Iranian President’s wife sparks outrage with 'wild party'

A social media campaign has turned the tables on ultra-conservative Iranian MP Hosseinian. He claimed to have footage showing scandalous goings-on at an all-female party hosted by the Iranian First Lady… and social media users joked that he must have gone undercover as a woman to get the footage. Photo published on Twitter.
 
Last Saturday, the Iranian First Lady, wife of Iranian President Hassan Rohani, threw a party to mark Women’s Day, celebrated on the birthday of Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatima. Ultra-conservative outcry at this so-called “lavish ball” has sparked many spoof videos from bloggers and Rohani supporters.
 
The president, a political moderate who has engaged in talks with Western powers over the Islamic Republic's nuclear programme, has been criticised by the country’s ultra-conservatives for being too open towards the West. Now, his critics are turning on his wife, Sahebeh Arabi, alleging that she threw a “Western-style” party in which women did not act in accordance with Iran’s strict state interpretation of Islam.
 
Arabi allegedly hosted this exclusive, all-female party in Sadabad Palace, home of the deposed Mohammad Reza Shah. The guest list was a who’s who of the Tehran elite, including female politicians, the wives of ministers and ambassadors and even several actresses.
 
Upon hearing about the festivities, Iranian ultra-conservatives responded with outrage, criticising the government for  excess during a difficult economic time.
 
But they were most angered by  allegations of immorality at the party,  especially because it happened on the day celebrating Fatima, who is seen as a pillar of virtue and Islamic living. Ultra-conservative critics claimed that the party involved unseemly activities such as dancing and a fashion show displaying “un-Islamic” fashions. A group of women held a protest outside of Rohani’s office on Thursday.
 
Women gathered Thursday outside of Iranian President Rohani's office to protest his wife's supposedly irreverent party, which took place over the weekend. Photo by FARS news agency.
 
Conservatively dressed women protested allegations of the Iranian First Lady's risqué party.  Photo by FARS news agency.
 
Hamid Rasaei, an ultra-conservative MP, asked the government to publish the video of party so he and other critics could check if it adhered to religious codes.
 
Another hardliner MP, Hosseinian, claimed to have his own video and threatened to publish it, a claim refuted by guests who said that all cameras and mobile phones were confiscated at the door. Social media users immediately took to the net to wonder about how Hosseinian managed to get footage of an all-female party. Photoshopped pictures of him disguised as a woman began to circulate.
 
Social media users joked that ultra-conservative MP Hosseinian had infiltrated the party himself to get the footage. Speculating on his disguise, they photoshopped his head onto this picture of a woman wearing a chador. In reality, ultra-conservative women would cover their faces. Original photo from Ebra design.
 
The president’s office slammed allegations in an official statement: "It is most shocking and regrettable that even a pure innocent gathering cannot escape an orchestrated chorus of gossip, slander and politically motivated lies filling the air."
 
They also responded to rumours that the party was supposedly Western-style: "All Islamic proscriptions were observed in this event ... women turned out in traditional folk dress ... only a few little girls capered and rejoiced."
 
This scandal, which highlights the tension between the president and ultra-conservatives, has provoked lots of humour on social media including parodies of the ultra-conservatives’ call for a video of the party.
 
This spoof video of the party was posted by Persian blogger and journalist Farvartish Rezvanieh.
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“The government has to deal with a lot of pressure from the ultra-conservative media to not attend ceremonies viewed as non-Islamic.”

Blogger and journalist Farvartish Rezvanieh, a supporter of Rohani, made this spoof video of the party.
 
I published this video with a caption saying that one of the guests at the party filmed it with her mobile. In reality, it’s just a silly video I made of an orange with a party music in the background.
 
A lot of people fell for my joke and thought the orange video was really filmed at the president’s wife’s party. They started to analyse it in the comments. Others seemed to think that their internet connection wasn’t strong enough for the video and that the video had frozen on the image of the orange!
 
The government has to deal with a lot of pressure from the ultra-conservative media to not attend ceremonies viewed as non-Islamic. For example, the government avoids having alcohol on the table or shaking hands with female hosts at diplomatic meetings for fear of scandals inside the country.
 
This makes me think of a similar scandal that happened when [senior cabinet member Esfandiar Rahim] Mashaei, a close associate of Ahmadinejad, attended in a conference in Turkey and there were women dancers [Editor’s note: Mashaei, who was head of Iran's Tourism Organization, attended a cultural ceremony featuring female dancers during a trip to Turkey in 2005. Footage of Mashaei at the ceremony appeared a year later and was broadcast on state media, sparking criticism that Mashaei violated Islamic principles by watching women dance.]
 
Honestly, the party given by Rohani’s wife isn’t any different from the many parties given by the wife of [former Iranian president] Ahmadinejad, but the ultra-conservatives are trying to make it into a big deal and pressure the government with it. But, honestly, I believe the conservatives’ threat to publish a video is just a bluff. They are just trying to push the president’s office to publish a video of the party and turn it into an even bigger scandal.
 
 
Post written with FRANCE 24's Brenna Daldorph and Omid Habibinia.
 
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