Foot in mouthery
Every September the United Nations general assembly hosts a get-together of leaders. Yassamine Mather zeroes in on the Iranian president’s embarrassing contribution
After a few years of low-key events, during and after the pandemic, this year dozens of presidents and prime ministers made the journey to the United Nations New York HQ to give long (usually meaningless) speeches. A reflection of the UN’s irrelevance - despite illusions in it among sections of the left.
The heads of state or their representatives are free to choose the subject of their speeches. So you end up with talks about all and nothing. For example, deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden, representing the British government, rambled on about artificial intelligence (part of a plug for a conference Rishi Sunak wants to host next year). While Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu talked of the existential threat posed by Iran’s nuclear programme, the Iranian president, Ibrahim Raisi, lamented foreign intervention in his country, blaming all the protests over the last year on western powers.
If this is true, then, considering the widespread protests in every city, town and village up and down the country, foreign powers must exercise extraordinary influence with the borders of the Islamic Republic. Frankly, Raisi’s speech was probably the most embarrassing made by an Iranian president - surpassing those delivered by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2011 and 2012.
Does he not realise that, if this were the case, it raises more questions than it answers. How did these foreign powers gain such widespread leverage? Why after nearly 44 years in power is the regime so vulnerable? Why is it that it has been forced, for all practical purposes, to back down, when it comes to one of its most cherished symbols - the obligatory wearing of the hijab?
During Raisi’s speech, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, was filmed walking out of the main hall holding aloft a picture of Mahsa Amini - the young Kurdish woman who died last year under police detention, sparking a year of protests. Erdan accused the UN of rolling out the red carpet for “the butcher of Tehran”. Rich, coming from the representative of a government that only a day earlier had killed five Palestinians - a government that has ignored more than 100 UN resolutions on Palestine. The international press and media which reported Erdan’s stunt failed to mention the fact that, while ordinary Iranians are fighting to defeat attempts to segregate buses and metro trains - and succeeding - Likud’s religious coalition partners are trying to impose (and in some cases succeeding in enforcing) gender segregation in Israel.
Raisi also repeated what has become a common theme of supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s recent speeches: “The west is in decline and will soon lose its power”. Now the left has many valid arguments about US relative decline, the danger of war and how capitalism as a mode of production has created what is now almost universally recognised as a climate crisis. However, Raisi, whose rightwing government is one of the most ardent supporters of the ‘free market’ and unregulated capitalism, fails to see that the Islamic Republic is part of the problem too.
It is certainly true that the US has been in decline for decades - a process that is inevitable when you consider that America accounted for roughly 50% of the world’s GDP in 1945. However, no-one in their right mind predicts the imminent collapse of the US. If Khamenei and Raisi are waiting for such a situation to get them out of the current impasse with the failed nuclear talks and the associated economic disaster brought about by sanctions, they are truly living in cloud cuckoo land. Hoping for the miraculous return of the 12th Imam seems a much more plausible approach!
The Hidden Imam, purported to have disappeared down a well in 878, is particularly venerated by the Shia regime in Iran. When commanded by god, the 12th Imam will return to lead the forces of righteousness against the forces of evil in an apocalyptic war that will establish peace and justice on earth. Obviously Khamenei and Raisi consider themselves amongst the righteous.
The UN jamboree also involved the appearance of spouses and there was no exception in Iran’s case. Raisi’s wife, Jamileh Alamolhoda, gave an interview to Newsweek, and told it:
Women in Iran are supported by the family, by the father, by all the members of the family, and they play a crucial role in the society, owing to the support they receive from the family. And that is absolutely due to the fact that the core of the family plays a significant role. Women in Iran, or anywhere in the world, play a crucial role in maintaining the very core of the family, so they play a very crucial role in society.
Men in Iran prefer not to ask their spouses to work or bring money home. Women are regarded as persons sharing love with men in the position of mother, spouse or daughter.
Mrs Raisi is the daughter of ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, who has been in charge of the Astaneh Quds Razavi Goharshad foundation - a multi-billion-dollar business looking after the shrine of the 8th Shia Imam in Mashhad. The shrine welcome tens of thousands of Iranian and Iraqi pilgrims every month and is one of the richest institutions in the country. So the ayatollah and his family have not exactly been short of money. I do not think this woman, with her background, even begins to understand the lives of ordinary women who have to take on two or three jobs to put food on the family table, to buy medication for their children, etc. They and their partners do not have the luxury of family wealth.
She went on:
The feminist movement from other parts of the world has also not found its way in Iran, and that is primarily due to the fact that it is inclined toward violence. As opposed to that, women in Iran prefer tranquillity rather than being exposed to violence through the feminist approach.
I am no supporter of feminism, but branding all feminists as ‘violent’ is bizarre. You would have thought such ill informed nonsense came from of an uneducated woman. But, no, Alamolhoda has a doctorate in the philosophy of education and served in a number of academic positions before founding the Institute of Fundamental Studies of Science and Technology at Shahid Beheshti University in 2013. In 2020, she was appointed secretary of the Council for the Transformation and Renovation of the Educational System.
Yet her views on feminism are on a par with some of the worst misogynist statements by the ex-shah, who once referred to women’s brains being smaller than men’s, resulting in less intelligence and capability.
Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, was also in New York most of last week, at a time when the prisoner exchange between Iran and the United States and the subsequent unfreezing of six billion dollars of Iran’s oil revenues seemed to herald a slight thaw in the relationship between the two countries. According to a number of news agencies, Abdollahian applied for a waiver from the restrictions on the movements of Iranian officials, in order to visit Washington. (Since 2019, when Donald Trump imposed those restrictions, Iranian officials in the USA can only visit areas of New York close to the UN headquarters.) However, the Biden administration refused the application and he returned to Tehran.
Nevertheless, there seems to be some progress regarding the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the US. A number of news agencies report that supreme leader Khamenei has “granted permission” for direct talks to take place between the two countries. Of course, that means permission for publicly acknowledged direct negotiations - secret direct talks have been ongoing ever since Joe Biden became president.