Recently, Ali Motahari, a former deputy speaker of Islamic Republic Majlis and a presidential candidate in the upcoming elections, turned up on Clubhouse to shockingly dismiss women’s rights as animal rights and made a series of disparaging sexist and racist comments, drawing the ire of many ordinary Iranians.
Motahari gravitates towards the reformist camp of politics in Iran, and yet not a single reformist lawmaker or politician has condemned his remarks.
On the evening of April 6, Motahari joined a Clubhouse discussion, with some 6,000 people in the audience and started a rant against women’s rights. He mocked Iranian women’s fight against compulsory hijab, and added “not wearing hijab for women isn’t freedom. It’s like an animal instinct. Men in Iran are aroused by unveiled women. Western men aren’t aroused because they’re sick. That’s why Western women choose African men”
He further pronounced: “If somebody is not aroused on the beach, then he is sick. God wants us to get aroused. Men must be aroused. It is good that a young man is aroused by seeing the hand of a woman.”
Motahari has often made similar comments in the past, at the parliament or in interviews but he has never been so forthright in a public setting where his comments go beyond the state-controlled media.
Earlier this year, in an interview, Motahari insisted that the compulsory hijab laws must stay in effect while also refusing to admit that hijab had ever been compulsory in Iran. This is in stark contradiction to hefty prison sentences meted out to various White Wednesday activists like Mojgan Keshavarz, Monireh Arabshahi, Yasaman Aryani, Saba Kord-Afshari, and Raheleh Ahmadi.
Back in 2014, and on many other occasions since, he has made controversial remarks about women wearing leggings. He said: Women who wear leggings should not be allowed into official buildings and summoned the then-interior minister to parliament to explain why women in Iran were being allowed to wear leggings.
As far back as 2002, Motahari had been a hardliner against women’s rights, making mremarks about the “spread of bad hijab” in Iran, accusing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the time of making pants and short manteaux the new standard for women.
Motahari the reformist
Ali Motahari is the son of Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, one of the ideologues of the Islamic Republic of Iran who opposed the rule of the monarchy until his assassination by an extremist Islamist group in 1979.
Although he is a social conservative, Motahari has fallen out various times with the Islamic Republic’s conservative establishment. So much so that in 2020’s parliamentary elections, he was disqualified by the Guardian Council, a watchdog that eliminates most of the aspirants for elections.
Yet, Motahari has advised reformists and promoted rapprochement with the United States. In fact, he’s been very critical of the fact that enmity with the US has been shaping Iran’s foreign policy by stating that “Struggle against America was supposed to be a means for us, not an end, but now it has turned into a goal by itself,” he writes.
He was one of the few politicians who called for the release of Green Movement leaders MirHossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi who are reportedly under house arrest. Just like his reformist friends, Motahari is deeply invested in the survival of the Islamic Republic and only promotes limited openings such as détente with the US.
Finally, despite Motahari’s partial disagreements with the conservatives, his family and business ties show that he is actually in collusion with the same individuals he frequently criticizes in public. In fact, he has invested enormously in the publishing industry and has interconnected business interests with the family of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Larijani familiy.
The reality is that Mothari’s views on women are part of the mainstream thinking among Islamic Republic’s political establishment. The silence of the reformist political figures only shows one thing: women are second class citizens in the Islamic Republic. Meanwhile, schism between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the population is even going to grow wider as the populace has largely grown disillusioned with all factions of the ruling regime.