On Being “Happy”, a Kiss and the Right to Rape

women and happy

Alongside the horrid statistics of 113 hangings in one month (a “record” so far) in Iran, other human rights news hit the headlines.

Although some of these abuses might seem trivial in relation to capital punishment, they are reminders that the abuse of human rights in Iran permeates all of its society and is not limited to its prisons.


Nearly happy ending to “Happy” video

Six young people get together to make a video based on Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy”. They dance, “sing”, laugh, play-act and seem…happy. Here are the closing credits of the video: “We have made this video as Pharrell Williams’ fans…”Happy” was an excuse to be happy. We enjoyed every second of making it. Hope it puts a smile on your face.”

The video was uploaded to youtube and suddenly, they are all arrested for creating an “obscene video clip that offended the public morals” and undergo humiliation while in detention. President Rouhani disagreed and used Twitter to show so: “#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy”.

Within days, the video garnered over a million views, the participants apologized on national television and were released on bail but the clip’s director, Sassan Soleimani (who happens to have also produced Rouhani’s election videos), is still in solitary confinement awaiting prosecution. The freed participants were pressured to file a lawsuit against Soleimani in order to portray him as the ringleader.

The incident sparked a flurry of efforts by the authorities to impede social media and to ensure the enforcement of wearing hijabs.It also raised questions as to whther it was not a clever PR ploy by Rouhani and his team to show a “happier” side of Iran.


Kiss on cheek in Cannes sparks hate

The red carpet at the Cannes film festival – Leila Hatami, Iran’s leading actress offers her hand to Gilles Jacob, the president of the festival, who in turn kisses her cheek.

This kiss was seen back home as an “inappropriate presence” which was “not in line with religious beliefs” and hurt the “credibility and chastity of Iranians”.

A complaint was filed by Hezbollah Students (affiliated with IRGC) and Hatami found herself facing a public flogging and imprisonment. She bit the bullet and issued an apology “for hurting the feelings of some people” as well as an explanation in that Jacob “had forgotten the aforementioned rules” probably due to his old age (83). Hatami went on to explain that she “was embarrassed to give these explanations” but she probably knew that if she didn’t she would have to face a court and possibly a humiliating punishment.

The charges have not been officially dropped yet but her apology might suffice to get her off the hook…this time.


Showing Hair Justifies Rape

Recently, an article was published on Tasnim, and IRGC site, which epitomizes the huge gulf between basic human rights and the law in Iran.

According to the article, a woman whose head is not covered by a hijab is not only inciting rape but is also oppressing the rights of men around her. A hijab-free woman sexually arouses men who “have a right to have their sexual needs fulfilled” and since she did not ask their consent to show her body, they did not need her consent to have sex with her. By not having sex with her, the men who had to “endure” her hijab-free presence are being oppressed because they have to restrain themselves.

If people being happy can land them in jail and a kiss on the cheek can lead to a public flogging, what would be the fate of a women speaking out against such a flimsy justification of rape?


Tehran Silences Opposition


The Right to Voice Opposition = Democracy

Silencing the voice of opposition sooner or later allows the government to place the priorities of its leaders before those of the people it governs and in the case of a democracy, before those of the people they were elected to represent.

The voice of opposition doesn’t always represent the majority of the people but without it, the majority might one day find its own voice silenced.

But what happens when a government is both democratic and dictatorial such as in the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran?


Elections ≠ Democracy

Iran prides itself on being democratic based on the fact that its presidents are elected by the people. In fact, in the last elections, Hassan Rouhani voiced his opposition to the management of the previous governments and was elected by a clear majority. His election was ratified by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s non-democratic leadership, embodied in Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who gave Rouhani its blessing.

Perhaps Khamenei was ready for change or perhaps the call for change was so loud that he and his cronies understood that stifling the voice of the majority might lead to an all-out revolt.

Unfortunately for Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the opposition leaders in the previous 2009 elections, they were not as lucky nor as successful as Rouhani:  they are still under house arrest to date despite Rouhani’s promise to free them and their silence reminds all that Khamenei still holds the dictatorial reins on Tehran.


Opposition = House Arrest, Imprisonment, Exile and Death

After 3 years under house arrest, Moussavi’s health is worsening. Three weeks ago, he was taken to hospital but was returned home by security forces on the same day. His daughter voiced her protest on the opposition’s website Kaleme and he was reintroduced to hospital to receive medical care. To the chagrin of the security forces, pictures of Moussavi in hospital were leaked renewing the pressure to free a man whose only crime was to legally oppose his government.

