covers themes of grief and despair, where cutting or removing one’s hair is used to express pain. The poem is considered one of the oldest works of literature in the world and is said to have influenced neighboring cultures.
Shima Babei, an Iranian activist living in Belgium who said she was arrested in 2018 by Iran’s notorious morality police for removing her hijab in public as a sign of protest, told CNN that the haircut has “historical meaning” for Iranians. Women who lose a direct relative sometimes cut their hair as a sign of grief and anger, she said.
“For us, Mahsa was our sister,” she said. “And so, thus, we are protesting.”
Cutting the hair, Atashi said, “is a ritual of mourning to better reveal the depth of grief at the loss of a loved one.” And in today’s context, she adds, it is a sign of “protest to the killing of our people”.
The Saudi King named MBS as Prime Minister
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz has named his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) as the kingdom’s prime minister and another son, Prince Khalid, as defense minister, Saudi state media said.
- Background: The Crown Prince was promoted from the position of Minister of Defense and was the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia for many years. Khalid previously served as Deputy Defense Minister. MBS said the kingdom has increased its self-sufficiency in military industries from 2% to 15% and plans to reach 50% under the newly appointed defense minister, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported. King Salman will still chair cabinet meetings, the decree showed.
- Why is it important?: MBS has overhauled Saudi Arabia since coming to power in 2017, seeking to diversify the economy away from dependence on oil, allowing women to drive and curbing the powers of clerics. However, his reforms have led to a crackdown on dissent, jailing activists, royals, women’s rights activists and businessmen.
Turkey summons German ambassador after politician likens Erdogan to ‘sewer rat’
Turkey’s foreign ministry summoned the German ambassador in Ankara on Tuesday to condemn comments by a senior German politician who likened President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to a “little sewer rat”. “We strongly condemn the derogatory statements made by German Federal Parliament Vice President Wolfgang Kubicki about our president during the Lower Saxony state election campaign,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgik said in a statement. .
- Background: Kubicki confirmed to Reuters that he made the remarks during an election campaign rally while trying to draw attention to the number of illegal migrants crossing the so-called Balkan route from Turkey towards Germany. “A sewer rat is a small, cute, but at the same time intelligent and cunning animal that also appears in children’s stories,” said Kubicki, citing the popular animated film “Ratatouille” as an example.
- Why is it important?: Turkey is a candidate for EU membership but negotiations have long been stalled by disagreements over a number of issues, including Ankara’s human rights record, migration and geopolitics. Insulting the president is a criminal offense in Turkey, where Erdogan and his ruling AK Party have held power for two decades.
At least 4 Palestinians killed, dozens injured in deadliest Israeli West Bank attacks this year
At least four Palestinians were killed and 50 wounded in an Israeli military strike in Jenin early Wednesday, Palestinian officials said, the deadliest Israeli offensive in the occupied West Bank this year, which has already killed more than 100 Palestinians. The military Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said the raid was related to an attack in Tel Aviv in April that killed three people and on Wednesday the suspects fought back with explosives and artillery fire.
- Background: For months, Israel has been conducting regular raids on cities in the West Bank, with a particular focus on Jenin and Nablus, which it says are targeting militants and their weapons caches before they have a chance to cross into Israel and launch attacks. The operation, dubbed “Breaking the Wave” by the IDF, was launched after a series of attacks on Israelis. At least 20 Israelis and foreigners have been killed so far this year in attacks targeting civilians and soldiers in Israel and the West Bank.
- Why is it important?: This is already the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since 2015, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. More than 35 of the dead were in Jenin. Israel says most of those killed were violently engaged with soldiers during the military operation, but dozens of unarmed civilians have also been killed, human rights groups including B’Tselem said.
Henna, a reddish-brown dye popularly used for body art in many parts of the Middle East, may be making its way onto UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
In the process of being nominated by the UAE and the Arab League, henna is part of Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian heritage and identity.
Dating back thousands of years, temporary dyes have been used primarily to create elaborate designs on one’s hands, often for religious festivals and celebrations.
Representatives from 16 Arab countries met this month to discuss the nomination, according to the Abu Dhabi Government Media Office, citing the important role henna plays in Arab and Gulf culture and identity.
UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List includes both inherited and modern traditions and is intended to promote practices that contribute to “social cohesion” and promote a shared sense of identity.
The list includes practices such as falconry, yoga and Arabic calligraphy.
By Nadine Ibrahim