In Iran, walking your dog is a symbol of resistance

Dogs lead a gray life in Iran, where their ownership is technically prohibited by Islamic law yet grows popular among the urban upper class. After ordinances were passed three years ago, those who brought their dogs outside risked having their pet seized by authorities and paying a heavy fine. Though these laws are not always enforced, dog walking has thus became a brazen display of rule breaking, and is one of the phenomenons to look for as Iranians test the waters of public life under the new administration.

Despite the harsh penalties the regime officially imposes on activities deemed seditionist or un-Islamic, many aspects of civic life fall into a no-man’s-land whose borders fluctuate with the political tide. The line between “forbidden” and “tolerated” was indistinguishable even under conservative rule, and Iran’s recent change of leadership has eroded it even further. Three months after his election victory, President Hassan Rouhani’s promises of moderation have created hope, but also thrust society into a state of uncertainty.

On the squares of Tehran, the moral police continue to comb the crowds for violators of the Islamic dress code, and the roads are lined with Basij ready to apprehend evening revelers who stray from the law, as on 10 October in the southern Iranian city of Kermanshah, where they arrested at least 17 members of a “network of homosexuals and satanists” at a private party.