ABSTRACT

Twenty years after the term ‘civil society’ was reimagined to describe a new form of progressive politics, the largest movements in Iran and the region are movements that combine nationalist, anti-imperialist, reformist, secular and religious frameworks which aim to challenge political elites and to fundamentally alter the policies of states. This chapter, as the conclusion to this book, locates the Iranian women’s movement within the wider movement for democracy in Iran. Thus, I discuss this movement in the context of the literature on women, activism, civil society and social movements. A number of recent studies of movements in the Middle East have articulated criticisms of the clash of modernity and tradition and attempted to move beyond culturally based explanations of movements (El Mahdi 2009: 1011-39; Naghib 2009: 155-74; Dabashi 2008; Bayat 2005: 891-908; Abdelrahman 2004; Wiktorwitz 2004; Hafez 2001). However, mainstream discourses on movements in the Middle East have largely remained mired in exceptionalism and culturalism. I argue that theories which posit progressive movements as purely Western and secular have a blind spot regarding movements in the Middle East. These are dynamic and significant mass movements which are playing an important role in the struggle for gender equality and democracy in Iran and other countries in the region. They also serve to remind us that a dynamic view of the role of religion in movements can reveal how political elites use religion to legitimise their rule and how social movements such as the women’s movement in Iran can reframe the language of religion in order to resist political and patriarchal domination.