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Iran Greets Nobel With Congratulations, and Anger

October 12, 2003|From Times Wire Services

TEHRAN — Iran's first Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, has exposed the battle lines between the nation's conservatives and reformists, who exchanged fire in Saturday's newspapers.

Iran's conservatives accused the Nobel committee of pandering to the West's political agenda by awarding its Peace Prize to Ebadi, while reformists hailed her as a catalyst for change.

Ebadi, 56, is a thorn in the side of hard-liners and a vocal campaigner on behalf of women's rights. She has defended political activists -- cases others feared to touch.

While conservative-controlled state-run television and radio agonized over how to broadcast the news, Iranian girls who watched Friday's announcement on satellite television excitedly telephoned one another or sent text messages.

Several hours later, President Mohammad Khatami's reformist government congratulated Ebadi.

"This is an honor for Iranian women and shows that Iranian Muslim women have gained a positive atmosphere for their activities, and we hope that her views will be noticed inside and outside of Iran," said Abdollah Ramazanzadeh, a government spokesman.

Ramazanzadeh said a government representative would attend a welcoming ceremony for Ebadi at Tehran airport on her return to the country Tuesday. Ebadi was visiting Paris when the announcement of the award was made.

Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a close aide to Khatami, said the Nobel was "very good news for every Iranian" and a sign of the active role played by Iranian women in politics. He stressed that the comments reflected his personal views.

Conservative-controlled state television and radio took several hours to report Ebadi's award, then did so without comment, reflecting the struggle with reformists over Iran's political destiny.

Individual conservatives, who have long viewed Ebadi's activities as a threat to the Islamic system, reacted angrily to the Nobel committee's decision.

Assadollah Badamchian, a leader of the main conservative political group in Iran, was skeptical about the Nobel committee's motives.

"It is natural that somebody who calls herself a reformist and is supported by [U.S. Secretary of State Colin L.] Powell, [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair and [President] Bush receives this prize," he was quoted as saying in Saturday's newspapers.

Ali Yousefpour, president of the Muslim Journalists' Assn., said Ebadi's award echoed the prize given to Egypt's Anwar Sadat, loathed by hard-liners who accused him of selling out to Israel and sheltering the exiled shah of Iran.

Though the reformist press splashed Ebadi's smile across the front pages, right-leaning newspapers such as Resalat, made no mention of the prize.

However, Ali Moazami, a columnist for a reformist daily, said the award would put wind in the sails of the reform movement.

"It is an encouragement for those who want freedom to raise their voices," he wrote. "Everyone seemed to interpret it as a sign of cries being heard."

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