Leadership: Iranian Clerics Can't Control Their Women

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November23, 2006: The hostile and combative attitudes of Iranian leaders can partially be explained by some little reported facts. That is, Iranian women have stopped having children. Not completely, of course, but to the point where the current adult generation will have no one to take care of them in their old age. This is a rebellion that gets little attention, but it has horrified the religious dictatorship in Iran. When the clerics grabbed power in the 1980s, during the war with Iraq, they urged women to have more children, to replace the enormous war losses. The women complied, and there was a baby boom. But those children grew up in a nation that had a crippled economy. The clerics were corrupt, and inept at managing the economy. There were no jobs, unless you were related to a cleric. That generation of kids grew up with bleak economic prospects. A large number of the women became prostitutes, something the clergy, but few others, could afford. Actually, some clergy made money off the increased prostitution. This is because there is an old Shia tradition that allows temporary marriages (for as short as an hour), as a way to sort of legalize prostitution. But someone has to pay the cleric who issues the short term marriage license. Over the last decade, Iranian prostitutes have been increasingly numerous in the Arab Persian Gulf states. This was embarrassing to Iran, and in some cases such a nuisance that police rounded up the Iranian women and sent them back to Iran.

Most Iranian women were not happy with the clerical dictatorship, because the Islamic conservatives were particularly harsh on women. Not just the dress restrictions, but limits on what women could do. For the clerics, the main role of women was reproduction. The women responded by not reproducing. The clerics huff, puff and preach their lungs out, but the babies are not forthcoming. In a macho society like Iran, not being able to "control your women" is a serious shortcoming. And the traditions the clerical dictatorship is trying to enforce, supports those macho attitudes.

It gets worse, for only about half the population of Iran is ethnic Iranian. The rest are various other ethnic groups, who have responded to the clerical dictatorship by increasingly asserting that they are "not Iranian" and are becoming more inclined to leave the "Iranian empire." This is particularly serious with the Azeris, a Turkic people, who comprise about a quarter of the population. The birth rate of the Azeris is holding up, and more Azieris are looking longingly at the booming economy of their ethnic cousins across the border in Azerbaijan. Secession, anyone?

While the Iranian clerics have a lock on power and money, they have their problems as well. And these problems tend to put them in a foul mood. They may scream insults at the United States, but the Iranian clerics are most worried about what's going wrong at home.

 


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