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'Bad veiling' a protest against government, says Iran cleric

Traditional conservative politician Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri has called "poor veiling" a form of protest against the government and said that the causes of the issue should be studied rather than confronted by police.
Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri (C) and his Lebanese counterpart Nbih Berri (L) review the presidential guard at Beirut's international airport February 5. Nouri is visiting Lebanon to discuss bilateral relations. [Tehran supports the Islamic Hizbollah (party of God) and its militias in their bid  to oust Israel from the occupation zone in south Lebanon]. - RTXIKOL

A former conservative presidential candidate has said that Iranians' appearance, especially veiling by women, represents their views toward the government. He called for less police confrontation and further study of the possible causes of the dress issue, such as poor economic conditions.

“During the monarchy, if a youth wanted to fight against the government, with the flag of Islam raised, he would change his appearance,” said Expediency Council member and former parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri at a clergy meeting in Khuzestan province. He described the fashion during the early years of the Iranian revolution as, “Boys would wear T-shirts that had a cleric’s collar, with a beard, and the girls would also go to public places such as universities with a complete veil or chador.”

Nategh Nouri, who lost to Mohammad Khatami in the 1997 presidential elections, continued, “And now, also, when a youth wants to behave in a way [that shows] opposition to the government, or in a way wants to protest the administration or government, they show their protest by changing their appearance or with bad veiling.”

Rather than confronting the issue of bad veiling by only addressing violations, Nategh Nouri called for a study of the reasons behind poor veiling. He called it a "mistake" that the police force is directly involved in this issue, taking women who are poorly veiled into custody.

In Iran, particularly as summer starts, the police conduct seasonal patrols and either issue warnings, fines and in some cases arrest women who loosely adhere to the country’s veiling laws. Given how widespread the issue is, these efforts are largely ineffective. Nategh Nouri said that these measures can even have an “opposite or undesirable” result.

Nategh Nouri also said that addressing economic concerns should take precedent. “To eliminate cultural problems, we have to address the primary problems and concerns of the people,” he said. “Because livelihood problems and economic problems have a direct influence on the morale of the people, especially the youth.”

He added, “The issue of veiling and modesty and other cultural issues need detailed discussions and meetings, and are not solvable with one or two meetings.”

His comments were covered and welcomed by a number of Reformist newspapers including Shargh Daily and Etemaad. Nategh Nouri, a traditional conservative who in today’s political atmosphere holds some centrist views, has been relatively silent in recent years. There has been speculation that he may run in the 2016 parliamentary elections, bringing moderate Reformists under his umbrella.

While there may be many reasons women choose not to adhere fully to Iran’s veiling laws, Nategh Nouri’s comments reveal a divide over the issue among top Iranian officials. Recently, Iranian parliament member Gholam Ali Haddad Adel said that the lack of unity on veiling was costing the Iranian leadership control over the issue. He suggested subsidies for veil manufactures to help promote the veil.

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