IRAN: Zvi Bar'el / Iran's Women Defeat Ahmadinejad's 'Legal Prostitution' Bill

Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Western Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights

The White House was quick to deny a Financial Times report two weeks ago that U.S. President Barack Obama has conditioned an arms sale to Turkey on Ankara's adopting a more sympathetic approach to Israel, but the Turkish-American arms deal is still being delayed.

It is not that Obama objects to the deal, but rather Congress that doubts whether Turkey is still a friend of America.

Last week, Turkey's deputy foreign minister and former ambassador to Israel, Feridun Sinirlioglu, met with U.S. State Department officials who are responsible for arms sales, and with members of Congress. He also met with Jewish lobbyists, whom Turkey considers essential to furthering the deal.

The delay of the arms deal is having an effect on the Turkish army's efforts against Kurdish separatists in southeast Turkey and northern Iraq. It would like to acquire Super-Cobra helicopters and attack drones of the type used by the American army in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as unmanned aerial vehicles from Israel.

The congressmen peppered Sinirlioglu with questions about why his country had refrained from voting in favor of sanctions against Iran and about the Turkish flotilla to Gaza.

Turkey is taking pains to make it clear that it is applying the sanctions against Tehran adopted by the United Nations even though it voted against them but that it is not prepared to adopt the further sanctions imposed by the American administration and the European Union. The result is that the $10 billion of trade between Turkey and Iran has barely been affected and Ankara is continuing to sell gasoline to Tehran.

A United States Treasury delegation that visited Turkey last week with the intention of demanding an end to trade with Iran, was unsuccessful.

Sinirlioglu explained to the Jewish lobbyists that Turkey is interested in normalizing its ties with Israel, which it considers a friend, but that a date had not yet been set for the dispatch of a new Turkish ambassador to Israel after envoy Ahmet Oguz Celikkol was recalled in the wake of the flotilla affair.

Turkey is awaiting an Israeli apology for the incident and compensation for the deaths of nine of its citizens on board the Mavi Marmara. According to Turkish sources, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan won't budge from these two demands even at the price of having the American arms deal delayed, and is awaiting the outcome of the deliberations of the Turkel committee and the international committee that are discussing the flotilla affair.

"It must be understood that internally, Erdogan is about to face one of his most important tests - the referendum on the reform that he has initiated [that will take place on September 12] and he cannot be seen in public as someone who gives in to Israel on so emotional an issue to the Turkish public," said a member of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party.

Meanwhile Turkish representatives in Washington are being given a cold shoulder by U.S. lawmakers and their aides, who put off meetings, and congressional members of the Turkish friendship group are planning to leave it under pressure.

A minor victory for Iran's women

"A marriage of convenience,"a marriage for pleasure," "legal prostitution" - these are just some of the phrases used to describe Shi'ite marriage arrangements that allow a man to marry a woman for a limited amount of time, ranging from one hour to 99 years.

The arrangement is legally recognized in Iran and was even significantly promoted as "a means to help women who have difficulty getting married for various reasons," as the former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, explained. The various reasons can include the fact that a woman is divorced, that she is unable to give birth, or that she has committed some transgression that makes it difficult for her to find a husband.

For some of the women who are forced to get married under an arrangement of this kind, as well as for young couples that are not officially married but require legal coverage to spend time together, this is the only arrangement that exists.

It is also convenient for thousands of students who go to the holy cities of Iran and want to have "legal" sex during their studies and before getting "actually" married.

However, these temporary marriages have become a bone of contention in Iran. A draft law introduced by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2007 to regulate the temporary marriages met with a great deal of public criticism, particularly from women's groups. They were especially incensed by the clauses that were intended to help men and make it possible for them to marry another woman without the permission of their first wife, the tax that would be imposed on the dowry the woman would receive, and the registration of temporary marriages.

When the law was introduced in parliament in 2008, it was rejected by the parliamentarians, essentially ending the controversy, until now.

Last week Ahmadinejad once again revived the law and brought it before parliament. His assumption was that since many of its opponents were no longer active - some were in jail and others had left the country - and since the parliament was controlled by a conservative majority, he would not have difficulty in getting it passed.

It appears that he did not estimate the strength of the opposition to the law, not only among women's organizations and human rights groups but also within the parliament. At the end of last week, the parliament decided to reject at least paragraph 21 of the law, which talks of registering temporary marriages and had drawn most of the fire from the women's groups. Additional clauses in the draft law will soon be voted on, but the resounding defeat Ahmadinejad suffered so far in the parliament may yet cause him to withdraw the proposed legislation once again.