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Outspoken Female Executive Nominated To Run Hardline-Dominated Province

The shrine of Imam Reza, the 8th Shiite Imam and grandson of the Prophet Mohammad in Mashhad, 900 km (540 miles) northeast of Tehran. File photo

Reformist leaders of Iran's Khorasan Razavi province have nominated a female candidate to run the hardliner-dominated province's highest executive office.

The reformist coordination council of Khorasan has nominated Shahindokht Molaverdi, President Hassan Rouhani's outspoken former vice-president for women's affairs and his current special assistant for citizens' rights, for the post of Khorasan Razavi's governor-general.

The other four nominees suggested to the interior ministry for the post are all male former provincial officials, a spokesperson for the council told the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) on Sunday November 18.

The incumbent governor-general of the province has to leave his office based on a new legislation that puts an end to the carrier of officials after their retirement age, although there have been many exceptions to the rule as soon as it was announced by the Iranian Parliament.

Khorasan Razavi province is led by hardliners, including its Friday Prayer Imam, Ahmad Alamolhoda, and his son-in-law Ebrahim Raisi who is the chief administrator of the extremely wealthy holy shrine of Imam Reza, the 8th Shiite Imam.

The two officials are known for their hardline political and cultural views. A Radio Farda report by Behnam Gholipour last week examined the ways the province is being run differently compared to 30 other Iranian provinces.

In this report Gholipour observed that women in Khorasan Razavi needed a permit from their husband or father for mountaineering, however, the rule has apparently been overturned thanks to protest by women on social media.

Ahmad Alamolhoda, a radical ayatollah in Iran's holy city of Mashhad that rules with an iron fist over a whole province.
Ahmad Alamolhoda, a radical ayatollah in Iran's holy city of Mashhad that rules with an iron fist over a whole province.

It is the only Iranian province where the governor-general, the highest executive official of the province is usually selected under the supervision of Khamenei, who is a native of the province.

The Friday Prayer Imam and prosecutor of Khorasan have wider powers in practice than their counterparts in other provinces.

Concerts are banned in the province and there are many limitations on cinemas, theaters, arts, politics and economic activities based on decrees by Friday Prayer Imam. The Iranian government has recognized his authority to issue a decree that has banned concerts since 2012. The relevant government office does not issue any permit for concerts in Mashhad.

All cultural events and gathering must receive permission from the Ministry of Islamic Guidance in Iran.

Unlike other Iranian provinces, some films and theatrical performances authorized by the central government in Tehran may not be performed in this province. For example, the movie "Cold Sweat" was banned in the provincial capital Mashhad and its leading actress Baran Kowsari, known for her reformist views, has been barred from visiting the holy city.

Even some documentary movies screened elsewhere in Iran are banned in Khrasan Razavi.

Meanwhile several plays have also been banned, and one play, "A Few Passengers" by the renowned playwright and director Mohammad Rahmanian did not get the go-ahead from provincial authorities to display its posters in public places. In a few cases, pictures of women had to be wiped off the posters before they were allowed to be displayed.

According to Gholipour, there is very little chance, if any, to watch a football game at public places in Khorasan Razavi. Unlike most other Iranian provinces, cinemas in Khorasan Razavi were not allowed to show Iran's World Cup games on their screens.

The provincial football team Abou Moslem, named after a Persian hero who fought Arab invaders several centuries ago, was ordered by Alamolhoda to change its name in order to remain in Iran's football league.

The province is politically controlled by hardliners close to Khamenei. The province was the venue of an arson attack on the Saudi consulate in 2016, which along with the attack on the embassy in Tehran led to the severing of ties between the two counties.

Meanwhile, death threats sent to MPs supporting the FATF bills in recent months via text messages, originated from Mashad, according to officials in Tehran.

In an odd comment, Mashad's Prosecutor Gholamali Sadeqi officially declared in 2017 that his authority is "only one inch less than that of God almighty."

It was under such a judicial system that several government officials, journalists and even a passenger jet pilot on duty were arbitrarily arrested during the past year, while the hands or legs of a few inmates were amputated based on court orders, and a retired teacher protesting for teachers' rights was hospitalized in a mental institution by judiciary decree.

At the same time, some of the biggest corruption cases in Iran are about financial institutions in Khorasan Razavi that failed or refused to repay people's investments, Gholipour observed.

Some outspoken MPs such as Ali Motahari have repeatedly criticized the way this province is being run.

Official news agency IRNA has quoted Nasser Amoli, a former editor of the province's leading daily newspapers Khorasan and Tous, as having said: "The right-wingers are so dominant over provincial managers; as if Khorasan is part of a federal government. What takes place in this province, is nothing like what you see in other provinces."

Iranians also joke on social media that they need a visa to go to Khorasan.

The appointment of a reformist female as governor would be a tough challenge both for Ms. Molaverdi and the province’s influential clerics, as none would be willing to make any compromise on their positions; Molaverdi as an advocate of citizens right and the clerics as the Islamic Republic’s old guards.