"(Observers) have constantly underestimated not only
the political astuteness of the ruling ayatollahs, but
also their resolve, determination, and sense of
historical mission. More seriously, they have
underestimated the fact that the ruling clerical elite
see its fate as irrevocably tied to the destiny of
the Islamic Republic. Unlike the Shah and his
political and military elite, they have nowhere to go
outside of Iran and are committed to defend the regime
and to fight for it to the last man." Said Amier
Arjomand in "The Turban for the Crown – The Islamic
Revolution in Iran".
When we arrive at the offices of Zaynab we’re led into
a small room and invited to sit down while we wait
for our appointment. On the coffee table in front of
us are two silver trays and scattered pieces of bread.
There are cups partially filled with tea. The corner
of one tray is pooled with spilled tea. A knife, its
blade smeared with cheese, sits on an empty plate.
There’s a thin film of dust on the desk in the corner.
The wall clock says 3:40. It’s just before 10am.
Ms. Behruzi appears and
invites us into a conference
room. The floor is covered with Persian carpets, so
we take off our shoes before we enter. Ms. Behruzi is
a woman of about 60. She served in the Majlis- the
Iranian parliament for 16 years. She wears a full
black chador. Not a strand of hair shows. Even her
eyebrows are partially hidden. Her neck is concealed
by a piece of clothing which is fastened under her
chin. Her face and hands are all I can see. I
imagine that out on the sidewalk, walking under the
conference room window right now is one of the many
young women I see even in south Tehran near my hotel.
The girl wears a tight manteau that only comes down to
just below her waist. Her scarf is worn far back,
exposing most of her hair. She’s wearing plenty of
makeup and red, red lipstick. The cuffs of her jeans
are rolled up to mid-calf. She wears an ankle
There are currently 12 women in the 290-member Iranian
parliament. Eight of them are members of Zaynab,
which Ms. Behruzi leads. Zaynab is a conservative
political organization that’s been around since before
Ms. Behruzi begins our interview somewhat formally,
explaining to me that President Ahmadinejad’s election
was a reaffirmation of the Iranian people’s deep
Islamic faith. I tell her I was led to believe he was
elected because he promised economic justice for the
50 percent of Iranians who live at or below the
poverty line. She tells me I’m wrong his election
is a religious statement.
What followed was a two-hour discussion, largely about
women’s issues. In her lengthy answers to my
questions, she explained that Iran had refused to
agree to the UN convention that bars discrimination
against women because portions of it were un-Islamic.
She said while women are treated differently under
Islamic law in Iran, they actually enjoy more rights,
for example, a right to a dowry when they marry. She
says Iranian women enjoy the right to keep homes and
raise children, a right she says American women have
been deprived of. She says equal rights in Iran would
mean a woman could practice polygamy as men are
permitted to do and that would be unacceptable.
(While polygamy is legal in Iran it’s very much
frowned upon and very rare.) I asked her about the
fact that women weren’t permitted to run for president
in the last election. She said this wasn’t important,
that women hold many positions in government.
I asked her what she thought about President
Ahmadinejad’s failure to appoint any women to cabinet
posts (unlike his predecessor). This time she
surprised me. She said that Ahmadinejad had promised
to appoint women, but he had broken his promise. She
said the new president failed to appreciate the
contributions of women and she seemed to think that
this is the result of a lower class upbringing.
An assistant, a younger woman, similarly dressed, sat
next to Ms. Behruzi. At one point she joined the
conversation. She told me that freedom meant doing
anything you like as long as it doesn’t deprive
someone else of their rights. There is complete
freedom in Iran. Can that be true? I asked – Why
don’t the people have the freedom to choose Iran’s
Supreme Leader? Why don’t journalists have more
freedom to criticize the government? Why don’t women
have the freedom to dress as they like? Why don’t
Iranians have the freedom to go to websites online
without having them blocked by the government? Why
don’t people have the freedom to assemble and protest?
Why don’t Bahais have the freedom to worship?
They had answers for all of my questions: Journalists
who criticize the government on certain things are
breaking the law. Bahais are not a faith, they’re a
group. The Supreme Leader is elected by the cleric
dominated Assembly of Experts. Regarding women’s
dress restrictions – Ms. Behruzi told me that if women
were allowed to dress as they liked, they would lure
husbands away from their wives, and in doing so would
deprive those wives of their freedom.
Throughout our discussion Ms. Behruzi remained very
pleasant. At times during our little debate we
exchanged smiles. She has a long history in Iranian
politics. She opposed the Shahs regime and was
active in the revolution. I felt a begrudging
admiration for her life-long devotion to the idea of
an Islamic Republic and, in her own way, to women’s
involvement in civic life. Before the interview my
translator had eavesdropped on a conversation she was
having with a man from another conservative group.
She was scolding him because someone he knew had
publicly stated that a women’s place is in the home,
not the political arena.
At one point I asked if her opinions represented the
views of the 8 women parliamentarians who are part of
her organization. She told me that she’s more open-
minded than some of the other women.
"Verily God does not change the state of a people
until they change the state of themselves." The Qur’an
That’s all for now,