But Moussavi is still definitely in the category of “the lucky ones”. Most political prisoners find their way to the infamous Evin prison and even if they are hospitalized, they are chained to their beds such as in the case of political prisoner Mashallah Haredi.

The riots in Evin prison last month were lead by political prisoners who decided that they wanted to be heard. They were brutally silenced by Iranian security forces  and are now under threat of being exiled. No comment yet from Rouhani.


“Rogue Forces” and Hardliners

The opposition to Rouhani’s government is growing daily. Hardliners are staging protests and are disseminating information such as the infamous “I am Rouhani” movie which portrayed him as a “pragmatic technocrat leaning towards the West”. These same hardliners are now demanding for Rouhani to resign.

Rouhani, who was elected on the freedom of opposition cannot help but bite the bullet: “I am proud that the government has created a situation allowing everyone to easily talk and criticize“. But insiders say that he is specially frustrated at the silence of the most important voice in Iran, that of Khamenei.

In the meantime, ex-president Mohammad Khatami has expressed his worries that “rogue” forces of plain clothes security officers who are disrupting meeting that include any criticism against Khamenei and the Islamic Revolution.

So paradoxically, the election of a democratic, moderate-minded leader is allowing for more voices of opposition to grow against him while any opposition to the hardliners remains silent.

Which is worse? And more importantly, when will Iran decide if it wants to remain a dictatorship or become a true democracy?

Rouhani Under Fire

rouhani fire

Moderacy Wins Rouhani Election, But…

Rouhani probably always knew that convincing the West would not be his biggest battle.

The Western world had grown steadily tired of Ahmadinejad’s antics and his never ending tirades, accusations and paranoia. The people he surrounded himself seemed to echo his “Satan America” rhetoric and Khamenei himself mirrored Ahmadinejad’s outlook. The murkiness surrounding Tehran’s nuclear aspirations became the symbol of Iran’s isolation and Iran became more distant as the shackles of sanctions tightened. Throughout all this, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad continued to portrayed a “business as usual” approach with no sign of compromise and economic priorities that exemplified just how little the welfare of the Iranian people really meant compared to the welfare of the hardliners views and pockets.

And then, the Iranian people reacted to Rouhani’s call for change and suddenly, the world met a leader who was ready to revamp Iran’s foreign policy and loosen the shackles of sanctions. But much more than that, we met a leader who seemed moderate and was ready to listen and to reprioritize.

Suddenly, a solution seemed possible and the P5+1 leaders shifted into overdrive in order in their efforts to rethink their attitudes on Iran and create a better future.

Unfortunately, Rouhani’s newfound friends in the West seemed suspicious to his compatriots, those same hardliners that profited from Ahmadinejad’s terms in office and now, they are hitting back…hard.


Rouhani Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Rouhani seems to be in a Catch 22 position: if he gives in too little to the West, he won’t be able to realize the change that he was elected to bring about. If he gives in too much to the West, he might find himself ousted and under house arrest with all the other leaders who dared to fight the hardliners and lost. He is probably hoping that, unlike Yossarian in Catch 22, he might be able to find the golden path to appease everyone.

So while the world looks on to Rouhani for an answer, Rouhani is looking back at Khamenei to find out just how sincere is the Supreme Leader’s backing. Khamenei, for his part is content to play both sides for now – he has formally backed Rouhani’s foreign policy while at the same time spewing anti-Western rhetoric and allowing his advisors to pressure Rouhani publicly.

As the nuclear deal comes closer to fruition, the hardliner pressure mounts and unfortunately for Rouhani, the people’s backing is eroding as the Iranian economy struggles to stay above water. Even worse, Rouhani’s expectations for a rapid economic turn-around seem naïve today: the weak economy he inherited is actually worsening and his disillusioned voters’ patience is wearing thin.


Rouhani: Victim Or Player?

What makes things worse is that no one really knows to this day if Rouhani isn’t playing his part in Khamenei’s game plan or if he is a victim of his will to change. Perhaps his only goal is to relieved Iran of sanctions and gain time for the final round in which Tehran suddenly sprints in break-out mode.

Why is Rouhani so reticent to deal with problems of human rights in Iran knowing that this is a key issue for the West? Why did he choose Aboutalebi as UN ambassador knowing that he was on the US’s blacklist? Why does he not accept the West’s demands to cut back on the suspect nuclear program knowing that “pausing” the program is not enough?

Are these examples of his efforts to appease the hardliners or is he playing a sort of “good cop, bad cop” game with the West in order to get a better deal?

Time will tell…