- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 18, 2005

TEHRAN — She may be the granddaughter of the Islamic revolution, but Zahra Eshraghi worries about work-life balance like any modern woman. Almost 30 years after her grandfather, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, wrote the constitution that condemned Iran’s women to a life of veiled drudgery, she wants it changed to recognize her twin roles as dutiful wife and politician.

“I work hard during the day, but when I come home at 5 p.m. I am a mother of two children,” she said, smoothing a headscarf that is worn under protest, not with pride.

“Our constitution still says that the man is the boss and the woman is a loyal wife who sacrifices herself for her family. But society here has changed, especially in the last 10 years. If my grandfather were here now, I am sure he would have had very different ideas.”

Recasting Ayatollah Khomeini as a feminist rather than firebrand Islamist is not the only aspect of his legacy that Mrs. Eshraghi, 41, wants to dismantle. A leading light in Iran’s reformist movement, she also seeks an end to compulsory headscarves for women, a general curbing of the mullahs’ power and the right to have stood in the presidential elections Friday, the closest since the 1979 revolution.

“The constitution my grandfather approved says that only a man can be president,” Mrs. Eshraghi said. “We would like to change the wording from ‘man’ to ‘anyone.’

“But discrimination here is not just in the constitution. As a woman, if I want to get a passport to leave the country, have surgery, even to breathe almost, I must have permission from my husband.”

Mrs. Eshraghi is just one of many Iranians with impeccable credentials questioning the regime. Her husband, Mohammad Reza Khatami, is a former teenage revolutionary whose group stormed the American Embassy in 1980 and held its diplomats hostage for 444 days — an act described by Ayatollah Khomeini as Iran’s second revolution. Today, Mr. Khatami is the running mate of Mostafa Moin, the leading reformist candidate in the election.

Like many Iranians, Mrs. Eshraghi, a philosophy graduate who is also the head of the youth department in the Interior Ministry, insists that her grandfather was a misunderstood man whose mission was corrupted. “He loved freedom and liberty; that was why he came here in the first place. I believe many of the people who surrounded him, his apostles, had very frozen minds. They were the decision-makers.”

Although Mrs. Eshraghi’s status garners her influence, the mullahs have not taken kindly to her using it to undermine their authority. In last year’s parliamentary elections, in which women were allowed to stand, Iran’s hard-line Guardian Council vetoed her candidacy. It disapproved of her attacks on women’s dress, and her decision to greet Shirin Ebadi, the human rights activist, when she came home with the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize.

For all their frustrations, neither Mrs. Eshraghi nor her husband talks of another revolution. “Some people say the reformists have done nothing, but the way forward now is step by step, not overnight,” she said.


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