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Iranian Minister In Hot Water (Yet Again)

Iran's vice president and the head of the country's Tourism and Cultural Heritage Organization, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, is in trouble again, this time over a ceremony that involved an explosive mix for the Islamic Republic: women, music, and the Koran.

During a November 8 ceremony, staged by his ministry and attended by him, a dozen women dressed in traditional costumes reportedly carried in the Koran on a tray to a musical accompaniment.

Some media have described their movements as "dance," but it wasn't the sort of thing you'd see in a disco or night club. Still, it was considered scandalous by many.

A number of deputies have called for Mashaie to be fired, while at least two conservatives clerics have called the ceremony insulting and called Mashaie incompetent.

The minister's aide resigned on November 15 over the controversy. In his defense, he said "bringing the Koran in on a tray is part of the traditions of the people of western Iran."

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has so far remained silent. But he has backed Mashaei, whose daughter is married to the president's son, in another controversy. That one was caused when, last summer, Mashaie said Iran is friends with the Israeli people.

Then, as now, many deputies and senior clerics called for Mashaie's resignation before finally the Supreme Leader intervened, describing Mashaie's comments as illogical but calling on critics to stop pursuing the matter. And it worked, things calmed down.

In fact, Mashaei was involved in yet another "dance" controversy in 2007. A video of him was released attending an event in Istanbul where uncovered women were dancing (for real this time).

Under Iran's Islamic laws, men are prohibited from watching women sing and dance. That time, Mashaei called the video fake and the website that had posted the video was blocked and its managers temporarily detained.

It will be interesting to see how this turns out. Will Mashaei be forced to resign? Or will he wriggle out of this one as well? Certain politicians seem to become immune to controversies after a while.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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