A s the votes in Iran’s presidential election are counted, many have been mesmerized by this week’s vivid campaign rallies, full boisterousness and youthful energy. But it hasn’t all been about former prime minister Mira Mousavi, who hopes to unseat Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Many of those dancing in the street were there as much to see Mousavi’s wife, 62-year old Zahra Rahvanard.Today’s Los Angeles Times notes:

Some in the Iranian and Western news media have likened Rahnavard to Michelle Obama, but she more closely resembles Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former first lady and New York senator whom many considered a driving force behind her husband’s political career and presidency.

In addition to helping raise three children, Rahnavard once served as an advisor to former President Mohammad Khatami, has written at least 15 books and is an accomplished sculptor whose works appear throughout the capital. For years, Mousavi, who served in the now-defunct post of prime minister during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, was described as “the husband of Rahnavard.”

On the campaign trail, she makes up for her 67-year-old husband’s lack of charisma.

“Today we can close our eyes and see ourselves,” she tells the Tehran audience, wearing a black cloak over a pink traditional gown, her voice rising. “Never have women had so much self-awareness. Women have always been just under the skin of history. Today, we assert ourselves.”

Rahvanard waa speaking, reports Tehran Bureau, to a deep hunger — and to the growing quiet prominence of Iran’s women:

Women’s issues continue to be the most controversial and the most paradoxical aspect of Iranian social life. On one hand, the Islamic dress code, or hijab, is compulsory for women and young girls; on the other hand, women constitute the majority of the college student population in Iran. On one hand, the conservative version of Islamic family values emphasizes their role as mothers; on the other hand, the government of the Islamic Republic has pursued family planning programs vigorously and with resounding success—Iran has seen the sharpest decline in the fertility rate in the region. Women own their own businesses and work as pilots, engineers, farmers, workers, teachers and researchers; and yet, they face numerous challenges every day.

Few women capture and represent this paradox as vividly as Dr. Rahnavard, Mousavi’s wife. Fiercely independent, Rahnavard met Mousavi while both were students at the faculty of arts at the University of Tehran. Her future husband was a promising architect, a shy member of the Islamic Association of Students, or Anjoman Islami, and a budding painter. In fact intellectual pursuits and artistic endeavors have played a prominent role in both of their lives.

Update: In the growing turmoil that has followed the vote, with Ahmadinejad’s camp declaring immediate victory, continued demonstrations (video here), and the BBC ordered out of the country,  Tehranbureau.com reports: “Zahra Rahnavard gave a speech at Tehran University today, Sunday, June 14. To a large audience of students, Ms. Rahnavard announced the latest official statement issued by Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has pledged he will not back down from contesting the fraudulent 22 Khordad election results. Mousavi calls on all Reformist supporters to take part in a PEACEFUL MARCH & MASS DEMONSTRATION in 20 cities across Iran on Monday, June 15.” Andrew Sullivan adds this from an Iranian reader:

Zahra Rahnavard gave a speech at Tehran University today, Sunday, June 14. To a large audience of students, Ms. Rahnavard announced the latest official statement issued by Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has pledged he will not back down from contesting the fraudulent 22 Khordad election results. Mousavi calls on all Reformist supporters to take part in a PEACEFUL MARCH & MASS DEMONSTRATION in 20 cities across Iran on Monday, June 15 (doshanbeh, 25 Khordad) at 17:00 to denounce the election results as fraud. He has applied for a license to protect the safety of protestors. The Tehran location is Valiasr Avenue, from Valiasr Square to Tajrish Square. The locations in other cities are listed below. Mousavi has also called for a NATIONAL STRIKE on Tuesday, June 16 (Khordad 26) and asked all those who contest the results to close their shops, businesses, etc. and for employees to not go to work that day. Communication is critical to success for a large turnout, so please forward this to every Iranian you know. The statement is verified on Ghalam News (ghalamnews.ir), the official site of the Mousavi campaign (site rasmi setad).

 

U.S. newspapers are already speculating about a possible “Obama Effect” if Mousavi wins, given Ahmadinejad’s well-known hostility toward the U.S. and Obama’s speech in Cairo last week. But here at WVFC, we’ll keep thinking about the Zahra Effect.

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  • Violet Snow June 14, 2009 at 8:52 am

    Heartening to hear about a strong Irani woman. I was in Tehran in 1976, when the Shah was still in power, and half the women were in spike heels and makeup, the other half covered in chadors. It was a very confusing time for people there. It seems like an evolution is occurring.

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