We all know that Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is an extremist politician. He knows it, and is in fact proud of it. He sees radical conservatism as part of his character, and speaking his mind, no matter who he offends, as part of his job. This is why Ahmadinejad has repeatedly denied the Holocaust, despite the fact that it offended the world’s Jewish population. This is also why he cast doubts on the US version of September 11, despite the fact that many Iranians sent messages of condolence to American people on that sad occasion, as means of sympathizing with them in their hour of pain.
What we don’t know is that the same Ahmadinejad prides himself on being a good father. This is something he talked about during his electioneering campaign prior to the 2005 presidential race. On a number of occasions he talked about his daughter, who is an electrical engineer, his son Mahdi who is a Civil Engineer (like his father), and his younger son Alireza, who is an internet addict, and a mechanical engineering student.
On 15th of April, the proud father had a good reason to celebrate as Mahdi, his oldest son and second child got married in the holy city of Mashhad. It was the second marriage in the Ahmadinejad family. The first was that of his daughter who got married in August 2006. That time Ahmadinejad barely made the wedding, as he was on a trip to Malaysia until hours before.
The bride, whose first name wasn’t mentioned in the Iranian press, is the daughter of Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, the head of Iran’s Tourism and Cultural Heritage Organization, and one of Ahmadinejad’s deputies.
Mr Mashai wanted the ceremony to be held in a traditional wedding hall with the usual festivities. However, according to Farda news, Ahmadinejad refused. Being a believer in the concept of Sadeh Zisti, meaning ‘simple living’ Ahmadinejad insisted on a very basic religious ceremony. All in all, 45 guests were invited. 25 women and 20 men. In accordance to strict Islamic tradition, men and women were separated. The ladies were placed in Mr Mashai’s house, while the men were moved to his neighbour’s house.
If the pictures from the wedding are to be believed, then one has to sincerely hope for the bride’s sake that she embraced these Spartan choices, and were not forced out of her dream wedding by a dictatorial father-in-law.
A banana, orange, apple, and a piece cake as food for the entire evening, without any dinner, is not the typical way many Iranian couples like to celebrate their special night. Iranian weddings, even those belonging to the poor are usually big blowouts where guests are treated with plenty of food. In some parts of Iran, such as the Lorestan province, weddings can even last up to a week, with lunch and dinner served to all guests.
Despite its simplicity, the wedding was not completely uneventful.
Two days before the event, the 51-year-old Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had a sudden, noticeable drop in his blood pressure. Taking no chances, his entourage summoned medics, who told him to cut down on his workload.
Meanwhile, the day after the wedding, the bride’s father, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai a high-profile official in the city of Mashhad, had troubles of his own – a political demonstration.
In what must have been an embarrassing gesture, religious officials, and even groups who support Ahmadinejad called for his resignation. The saga started with a complaint from the city’s Friday prayers Imam who had earlier said that Mashai had done very little to improve the tourism infrastructure of Mashhad. As part of his reply, which infuriated the demonstrators, Mashai had said to the Imam that he will be judged by the lord on judgement day, irrelevant of whether he is a clergy or not. So far, despite the demonstrator’s calls, the father of the bride has still not resigned.
This is not the first time that calls have been made for Meshai’s resignation. In 2006, he was part of an Iranian tourism delegation to Turkey, which was filmed in a ceremony where alcoholic drinks were served, while a scantly clad dancer was dancing in the middle of the room. While calling it “an enemy plot”, Meshai told a reporter that he had no plans to resign, as his positions were “the same as the president”, and that he could best serve his boss by staying in his job.
Who knows? Maybe part of the reason why Ahmadinejad keeps protecting Meshai is that, despite his conservative image, he enjoys the colorful tales of his trip to Turkey, and the entertainment he received there. Either that, or Ahmadinejad thinks that he is good at his job. Or maybe, you just don’t mess around when it comes to family.
Meir Javedanfar is the co-author with Yossi Melman of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran. He runs Middle East Economic and Political Analysis (MEEPAS).