Ahmadinejad aide calls for more women’s rights

TEHRAN - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s closest aide has called for more rights for Iran’s “oppressed” women, the latest controversial comments from a man who has become the lightning rod for divisions in the ruling elite.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Wed 29 Sep 2010, 7:56 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:40 AM

“Women have been oppressed and treated unjustly in our society in the past and this oppression still exists,” Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie, the president’s chief of staff, was quoted as saying by Iranian newspapers on Wednesday.

Iranian women’s rights have long been lamented by activists abroad, most recently over the case of a woman sentenced to be stoned for adultery, an incident Ahmadinejad told Western reporters had never happened and had been hyped by the media.

But Mashaie’s comments are likely to have more impact within Iran where he has often been the focus of ideological and personal rifts among the hardliners who rule the Islamic Republic and dislike what they see as his liberal leanings.

Mashaie’s interview with the semi-official ILNA news agency happened as Iran’s parliament debates a law which, among other things, could give a man the right to take up to three other wives without the consent of his existing spouse.

Under current law consent is required and opponents of the law see it as a retrograde step for women’s rights in a country where already a woman’s testimony in court is accorded half of the value of a man’s.

“Today women play an important role in our society and the current situation of our society is not comparable to the past centuries and decades,” Mashaie said. “We should try to guarantee women’s rights where our religious framework allows us.

“The legislative system should act in a way to take the rights of women into consideration more than ever.”

Mashaie has been under relentless criticism from hardliners since Ahmadinejad’s re-election last year and his comments on a particularly sensitive subject are likely to fuel controversy.

A constant presence at Ahmadinejad’s side, some analysts say Mashaie acts as a buffer, absorbing criticisms from Iran’s hardliners. Ahmadinejad himself is criticised by governments abroad and the Iranian opposition for his hardline policies.

STAYING POWER

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei forced Ahmadinejad to sack Mashaie last year from the post of first vice-president amid outrage from conservatives at his suggestion that Iran was a friend to all nations, including the people of Israel.

But the president, whose son is married to Mashaie’s daughter, managed to hang on to his charismatic political ally by making him chief of staff and appointing him to dozens of other positions, most recently Middle East policy adviser.

Mashaie’s harshest critics accused him of espousing “pagan” views when he spoke at a conference in August of the importance of an Iranian brand of Islam — prompting calls from some 200 parliamentarians for him to be sacked.

Some analysts speculate that Mashaie, having shown remarkable staying power in Iran’s corridors of power, could be a potential future presidential candidate. Ahmadinejad, one year into his second four-year term, cannot run again.

The issue of women’s rights is one which divides the various hardline factions in the ruling elite.

Under sharia law, imposed after the 1979 Islamic revolution, women must cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes. Violators can receive lashes, fines or imprisonment.

Under Ahmadinejad’s predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, enforcement was relaxed and many started to wear figure-hugging coats and headscarves pushed back to reveal their hair.

Since Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005, crackdowns by morality police have become more common.



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