Thursday, June 20, 2013

Iran: Who Is Iran's New First Lady?

RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2013. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

Who Is Iran's New First Lady?

Who is Iran's new first lady? The answer is, we don't know. She made no reported campaign appearances alongside her husband and doesn't appear to have been known in public before the election.

The wives of Iranian politicians are often nearly invisible. They rarely appear in public and, usually, little about them is known.

In that sense, the wife of Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani is no exception.

But what is unusual is that Iranian media don't even seem to know her name.

In the few reports that Iranian news agencies and websites have run about the presidential candidates' wives, she is always either missing or described merely as "the wife of Hassan Rohani."

There was even some basic information available about the wife of the most hard-line of the six candidates -- nuclear negotiator Said Jalili -- who was quoted as saying that a woman's main role in society is to be a mother.

Jalili's wife, who was identified as Fatemeh Sajadi, is a general physician, according to Iranian media reports.

No such public account exists of Rohani's wife.

"There is no information available" on her, as one news agency put it.

Another story noted that her name has seemingly never been mentioned in public. It said she doesn't participate in social or political activities and added, "She is a housewife and they were married in a traditional way."

Even the ISNA news agency hit a brick wall: "Despite all of our efforts to obtain more and precise information about her in order to understand her role in Hassan Rohani's life, we did not receive a positive response from his close aides and his campaign."

But it did quote the 64-year-old Rohani as saying his family had chosen her for him. "I was about 20 years old. My father insisted, my mother as well," he said. "I wasn't very reluctant."

On June 19, an Iranian website quoted Rohani's 86-year-old mother as saying Rohani's wife was 14 years old when they married.

And one other key detail is known: Rohani and his wife are said to have four children and a son who died.

Outgoing President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's wife appeared in public with him a few times during his two-term presidency and was reported to have accompanied him on some of his travels abroad.

It's anyone's guess whether Mrs. Rohani will take on a public role after her husband assumes power.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari