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What to Wear? State-Run Daily Stirs Controversy with Special Hejab Section

15 Aug 2011 05:30Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Daylight Time (IRDT), GMT+4:30

KalhorShadow.jpg5:30 a.m., 24 Mordad/August 15 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:
Iran, the newspaper published by IRNA, the official state news agency, which has ardently backed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has provided the latest spark in the confrontation between the president's supporters and his adversaries. On Saturday, Iran published a special section, called Khatoon Nameh (The Book of Khatoon -- lady), about Islamic hejab. It included an interview with Mehdi Kalhor (pictured), who used to be a senior adviser to Ahmadinejad and one of the strongest supporters of the president and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. Kalhor claimed that the black favored by the hardliners for the chador (the head-to-toe Islamic cover for women) was something that the Qajar king Naser al-Din Shah (1831-96) brought to Iran after a trip to France where he saw women wearing black clothes at lavish nighttime parties. "From a philosophical viewpoint," Kalhor added, "chador is the worst type of hejab." That has angered Ahmadinejad's many foes among the hardliners. (The conservative website Fararu, associated with Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, has run a pair of cartoons relating to the controversy. In the first -- seen on our homepage -- the woman says, "What gall. She's out without hejab!!" [The apparent point is that the two offended women, while technically observing hejab, are dressed much more immodestly.] In the second, the woman says, "One must have a clean stomach [conscience].")

Majles deputies reacted swiftly and angrily to the special section. Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, who heads the parliament's clerical bloc, asserted that what Khatoon Nameh said about hejab is against Islamic teaching. Another deputy, Zohreh Elahian, said that 21 deputies have signed a letter demanding that parliament summon Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini for questioning. After a cabinet meeting, Hosseini said that he would take part in a television interview to speak about Khatoon Nameh and Iran.

According to Nasim Online, a website that publishes brief news items about important issues, the commission that monitors the press will convene on Monday to decide whether to order Iran to cease publication. Javan, the mouthpiece of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, detailed what it called "the ten goals of the 'perverted group' [the hardliners' epithet for Mashaei and his inner circle] in publishing Khatoon Nameh," including creating a distraction to lessen the pressure on itself and polarizing the society. Nedaye Enghelab, another hardline website, similarly claimed that the goal of publishing Khatoon Nameh was "to polarize the society and support the bad state of hejab in the country." Jahan News, the website published by hardline Majles deputy Alireza Zakani, called Khatoon Nameh's "insult" against women and hejab "unprecedented." Farda News said that Khatoon Nameh had mocked the plan for the enforcement of hejab. Raja News, which used to be one of the strongest media supporters of Ahmadinejad, also said that Khatoon Nameh had demeaned "chador, the best hejab for woman." The Mashregh News website, which is close to the security forces, said that Khatoon Nameh "has sacrificed hejab for the sake of Mashaei."

Meanwhile, Jahan News reported that special Revolutionary Guard forces have surrounded the Iran offices. Tehran Prosecutor-General Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi has reportedly charged the newspaper with various legal transgressions. Mehr, the news agency run by the Organization for Islamic Propaganda, reported that five Marjas (sources of Shia emulation) have said that black chador is not makrouh -- something to be avoided. (As reported by Tehran Bureau, Mashaei earlier this year declared black garb makrouh.)

Iran's public relations office issued a statement, featured by IRNA, in which it claimed that the hardline mass media had misrepresented the content of Khatoon Nameh. Indeed, an examination of the complete interview indicates that many of Kalhor's statements have been taken out of context by hardline news outlets. Iran has threatened to take those outlets that blatantly misrepresented what Khatoon Nameh said to court.

Ali Akbar Javanfekr, Iran's managing editor, said in an interview with ISNA, the Iranian Students' News Agency, that he is a defender of hejab and warned against its politicization. Kalhor, also speaking with ISNA, said that the expression of his views on hejab should not be considered as any sort of fatwa or religious edict.

The true reason for the hardliners' anger may be an editorial that appeared in the same issue of Iran. Referring to the Ahmadinejad administration, it declared, "This government has the greatest popularity and serves people without any expectation of reward. Weakening this government will create the greatest mental hopelessness among the people. If people lose hope in the Ahmadinejad administration, they will be prepared to take any action." The editorial also warned of a "red Shahrivar" -- the month on the Persian calendar that this year runs from August 23 to September 22 -- and a possible "coup" by the president's adversaries.

***

The death sentence of political prisoner Abdol Reza Ghanbari has been confirmed and sent to the Revolutionary Court. Ghanbari, who is a high school teacher in Varamin, a town 22 miles southeast of Tehran, was arrested during the demonstrations on the Day of Ashura on December 27, 2009. He was charged with filming the protests and sending what he shot to the opposition in the diaspora. After a show trial in which he was denied an attorney, he was convicted and sentenced to death. [According to this Rooz Online story, his family has rejected that his death sentence has been affirmed.]

In a private meeting with Ahmadinejad supporters, Mashaei apparently acknowledged that Mir Hossein Mousavi received at least 15 million votes in the 2009 presidential election. The taped speech was publicized by Emruz, the website that reflects the views of the reformist Organization of the Islamic Revolution Mojahedin (OIRM), which has been outlawed by the hardliners. More importantly, Mashaei acknowledged that "the opposition" -- the Green Movement -- is strong and that the president has been trying to attract its supporters.

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Dr. Ardeshir Amir Arjomand, senior adviser to Mousavi, said that the contradictory statements by government officials regarding the possibility of prosecuting Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi indicates their confusion about what to do with them. On Saturday, Majles deputy Laleh Eftekhari demanded that the two be put on trial. Earlier in the week, Hassan Allahverdinejad, secretary-general of the Islamic Party of Refah, said that while Mousavi has never been interrogated by the judiciary, Karroubi has been. Amir Arjomand said, "The judicial aspect of the problem is clear. If someone has been charged with an offense, he must be told about the charge, have a fair trial, have the possibility of defending himself, and either the case against him is rejected, or he is convicted and sentenced. None of these has happened. No one has been willing to take the legal responsibility, in a transparent manner, for the disappearance of the leaders of the Green Movement and taking them hostage.... If anyone says something, it has no legal validity. It is the judiciary officials who must speak about this." Amir Arjomand rejected the suggestion that the Green Movement's protests have ended; he said that only their form has changed. Regarding the possible trial of Mousavi and Karroubi, he said, "It would be very good if their offenses are specified publicly. The court session should be open, and the leaders of the Green Movement allowed to defend themselves. If that happens, that will be a severe event for the hardliners who have murdered people over the past two years, violated the Constitution, and created a repressive environment.

For the past week and a half, the textile and fabric merchants of the Tehran bazaar have been on strike. The government has imposed a value-added tax for the merchandise that is sold, but the merchants have refused to pay the tax and have gone on a general strike. The Tehran press has reported that at least 800 merchants are participating in the strike. The government has asked the merchants to end their strike and begin negotiations by appointing ten representatives.

Gholam Hossein Nozari, Ahmadinejad's former oil minister, said that Iran's daily oil production has decreased by about 300,000 barrels a day. He said that when he was appointed to the post in 2005, daily production was as much as 4,300,000 barrels, but that the figure has fallen below four million because many of the country's large oil fields have failed to receive the injections of natural gas they require to keep up production. Nozari, who was fired by Ahmadinejad, also said that Iran does not play any significant role in the daily international market in which oil futures are traded.

Ahmad Masjed Jamei, minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance in the Khatami administration, warned about the destruction of historic monuments in Tehran. Masjed Jamei, now a member of the Tehran City Council, said that the capital has 2,400 such monuments, but only 300 of them have been registered and protected.

The trial of Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was postponed for one month. She has been charged with "propaganda against the political system," due to an interview she gave to the Rooz website. She told Rooz that Iran was being run by some of the country's worst people. Her attorney, Gholam Ali Riahi, said that he has protested to the judiciary about the fact that she is to be tried without a jury, a violation of Article 168 of the Constitution.

Hassan Asadi Zeidabadi, a member of the central committee of the Organization of University Graduates, was granted a 48-hour furlough. He was first arrested on November 3, 2009, and held for 40 days. He was arrested again last August 22 and has been in jail ever since. He has been sentenced to five years of incarceration.

Dr. Mehdi Khazali, son of conservative cleric Ayatollah Abolghasem Khazali, was released from detention after posting bail. He had been on a hunger strike. After his release he said of the hardliners, "Someday we will put them on trial, but in a fair and independent court." He added that the judiciary had ordered his release a while ago, but some who did not want him let go kept the order secret, which was itself illegal.

Sixty-six-year-old Abolfazl Ghadiani, a senior OIRM member and currently the oldest political prisoner in Iran, has been hospitalized in a critical care unit. Ghadiani, who was one of the 12 political prisoners that went on hunger strike in May and early June, has been sentenced to one year of imprisonment.

After much delay, Abdollah Momeni, imprisoned spokesman for the Organization of University Graduates, was taken to a hospital for medical tests and treatment. He has last almost all of his hearing in one ear and his other ear is severely injured. As reported by Tehran Bureau, Momeni wrote a letter to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in which he recounted the torture and mistreatment to which he has been subjected in jail. The judiciary has said that it will prosecute Momeni for writing the letter.

The Kurdish Workers Party, known as PKK, has claimed responsibility for the recent explosion in the natural gas pipeline that conveys Iranian gas to Turkey. On Saturday, the PKK website declared, "On August 11, our guerrillas carried out a sabotage action against the Iran-Turkey natural gas pipeline near the Dogubeyazit town of Agri."

Foreign Miniser Ali Akbar Salehi and his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, spoke over the phone on Sunday. The conversation focused on the activities of Kurdish activists in both countries as well as recent developments in Syria.

Nikolai Patrushev, secretary-general of the Russian Security Council, is to arrive in Tehran on Monday. He will be visiting Iran at the invitation of Saeed Jalili, secretary-general of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and chief nuclear negotiator, to discuss the Iranian nuclear program.

As reported by Tehran Bureau, Major General Hassan Firoozabadi, chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, recently criticized the Republic of Azerbaijan for establishing diplomatic relations with Israel and barring schoolchildren from wearing hejab. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry subsequently summoned Iran's ambassador to explain the remarks. Now the Iranian Embassy in Baku has issued a statement denying that Firoozabadi even made the statement in the first place.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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