TEHRAN — Iran’s outgoing parliament summoned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for an unprecedented grilling Wednesday, but he spent much of the session deflecting lawmakers’ questions with jokes and mockery.
Apparently encouraged by victories in the March 2 parliamentary elections, hard-line lawmakers had seized the opportunity to call the president in to answer questions on a range of issues, including his economic policies, his views on the obligatory Islamic head scarves for Iranian women and his relations with the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The new 290-member legislature is slated to take office in May.
Despite the parliament’s impeachment power, Ahmadinejad made fun of the questions, saying that their author “must have gotten his master’s degree by pressing on some button.”
The session suggested that Ahmadinejad’s reported dispute with Khamenei had been resolved. Khamenei wields great influence over key parliamentary critics of the president, but before Wednesday, many of them had played down the importance of questioning Ahmadinejad, saying the session should lead to better relations and not to impeachment.
In a series of short, pointed answers, Ahmadinejad denied that he had remained home in April after a public falling-out with Khamenei over the president’s dismissal of his intelligence minister. He also said that unemployment could be solved if “all would join hands.”
Lawmakers, many of whom once supported Ahmadinejad, questioned his statement that the government has no role in promoting the head scarves that women in Iran are required to wear. They said that so many young women are not wearing their head coverings properly that “the situation has become uncontrollable.”
Striking a popular chord, Ahmadinejad showed his displeasure with the morality police who roam the streets of Iranian cities and arrest women wearing head scarves deemed improper.
“These are our own children you are talking about,” he said. “They will save our country in war and other crises.” Ahmadinejad asked why the tightly controlled state television showed many women with hair visible under their head scarves voting during the election, often interviewing them live to illustrate the turnout.
“We show [badly veiled women] in election time but arrest them in the streets the other days. Such paradoxes will catch up with us someday,” Ahmadinejad warned. He added that young people must not be “teased.”
He was also asked about promoting the idea that Iran is more important than Islam. In the Islamic republic, faith officially supersedes nationalism, but Ahmadinejad has been stressing the concept of a strong Iran, much to the anger of conservative Shiite Muslim clerics.
“Please tell me which country I should talk about instead — Britain?” he asked. “I want to say here: I am proud of being Iranian, and being Iranian means being with God and revolutionary.”
After Ahmadinejad left the floor, angry lawmakers said they were insulted and chided the head of the parliament, Ali Larijani, for not intervening.
“We are no joke,” outgoing lawmaker Ali Nura told the semiofficial Fars News Agency. “I had my PhD long before Ahmadinejad received his master’s degree. This is unacceptable.”
“Ahmadinejad’s answers to lawmakers’ questions were illogical, illegal and an attempt to avoid answering them,” another lawmaker, Mohammad Taqi Rahba, told the parliament’s news agency. “With an insulting tone, Ahmadinejad made fun of lawmakers’ questions and insulted parliament.”
But in another sign that higher powers are backing the president, Larijani, a former top negotiator on Iran’s nuclear program, is reportedly fighting to keep his job because of his attacks on Ahmadinejad.