American Morning

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June 17th, 2009
06:36 AM ET

Iran's Michelle Obama

From CNN's Carol Costello and Bob Ruff

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Zahra Rahnavard, wife of Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, waves to supporters during a pro-reform campaign rally at Haydarniya Stadium in Tehran on June 9, 2009."]

Her name is Zahra Rahnavard. There are Iranian women who say she is their nation’s Michelle Obama.

Rahnavard is smart (2 Ph.D’s), well-written (15 books), and a trend setter (the first Iranian woman to head a university since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In a nation that separates and carefully monitors women, Rahnavard has been an inspiration to women seeking to modernize Iran, end discrimination, and give women many of the rights taken for granted in the West.

It’s not an easy task.

Under President Mahmoud Ahmedinjad's regime, activists say dozens of women have been jailed for participating in a grass-roots women’s rights campaign called, One Million Signatures.

Rahnavard also is the wife of defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who is seeking to overturn the June 12 presidential election that he and his supporters say was rigged to re-elect President Ahmedinejad to a second term.

During the campaign, Rahnavard did some very un-Iranian things that seem commonplace in the West.

She held her husband’s hand in public. And she campaigned for him. Alone. Rahnavard drew huge crowds at rallies in which she urged voters to vote for change and vote for her husband.

Iranian women looking for inspiration to change their world loved it.

Azar Nafisi, author of “Reading Lolita in Tehran”, a best selling book about the erosion of women’s rights in Iran, says that Rahnavard has given women there a voice to protest their second class citizenship. Nafisi says Iranian women “see in her the potential of what they want.”

Perhaps most revealing of Rahnavard’s influence, during one of the televised presidential debates, Ahmedinejad turned her into a campaign issue by (falsely) accused her of not being qualified to teach. The President said “...she got PhD without attending the university entrance exam and now she is an assistant professor without having qualifications...this is lawlessness.”

Rahnavard shot right back the next day, holding a news conference to accuse Ahmadinejad of humiliating women, betraying the Iranian revolution, and seeking “to destroy his rival through lies.”

Ahmedinejad may never have heard the lyrics to Helen Reddy’s 1972 song, “I am woman, hear me roar,” but with Zahra Rahnavard on the scene he pretty much gets the gist of it.

Filed under: Iran
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. arthritislady

    I saw Michelle Obama in person and she is really a very tall Lady. She is also a very charming and charismatic woman just like his husband.

    January 11, 2010 at 9:40 pm |
  2. Sonny Atlanta

    Dear Lynda;

    How many books Michelle O Wrote?

    for your infos Zero=zip=Nada

    Have a Dounghat.

    July 24, 2009 at 2:06 am |
  3. Maheen

    Indeed, Michelle is nowhere in comparison to Zahra. I like her coz she fights for women's rights.

    June 24, 2009 at 5:15 pm |
  4. Lena Woods

    I don't know much about Zahra or her husband, but they make it out that she is a very good person who stands by what she believes. Now, I don't have much respect for the Obamas, and I think from what i gathered about Zahra, she is a more noble and honorabe person than Michelle.

    June 21, 2009 at 11:45 am |
  5. chris wagler

    i find it confusing that you state that Mir-Hossein Mousavi was involved in the execution of 7000 people. Where exactly are you getting those facts from? Mousavi's historical record is steeped in defying the political norms in Iran and has largely worked to represent the people. I think you are muddying the waters. To liken Zahra Rahnavard to Michelle Obama can just be seen as context to those in this country to convey the cultural strength that Zahra represents to the women in Iran.
    Zahra Rahnavard is educated, living in a culture few of us truly understand the complexity of. Her strength of example is emboldening women and helping to blaze a path... There certainly is no shame in that.

    June 18, 2009 at 12:46 pm |
  6. tom d

    Who is michelle obama? Moreover, who cares.........

    Oh that's right, isn't she "married" to the clown running our country into the ground ....

    June 18, 2009 at 7:15 am |
  7. carol costello

    IRANIAN WOMEN are comparing her to Michelle Obama–not me.
    Carol Costello

    June 17, 2009 at 11:32 am |
  8. Lynda, Brooklyn

    I an outragged that Carrol Costello would compare First Lady Michelle Obama to this lady Zahra kRamavard. For one, where was this Zohra when her husband was murdering 7000 people. I don't think our first lady would have married a man that had killed and had executed 7000 people, that would be more than two 9/11 events and instead of us condeming him as we did Bin Ladden and and the former dictator president of Irac who we procecuted and hug for the same crimes, we put him on a pedestal and compare his wife to our first lady, Michelle Obama. Whats wrong with you people! It's a shame!!!

    June 17, 2009 at 8:47 am |