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“We’ve ended up prisoners in our own lands”

A protestor holding up a picture of Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody in Iran. Ozan Kose/AFP/cGetty

Iran is being rocked by protests in which at least 26 people have died, says Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the I newspaper. The trigger was Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman arrested by “morality police” last week for not wearing her hijab properly. She died in custody, after allegedly being beaten and tortured. It’s a depressing reminder that the autocrats in charge of most Muslim-majority countries “do not give a damn about the human rights of their people”. Iran follows China in Amnesty International’s list of the top state killers, with Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia rounding out the top five.

For all my disdain for “Empire propagandists”, there is a “troublesome” truth to acknowledge. Many people I’ve met in my travels across Asia, Arabia and Africa have “deep disillusionment” with their current governments, and sometimes a nostalgia for British rule. “What, they ask, was the point of freedom if we’ve ended up prisoners in our own lands?” The exploitation of Empire was followed by rulers who, even if they started as genuine idealists, ended up just as “avaricious or divisive”. Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser took on the conservative Wahabi sect and won a military victory against the British, French and Israelis, but even he eventually slid into autocracy and repression. In Iran, the despotic, US- and UK-backed Shah was overthrown in 1979, yet replaced by fanatical religious clerics. “Girls and women have not been free since then.”