Who is afraid of Iran Faezeh Hashemi?
On March 31, when Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made an impromptu appearance on Clubhouse, many were impressed by how quickly the room filled with eight thousand listeners (the maximum allowed on the audio app only). Less than two weeks late on April 13, a more impressive turnout occurred on the same platform. Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, former MP and daughter of one of the founders of the Islamic Republic, visited the Clubhouse to voice her bitter criticism of the clerical establishment. The room reaches capacity in a few minutes. Other rooms opened on Clubhouse and other platforms – such as the Twitter spaces – to broadcast Faezeh’s question and answer session. In total, nearly twenty thousand people listening.
Unlike Zarif, who according to his usual policy did not accept questions from dissident activists or diaspora media journalists, Faezeh repeatedly asked the moderators of the room not to censor anyone. The session passed 3 a.m. Tehran time, with Faezeh answering questions for more than six hours.
Faezeh’s fiery reviews
Faezeh’s criticisms of the Islamic Republic and its policies are as courageous and deep as those of any dissident abroad. No one else in official Iranian politics has dared to criticize the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a cheeky and direct manner. As most reformist politicians vie for loyalty to Khamenei, Faezeh asked her to step down in 2020. In March, when an interviewer asked Faezeh to invite someone to a debate, she asked for Khamenei.
In Clubhouse, Faezeh was in full force. She called for a boycott of the upcoming presidential election in June as a conscious political act that would signal popular discontent with the Islamic Republic. She claimed it was not only because she believed the authorities would not allow a serious Reform candidate to run, but because the Reformers had failed to convince her of their real ability to lead. reforms. She also clarified that she no longer believed in an “Islamic” republic or even in any religious government. A devout Muslim who typically wears the head-to-toe Islamic veil known as the chador (albeit with a colorful headscarf underneath), Faezeh believes the failures of the Islamic Republic have damaged the image of the Islam among the Iranian people and more broadly.
Last month, when she asked for a debate with Khamenei, Faezeh said she was eager to discuss foreign policy. In Clubhouse, she did it with abandon. She defended her controversial words from months ago when she said Donald Trump’s re-election would have been better for the Iranians because it would have put more pressure on the government. She referred to episodes such as the release of American hostages in 1981, ending the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, and the 2015 nuclear deal as proof that the Islamic Republic only changed its policy under pressure. She reminded her audience that throughout the national protests of December 2017-January 2018 and November 2019, Iranians have not chanted the regime’s favorite slogan of ‘Death to America’, but its opposite: ” Our enemy is here at home; they’re lying when they say it’s the United States.
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“People don’t blame their problems on America,” Faezeh said. “It was Iran’s bad policies that led to the sanctions. We should not blame the United States. Our money is spent on missiles and aid to foreign groups, not on the drugs our people need. “
Faezeh has also taken several other controversial positions: She said Iran has undermined its independence by relying too much on Russia and China. She defended the rapprochement with Saudi Arabia. Interestingly, she said Iranian athletes should not boycott Israel and that she, like her father, believes Iran’s ties with Israel should be restored, as long as it is in the national interest. Faezeh also said she has a positive outlook on New York activist Masih Alinejad and her advocacy against the mandatory hijab. She added that she preferred to watch diaspora channels such as BBC Persian and Iran International, funded by Saudi Arabia, which she praised for their professionalism. Confronted with fanatical questions about the Bahá’ís of Iran, she affirmed her respect for the persecuted religious minority and spoke of fond memories of the Bahá’ís she had met during the six months she had spent at the Church. Evin prison in 2012-2013 for “anti-regime propaganda. ”
A longtime rebel with a cause
Faezeh has long had the makings of a political rebel. In the 1990s, when his father was Iran’s second most powerful man as president, Faezeh angered conservatives by advocating for women’s participation in sports – including cycling in public – and organizing of the Women’s Islamic Games in Iran. In the 1996 parliamentary elections, she shocked many by coming second in the Tehran constituency, right next to the powerful speaker of parliament, Akbar Nateq Nouri (many believed she had been the first and forcibly pushed to the second) . In 1997, she attempted to run for president to succeed her father, but was rejected by the Council of Guardians, an oversight body, which never let a woman run for that post. Nateq Nouri fled, but was defeated in a landslide by reformist Mohammad Khatami. In the late 1990s, when Iran experienced a proliferation of the reformist press under Khatami’s presidency, Faezeh’s newspaper Zan (Woman) was shut down after only a year of publication because of a cartoon criticizing Iran’s unequal laws for women and because she reposted greetings from former Queen of Iran, Farah Diba Pahlavi , on the occasion of the Iranian New Year.
In his fiery activism, Faezeh owes perhaps less to his centrist father and more to his outspoken mother, Efat Marashi. What irritates many Faezeh supporters is his continued loyalty to his father. About Clubhouse, she claimed he was not responsible for the many human rights violations and extrajudicial killings that occurred during his presidency.
Nonetheless, what makes Faezeh particularly popular is the energy she injects into the country’s outdated official politics by speaking directly to people’s real concerns. As Iranian politicians fight for nuclear negotiations with the West, Faezeh represents many Iranians by asking a more fundamental question: why should the Iranians suffer because of the pursuit of an adventurist foreign policy? Why should an unelected Supreme Leader be so irresponsible for his enormous power?
A Clubhouse curator mockingly asked Faezeh why she wasn’t in jail when many others were reportedly jailed for taking similar positions. Faezeh reminded her of her time in prison – she has been arrested three times since 2009 – and that she was fired from her teaching position on the Azad University campus in Tehran in 2018. Yet it is undeniable that her prominent course gives him his relative freedom not enjoyed by others, including hundreds of political prisoners, whose release Faezeh demanded during the session.
Yet few, if any, men in official Iranian politics seem to have the courage of this woman who speaks directly to Khamenei without flinching. Such bravery is precisely what is lacking in the Iranian Reform Front formed in February, which failed to make its mark.
Using a limited reading of the Iranian constitution, the Council of Guardians has yet to allow any female candidates to run for president. With his pragmatic approach, his frank and direct manner of speaking, his advocacy for the everyday problems of the people and his demand for separation of religion and politics, Faezeh could have made a formidable presidential candidate for Iran of 2021. All the more reason for that. Ayatollah Khamenei and the authorities will not let her come close to power.
Arash Azizi is a writer and researcher based at New York University. He is the author of, “The Shadow Commander: Soleimani, the Global Ambitions of the United States and Iran” published by Oneworld Publications. Follow him on Twitter: @arash_tehran.
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