August 16, 2009 7:32 pm

Iran to let women join cabinet

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Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, president of Iran, said on Sunday he would nominate at least three female ministers to his cabinet, reaching out to the women who have been particularly active in post-election protests against his government.

“We have opened the circle [of management] as far as it was possible for a president,” Mr Ahmadi-Nejad said in a televised address.

The nominations would see women serve in the Iranian cabinet for the first time in the Islamic republic’s history. The president added that he might nominate more women to his cabinet by Wednesday, when he is due to introduce his 21 ministers to the parliament for votes of confidence.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s disputed re-election on June 12 triggered unprecedented rallies against the regime and the opposition continues to allege he made his way to the presidency through mass vote-rigging.

The government has continued a crackdown on dissent that has left at least 20 dead and hundreds detained. A third mass trial of protesters was held on Sunday. The opposition has condemned the “show trials” in which politicians and protesters “confess” to their wrongdoings.

But the government also seems to have chosen to calm down protesters by giving them more social freedom.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad vowed last month to take the country’s morality police off the streets. The force has long been resented for stopping and arresting young people, in particular women, for not fully observing an Islamic dress code.

The moves have been rejected by opposition figures and Sunday’s attempt was derided as meaningless by some feminist activists. “This government is so illegal that none of these show-offs, like nomination of women as ministers, can satisfy us,” said Nahid Keshavarz, a women’s rights activist.

The nominations will also raise eyebrows in the holy city of Qom, where clerics have in the past warned that they would issue religious decrees against any decisions made by female ministers. The move could therefore further complicate Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s tense relations with the clergy, who forced the government to withdraw a decision to let women into football stadiums, for example.

Two women nominated on Sunday are staunch supporters of the president. Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi, a 50-year-old gynaecologist, university professor and former parliamentarian, was nominated for the health ministry. Fatemeh Ajorlou, a 43-year-old PhD student of psychology and an MP, is the candidate for the ministry of welfare and social justice.

It was not clear who the third candidate would be.

Iran had freed on bail a French teaching assistant who is on trial in Tehran for spying, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office said on Sunday night. The office said Clotilde Reiss, 24, was in good health and would stay in the French embassy in Tehran pending a verdict in her case. She has been charged with aiding an anti-regime plot after Iran’s disputed election in June and has been held in prison since July.

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