Your Middle East’s Tehran correspondent Alborz Habibi got an exclusive interview with the granddaughter of the founder of the Islamic Republic.
Like millions of Iranians, Naeimeh Eshraghi, the granddaughter of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini logs into her Facebook account on a regular basis to attend what she calls an “anthropology class”. She keeps a check on her popular page where over 5,000 people exchange views on current affairs.
But all these don’t come there effortlessly. To bypass a government ban on Facebook and many other popular sites deemed inappropriate by the authorities, she has to resort to VPNs (virtual private networks) and proxy servers.
The vice-president at a petroleum company, Naeimeh Eshraghi hit the headlines last summer after she said her grandfather opposed the use of force to make people wear Islamic hijab (veil).
In an exclusive interview with Your Middle East, Eshraghi defended her late comments and said “Imam Khomeini” backed gentle methods in conducting crackdown on people without hijab or those wearing adverse hijab so that in a manifesto he prohibited offending women under the pretext of clashing with bad-hijab.
“It's written in that statement that nobody has the right to offend women and these interventions are illegal (haram) for Muslims and it’s the police duty to prevent this from happening,” she said.
Born into a high-profile family, she feels an obligation to toe the family line, but committed to expressing herself independently at the same time. She even goes beyond that and casts doubt on state laws that support compulsory hijab but states that she isn’t a religious expert and she is simply quoting some experts saying mandatorizing hijab is forbidden as long as there isn’t a "legal limit defined for Hijab" in the Sharia. Clerics are often divided on religious decrees, she said.
The Ayatollah's granddaughter is still passionate about politics, reformist thinking in particular. Her brother in-law, Mohammad Reza Khatami, led the Islamic Iran Participation party when his brother, the reformist president Mohammad Khatami, and the reformist-dominated parliament ruled the country.
In a reference to the reformists' slipping grip on power since 2009 disputed elections, Naeimeh Eshraghi poined out that the “countless supporters of reformism” lack unity over whether they should actively participate in the upcoming elections or not.
“But this skepticism is not specifically and only seen among the supporters,” she said. “Limited activity of political parties and media outlets of this wing and imprisonment of many prominent reformist figures and also the failure of realization of preconditions made by reformist leaders, particularly those issued by Mr. Khatami and the continuity of the current situation, with only six months left to the upcoming vote all demonstrate that it's difficult for reformists to run in the race actively”.
Naeimeh Eshraghi reckons that even if the conditions would change and the green light reformists are looking forward to would be given now, it's too late or maybe time is running out.
“Experts admit that the deadline for the fulfillment of the preconditions appears to be missed maximally this month,” she said.
Grown up in a family in charge of making critical decisions, she congenitally keeps an eye on the current affairs, especially through reading her favorite newspapers, Shargh and Maghreb, which were both banned recently.
But her desire for politics won't be translated into an election nomination in the near future, she said. Under the current constitution, women are forbidden from running for president of Iran. But would she enter the election race if she was allowed to? The answer is no.
“In my opinion one who enjoys adequate experience in large-scale management has the competency to take office, but I haven’t acquired that yet.”
Petrochemical engineering and politics are not the only topics of interest to her, but of course she often finds the music, culture and silver screen being up her alley, to the extent that she categorizes the exiled Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani and American singer and actress Selena Gomez among her favorite celebrities on Facebook.
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“My interest in Golshifteh Farahani dates back to the time she was performing inside the country, and the reason for my the desire was her performance in valuable movies such as ‘M as in mother’ and ‘In the name of father’, and also her unique and strong act in ‘The Music Man’ movie,” Naeimeh Eshraghi said.
But the Tehran-based engineer believes the acclaimed actress’s appearances in anti-Iranian films like "Chicken with Plums", the “obscene” movie "There be dragons" and playing the character of a prostitute "The Patience stone" meant that she has lost her value.
“However, she could enter the French film industry or Hollywood without performing things that violate the values and wound people's pride. I'm not criticizing her for her enrollment in international film industry but for her deeds.”
The engineer's sympathy for the young American actress and singer Selena Gomez has stirred controversy, with hard-liners accusing her of being a "West enthusiast".
“My enthusiasm for Selena Gomez is prompted by this young singer's nice voice and her brilliant talent in acting in a naive style in Walt Disney series,” Mrs. Eshraghi said.
“And regarding my longing for Princess Diana, I should say it comes from her humanist mentality and her unsparing aid to people in need. I can mention the following services of her: establishing or collaborating with several charities, building homes and schools for poverty-stricken people, remarkable efforts to help those suffering from AIDS/HIV, leprosy or hurt by mines in Angola, and attempts to prohibit the use of land mines.
“All these were coming in when she was living in Buckingham palace but her heart went out to those suffering from cancer in GOS hospital and war-disabled fellow in a way she caressed and embraced them candidly.”
The Ayatollah's granddaughter, who was staying at the Iranian London Embassy residence at that time in order to witness what she calls the pretty Princess' glorious funeral attended by 8 million people, resumed her speech by pointing a finger at the US secretary of state Hilary Clinton.
“Diana's decision to leave Charles and her place as the next British queen after she was betrayed is admirable,” she said. “Nevertheless Hilary Clinton didn’t leave the White House in the face of her husband's betrayal.”
Three decades ago, Naeimeh's revolutionary grandfather was known for his tough stance on the US, as he used the epithet "the great Satan" for the Iran’s arch-foe. But the granddaughter said she was happy to see President Obama winning a re-election. She noted that Iran and US have no way out of the current situation unless they make progress in talks.
“In international relations no country is the other's permanent enemy or friend and everything can change; direct talks could be a win-win deal only if the two sides thought big, acted boldly and ignored those who disgust each other.”
She hopes the two sides would "act intelligently" and won't let it lead into an "erosive military campaign."
“In Iran, the oil embargo and sanctions that are taking toll on the value of the national currency can cause irreparable damages to the economy and from the American side Iran's regional power and influence can't be denied.”
Arab uprisings are still alive in the MENA region with Iranian officials emphasizing that their country's 1979 revolution has been a source of inspiration for their Arab neighbors. Mrs. Eshraghi stated that the continuity of dictatorships is impossible and says she regrets that Ayatollah Khomeini isn’t alive to see his dream of liberating Islamic states is coming true.
When the talk moved on to her memories of the Ayatollah, she was quick to go back to a specific day.
“One day I asked the Imam about his response to a journalist who had asked him what he felt about returning to Iran and Imam had replied: ‘nothing’. I asked him whether he really had no feeling about returning to his country after 15 years in exile and facing millions of cheerful greeters there,” Eshraghi recollected. “Imam said a journalist came to ask me questions when we were landing and I refused to accept him. So when the reporter insisted on interviewing me I replied ‘nothing’ to reject him.”
With the office of her grandfather's successor, Ayatollah Khamenei, now joining the social network, the Facebook user seems likely to continue her cyber activities although she says her mother is afraid that her Facebook partners may annoy her.