Iran clerics object women ministers

TEHRAN: Iran's conservative clerics have objected to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's decision to include three women in his new cabinet, a report said on Saturday, dealing a blow to the hardliner's bid to secure parliament's nod for his ministerial line-up.

Ahmadinejad named Sousan Keshvaraz, Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi and Fatemeh Ajorlou as his ministers respectively of education, health, and welfare and social security in his 21-member cabinet.

"Although it is a new idea to choose women as ministers, there are religious doubts over the abilities of women when it comes to management. This should be considered by the government," Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, the head of the clerics' faction in the 290-member conservative-dominated Iranian parliament was quoted as saying by the conservative daily Tehran Emrouz.

He said the faction will seek the opinion of the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the issue.

Ahmadinejad's proposed cabinet, which boasts 11 new names including the three women, will face a vote of confidence on August 30.

Rahbar said leading Iranian clerics such as Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi and Grand Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpayghani too wanted Ahmadinejad to reconsider his decision regarding the three women.

The nomination of females to the cabinet marks a first in the 30-year history of the Islamic republic, although in 1997 then reformist president Mohammad Khatami appointed two women among his vice presidents.

In recent years Iranian women have outnumbered men in universities but they still account for only around 15 percent of the official work force.

Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, women have been banned from becoming judges and suffer from legal inequalities with men in marriage, divorce and inheritance.

Defending his decision in a television address on Thursday, Ahmadinejad said the three women were chosen after "close examination."

"I am against belittling women. We have to carve out the way," he said.

Tehran Emrouz said that Ayatollah Yousef Tabatabai, the Friday prayer leader of the central city of Isfahan, was also opposed to the decision.

"We hope what the president said about the women ministers is not recognised by parliament," he said.

The objection against women ministers is the latest sign of the tough battle facing Ahmadinejad in securing the parliament's approval for all the names on his cabinet list.

Internationally, he has come under fire from Argentina for nominating Ahmad Vahidi as his defence minister.

In 2007, Interpol issued a warrant for the arrest of Vahidi, who is wanted in connection with a 1994 anti-Jewish bombing in Buenos Aires which killed 85 people.

The president has already been shaken by the massive street protests against his June re-election, which the opposition movement claims was rigged.

Ahmadinejad further came under fire from his own hardline supporters after he appointed his close relative Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie as his first deputy and refused to sack him despite an order to do so from Khamenei.

Iranian hardliners have not forgiven Rahim Mashaie for his comment made last year that Iran was a friend of the Israeli people.

Iranian media reported Saturday that Rahim Mashaie has been banned from public office for two months for breaching administrative rules.

Iran's conservative wing has also criticised Ahmadinejad for selecting inexperienced officials as ministers in the new cabinet, with many accusing him of choosing those who completely "submit" themselves to him.

"The president wants to be the ruler in sensitive ministries of intelligence, interior, culture, oil and foreign. So he has introduced people whose major quality is that they are yes-men," prominent MP Ali Motahari was quoted as saying by Jomhuri Eslami newspaper.

Cleric Hossein Mousavi Tabrizi, who heads a reformist group of Qom seminary scholars, has backed the nomination of women ministers, reformist daily Aftab-e Yazd reported.

"Women have the capability to execute different social activities, including as ministers and in my opinion if women are wise and learned, they can become judges, and even sources of emulation," Tabrizi said.