June 17, 2009

The Zahra Factor

Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of Iran's presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi, holds her husband's photograph during a campaign rally in Tehran June 9, 2009. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah (IRAN POLITICS ELECTIONS IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Maybe what caused Khamenei and the clerics to derail the Iranian election, as much as anything, was their disaffection with Mousavi’s intense and outspoken confidant and wife.

Ahmadinejad signaled as much when, in a startling move, he went out of his way to attack her directly in the last presidential debate (and she responded by threatening to sue). Although she rejects outright comparison, Zahra Rahnavard (sporting what is sometimes referred to by conservatives as the “bad hijab” for its floral pattern) is openly admiring of Michele Obama, describes she and Mousavi as equal partners in most things, and has already modeled herself, through her active involvement the the campaign, in the historic role of Iran’s first “first lady.”

Considering that Ahmadinejad’s wife has hardly been seen in public, and the photos that do exist offer her set back and almost completely obscured by the hajib, images like the one above must be profoundly difficult for fundamentalists to swallow, casting Zahra — in the name of her husband — as a feminist reformer and an iconic figure in her own right.

Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnavard acknowledge supporters during a campaign rally in Tehran on May 30, 2009. The United States on May 29 condemned recent "terrorist attacks" on the soil of its arch-foe Iran, and denied claims by some officials there that it was behind a deadly bombing of a Shiite mosque. AFP PHOTO/ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

This second image is very typical, showing Zahra side-by-side with Mousavi (in a characteristic two-handed gesture), very engaged with the crowd and almost always more intense.

(image: Atta Kenare/A.P. Tehran. May 30, 2009)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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