January 16, 2008


Stance on dress code stains Ahmadinejad (Kimia Sanati, 1/16/08, Asia Times)

Since the early 1990s pressure has been relaxed gradually and by the end of the reformist Mohammad Khatami's second term of presidency in 2005, the dresses and headscarves were still there but had become shorter and smaller.

But hardliners accused Khatami of having encouraged moral corruption in the society by advocating social tolerance, and on a few occasions demonstrated against him wearing shrouds as a sign of being ready to die in the battle against immorality.

Since the police started implementing their plan in April, they have frequently been criticized for being too strict in dealing with women with inadequate hijab and even with young men whose hairstyle or clothing is regarded as 'copied from degenerate Western fashions'. Hardliners have, on the other hand, cheered them on.

Police harshness has on many occasions gone as far as using physical violence against individuals on the streets. In a number of cases this has caused clashes between citizens and police.

When a famous talkshow host on the state-run television confronted the Tehran police chief with stories of violence on the streets after an early crackdown in the spring, he was sacked and his show was cancelled.

"The government denial of any involvement in the police action against what the religious establishment calls bad hijab and immorality can have no other reason than an attempt to improve the already very troubled image of the government, particularly among the young voters," an observer in Tehran told IPS.

"Seventy percent of the country's population is under the age of 30 and they are the ones who are affected the most by the police crackdown. In other places, like in universities, vigilantes are putting the same kind of pressure on them, not only by controlling the way they dress but also by keeping men and women as separate as they can to safeguard their own kind of morality," he said.

"Two and half years since his election to presidency Ahmadinejad's government has clearly failed to improve people's lives the way he promised. Rationing of gasoline that was introduced a few months back and inflation that his government has not been able to control have also spoiled the government's image among many of the voters outside the normal 20% of voters loyal to the hardline establishment," he added.

"Even inside the hardline establishment many have turned against him because of the man's refusal to let other players participate in his games. Naturally, with all these woes the government will not want to have to take the blame for the police's overzealousness in dealing with hijab," the observer said.

Parliamentary elections will be held March 14. The existing parliament has a hardline and conservative majority that basically supports the government. But even they have on several occasions impeded the president by not approving government bills or the president's candidates for ministers.

"Ahmadinejad urgently needs to get his supporters into the parliament. Reformists have been very active recently. Former president Khatami who is not running himself has been travelling around the country on behalf of the reformists and has been warmly welcomed in many places. There seems to be a rather serious possibility that reformists, at least more moderate ones, may make a comeback if candidates' disqualification by the Guardian Council doesn't prevent that," an analyst in Tehran told IPS.

Having underestimated Ahmedinejad last time, look for the Guardians to use the disqualification process against him instead of the Reformers this time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 16, 2008 6:59 AM
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