The chairman of Tehran City Council and a council member have confirmed receiving the resignation letter of reformist Mayor Mohammad-Ali Najafi amid conflicting reports of his decision to step down.
The chairman, Mohsen Rafsanjani said the city council discussed Najafi’s resignation at its Wednesday session.
“The mayor has cited a new health issue as the reason behind his resignation. We can’t disclose the issue publicly,” he noted.
State-run Mehr News Agency (MNA) has cited several unidentified city councilors as insisting Najafi’s resignation had not been deliberated and the council is set to hold a joint session to convince him to stay. All members of the city council are reformists.
Najafi was known to have a heart condition, but there are rumors he has developed cancer, as well, MNA reported.
Najafi and the reformist city council took control of city hall after last year’s elections, when Tehran voters overwhelmingly rejected conservatives for all kinds of positions.
The head of the City Council’s Transportation Commission, Mohammad Alikhani, referred to the same medical problem as Najafi’s reason for resigning.
But besides health issues, the question is whether there is also political pressure on the reformist mayor.
“Although Tehran’s councilors have been convinced Najafi has some medical problems, they cannot close their eyes to the political pressure on him,” he said.
Najafi’s resignation came after he had been summoned to court for organizing an event held at Tehran’s Milad Tower celebrating Iran’s Women’s Day.
During the celebration, held on March 6, three days in advance of the official Women’s Day, a group of girls age 9 and younger danced for a mixed-gender audience, which outraged conservatives across the country.
Iran does not officially celebrate International Women's Day, marked by the United Nations on March 8. It celebrates its own Women’s Day marking the (lunar) alleged birthday of Fatemeh, Prophet Mohammed's daughter and wife of Ali Bin Abi Talib, the first Shi’ite Imam, which this year fell on March 9.
Iran’s prosecutor-general, religious leaders and the conservative media harshly criticized the mayor and demanded the organizers of the event be punished for allowing girls to dance onstage in front of a mixed-gender audience.
Besides the Women’s Day celebration issue, the resignation could also be the result of political pressures related to revelations by the mayor and the reformist city council of huge corruption at city hall during the term of the previous conservative administration.
The former mayor, Baqer Qalibaf is a hardliner and a former commander of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC).
In recent months, the new administration has made piecemeal revelations about billions of dollars having gone missing or wasted by the Qalibaf city hall.
If conservatives were determined to create problems for the reformists at city hall, the “dancing girls” incident offered a perfect opportunity to attack.
According to some interpretations of the Islamic law, girls and women are forbidden to dance in presence of anyone except their husbands.
For his part, Najafi wrote on Twitter, “Islam is not a religion of mourning. Islam is a religion of mirth and liveliness. Nevertheless, the standards and frameworks should be respected in times of joy.”
He told the Iranian government’s official newspaper, Iran, that he did not agree with the dance but saw no reason to leave the event at the time.
Though Najafi’s resignation has not yet been officially announced, the head of the City Council’s Budget Commission, Majid Farahani, has confirmed his resignation.
“We are still exploring the issue in our informal meetings,” he told MNA.
Tehran councilors unanimously called on Najafi to remain mayor until the end of Nowruz. They said they would officially start discussing his resignation in the first meeting after the holidays (beginning on March 21 and lasting two weeks).