The Iranian Circus
Ten days to go to the Iranian "elections." Of course Iran doesn't have elections, as we understand the term. It has circuses. Most people don't bother to vote, since they think--with good reason--that the outcome simply reflects the wishes of the only voter whose opinion matters: Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But even so, the "campaign" is quite lively, and some very unusual things are happening. Can we read the entrails of the latest dead chicken?
The main attraction, in the center ring, is the debate between Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mousavi is a former president (back in the eighties) and Ahmadinejad is the current holder. If you believe the polls (and there is no particular reason to believe them), then the first round, on June 12th, will produce a runoff between these two. Mousavi is running as a reformer, although he makes a great deal of his closeness to the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, and he has some support from Ahmadinejad's base, the Revolutionary Guards. But the interesting, indeed the fascinating thing about Mousavi is the omnipresence of his wife on the stump. And a few days ago Mousavi called for equal rights for Iranian women.
It's obvious that Khamenei could put a stop to all that if he wanted to. One message to Mousavi would suffice. Ergo, that message hasn't been delivered. Why?
It's a big question, since granting equal rights, or even some semblance of equal rights, to Iranian women would be tantamount to the subversion of the regime itself. Khomeini was quite explicit on the need to bring the women to heel, to prevent them from teaching boys in school, to cover their hair (which he and his followers believed emitted waves of irresistible sexual energy that would corrupt any and all men), and to limit their rights to precisely half of the men's. Of all the threats to the regime, the demand for women's rights is arguably the most dangerous. Why, then, would Khamenei tolerate this vigorous campaign, on behalf of Iranian women, conducted in large part by a woman? After all, the same regime recently cracked down on the women's movement.