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Meet Mrs. Ahmedinejad and Co.

The rise of vociferous female conservatives in Iran.

by
Meir Javedanfar

Bio

January 28, 2009 - 12:08 am
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One of the most notable is Fatemeh Rajabi, the journalist wife of Gholam Hossein Elham, a government spokesman and one of Ahmadinejad’s most trusted confidants. Rajabi sometimes appears in the press more often than her husband. Furthermore, she has openly attacked Rafsanjani’s allies for being corrupt and Ayatollah Khatami for being too liberal and friendly toward the West. She even called for the defrocking of  Khatami. Although many male members of Iran’s political elite have done the same, Rajabi is the first female critic in Iran’s post-revolution history to go so far in her criticism of senior politicians. This has earned her several nicknames. One is “Fatti Arreh,” meaning “Fatemeh the hacksaw.” The other is “Shamsi Pahlevoon,” a nickname given to physically rough women in Iran.

Despite the fact that Ahmadinejad’s wife has been camera shy until recently, she too has had a strong influence on her husband. Although the president of Iran is no feminist, compared to other conservatives in Iran he has championed more rights for women. One of them was his public call to allow women to attend soccer matches as spectators. Soon after, he was subjected to fierce criticism from senior clergy from the city of Qom because they saw it as un-Islamic. Ahmadinejad did not back down until he was forced to by Iran’s supreme leader. Furthermore, during his tenure as mayor of Tehran, Ahmadinejad opened many leisure areas for women, including parks and libraries. Although segregation of men and women is frowned upon in the West and by many Iranians, it must be noted that some women in Iran welcome segregation in buses and parks due to problems such as unwanted physical contact and approach by strangers. Right-wing movements have also increased their recruitment of women for their campaigning and demonstrations. A great number of Baseej (people’s militia) who demonstrated against Israel and Egypt were women.

As the Iranian presidential elections near, we are going to hear more from the female members of Iran’s political arena. Their appearance is not solely for the betterment of human kind. Jealousy and self-interest are also at play. It is believed that one of the reasons why Ahmadinejad’s wife wrote to Suzanne Mubarak is because she did not want to be outdone by Zohre Sadeghi, the wife of Ayatollah Khatami (Ahmadinejad’s chief rival), who two days earlier had written a similar letter to the wife of the emir of Qatar.

Conservative clergy may wish to keep Iran’s women quiet and at home. However, it looks like the conservative non-clergy politicians who should back them are actually turning against them.

Sixty percent of Iran’s university graduates are women. It’s only a matter of time before they can slowly claim their deserved place in the government and society of their country.

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