For the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic, a woman from Iran's Sunni minority has been offered an ambassadorship. Homeira Rigi, currently the governor of a southeastern town, is set to make history as the head of the Iranian mission in Brunei. The 43-year-old Reformist has been serving in different executive positions for the past 20 years.
First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri announced the appointment during his visit to Ghasrghand, an impoverished town in the underdeveloped Sistan and Baluchistan province.
Rigi will be the third woman and the second from the country’s Sunni minority to be offered the senior diplomatic position. In past years, two female ambassadors have been assigned to the Iranian embassies in Malaysia and Finland. The first Sunni ambassador from the Kurdish minority was also appointed to head the Iranian mission in Vietnam in 2015.
Rigi’s appointment is seen as a step by the administration of moderate President Hassan Rouhani toward greater senior political representation among women and religious minorities.
About 90% of Iranians adhere to Shiism, while most of the rest follow Sunni Islam.
Rouhani's election victories in 2013 and 2017 were achieved on a variety of promises, among them advocating for the rights of women and minorities. Hopes for social and political inclusion, therefore, convinced Iran's Sunnis, mainly concentrated in Sistan and Baluchistan and the western province of Kurdistan, to throw their weight behind the moderate candidate. According to Interior Ministry statistics, up to 75% of the ballots in the two provinces were cast in Rouhani's favor.
But Sunnis have been complaining that hopes for integration and a share in politics have largely diminished as few of those promises are believed to have been fulfilled so far. This has been repeatedly lamented by the Sunni community's popular religious leaders who insist that Rouhani has failed the sidelined minority. Those Sunnis who have been outspoken have paid the price, facing different restrictions such as domestic travel bans.
The Rouhani administration, however, insists that it has done much toward a fair distribution of power by appointing some 30 local governors from the Sunni community in Sunni-populated provinces.
Still, Sunnis say they have suffered discrimination and negligence under the Islamic Republic. Sistan and Baluchistan province — which is where Rouhani picked the new ambassador — has particularly witnessed growing disenfranchisement. Often among the top on the list when it comes to unemployment and poverty, the province is also facing a multitude of other challenges ranging from illiteracy and drought to militancy from the Pakistani border, which has manifested in the form of abductions and killings targeting both civilians and military personnel.
Locals in Sistan and Baluchistan complain they are denied what they deserve and that upward social mobility in a Shiite-majority Iran remains a tough challenge. As such, the appointment of a new female ambassador from the heart of the most underprivileged province in the country could revive hopes for genuine senior political representation and local development.