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‘Not An Easy Task’ To Decide If A Woman Can Run For President In Iran

By Maryam Sinaiee

As the registration of candidates looms for Iran’s June 2021 presidential elections, politicians and the media are once again discussing whether the watchdog Guardian Council (GC) will for the first time qualify any women to stand.

Abbas-Ali Kadkhodai, the GC Spokesman, told reporters on Saturday that female candidates were for sure allowed to register, but he was pressed again on Tuesday [October 6] as to whether they might be allowed to run.  “There is no impediment for registration, but other issues should be resolved step-by-step,” he said, adding that the council had never disqualified a candidate for being female.

Kadkhodai conceded that the six Islamic jurisprudents, who make up half of the Guardian Council and take its most important decisions, had for 40 years rejected all female candidates. In every presidential election under the Islamic Republic, many women have come forward, making up 137 of 1,636 registered in 2017.

While the GC is not required to announce reasons for rejecting presidential candidates, their position is widely believed to rest on an interpretation of the Quran that women should not rule over men and specifically on Article 115 of the Iranian Constitution, which stipulates that the president should be chosen from “religious or political rajal.”

The Arabic word rajal, plural of rajol, can be taken as ‘male’ or as the more inclusive ‘human, human being, figure, character.’ Many jurisprudents favor the first interpretation.

Asked by a reporter on Saturday why the council did not issue a definitive interpretation of the controversial word, Kadkhodai said that “defining the criteria for being qualified as a ‘religious or political rajol’” was “not an easy task.”

Reformist Vice-President Masoumeh Ebtekar is among those who argue that the word rajol is used in some instances in the Quran in the sense of ‘figure’ rather than ‘man.’  To challenge the Guardian Council, the late politician and journalist Azam Taleghani registered to stand as president four times.

Taleghani served time in prison before the 1979 Revolution, sat in the assembly that drew up the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, was elected to the first post-1979 parliament, served on Tehran City Council, and founded the Society of Muslim Women. Taleghani therefore argued her qualifications as a ‘political figure’ were clearer than those of many men allowed to run. Had she not died in 2019, aged 76, Taleghani probably would have registered for the 2021 elections and even repeated her sit-in at the Interior Ministry on the day of registration.

While Iranians appear unenthusiastic about next year’s presidential election, several prominent female politicians may register to intensify the debate on women’s eligibility. February’s parliamentary election had the lowest turnout – at 42.57 percent - for any national election during the 41 years of the Islamic Republic.

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