Hardline Iranian MP set to become first female presidential candidate

Zohreh Elahian has registered to run following the death of Ebrahim Raisi in May
Zohreh Elahian has registered to run following the death of Ebrahim Raisi in May

A radical Iranian MP who pushed for executions of protesters has stepped forward to become the country’s first female presidential candidate.

Zohreh Elahian has registered to run in the country’s snap elections at the end of June following the sudden death of Ebrahim Raisi, its former president, last month in a helicopter crash.

A staunch supporter of Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, she could potentially become the first woman ever allowed to stand if approved by the Guardian Council, which vets all potential candidates.

A physician by trade and former member of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, she has been an MP twice, though no woman has ever been allowed to stand for president.

Sanctioned by Canada

The hardliner was sanctioned by Canada in March for endorsing the death penalty for protesters involved in the Women, Life, Freedom movement as suppression of the hijab rebellion continues to sweep across Iran and state enforcement deepens.

Over 550 protesters were killed by state security after the 2022 uprising in the wake of the killing of Mahsa Amini by Iran’s morality police, and last year alone, over 800 Iranians were executed – a record high for Iran amid an executions surge.

Mrs Elahian, also a member of the Islamic Council of Iran, now awaits the decision of the country’s Guardian Council, which is in charge of interpreting the country’s Islamic constitution, with the election motto “a healthy government, a healthy economy and a healthy society”.

By law, women are not allowed to stand for president, but her possible candidacy hangs on an interpretation of the Arabic terminology for “men” – and if it is a reference to a more generic term for “figures” or “people”.

Azam Taleghani, a veteran reformist politician and journalist, registered to run in every presidential election from 1997 until her death in 2019. Rejected every time by the clerics of the Guardian Council, she was branded an “Islamic feminist”.

Mrs Elahian, who was photographed with a sniper rifle last year while on an MP delegation to an arms exhibition, is seen by some women in Iran as the epitome of the misogynistic regime where sexual violence has become a systemic means of punishing women and hundreds continue to be rounded up in violent suppression of hijab rebellion.

Dowlat Nowrouzi, the UK Representative of the National Council of Resistance of Iran and opposition group, said: “This is merely a ridiculous spectacle of a regime drowning in a quagmire of crises. No one will be deceived by these absurd gambits.

“The regime in Tehran oppresses and assaults women daily on the streets under the pretext of hijab enforcement. In this regime, elections are meaningless, it is a selection.”

She said the strict Islamic constitution will not allow a woman to join the ranks. “The clerical regime does not even tolerate a single woman in the cabinet. According to Article 115 of the regime’s constitution, ‘the president must be among the men’. The women of Iran know that the only way to achieve freedom and equal rights is through regime change by the people and the Resistance.”

Elahian bid ‘unlikely in reality’

Iranian Maryam Ahadi, who now lives in Dubai, said: “It would be fascinating to see a woman run for president but let’s be honest, she isn’t a woman who would be good for Iranian women. The reality is, however, that the Guardian Council will be very unlikely to let her run, but they’ll enjoy the global discussion in the meantime to try and detract from the brutal state-sanctioned oppression of women they are inflicting on Iranian women and girls.”

Melanie Joly, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, announced the sanctions against Mrs Elahian on International Women’s Day in March, saying that she and Masoud Dorosti, the chief executive of Tehran’s metro system, “have used their positions of influence to call for or carry out increasingly repressive measures against women and girls in Iran”.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former Iranian president and vocal critic of the supreme leader, was the latest candidate to register his candidacy for the June 28 vote, having been rejected from the ballot twice since his disqualification in 2017.

Mrs Elahian has been at the heart of Iran’s controversial policy-making apparatus. While serving as a member of parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, she was one of 227 lawmakers in Iran who signed a letter requesting the execution of protesters in the wake of the 2022 uprising.

Earlier that year, she claimed that if talks to restore the 2015 nuclear deal did not continue in line with the country’s interests after Donald Trump, the then US president, pulled out of the deal, they were not essential.

She said at the time that “all sanctions must be lifted, and we must certainly obtain a credible guarantee from the United States so that we do not face another withdrawal from the agreement and the return of sanctions”.

She added: “We are waiting for the decision by the American side, and if this process becomes attritional, a decision will be made whether or not to continue the negotiations.”

Since Joe Biden took office, Iran has continued to accelerate its nuclear programme with Rafael Grossi, the UN’s nuclear chief, recently claiming the country is now “weeks not months” away from a nuclear weapon.