07/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Reading The Pictures: Did Mullahs Freak Over "The Michelle Factor"

Zahra 2. jpg.jpg

Maybe what caused Khamenei and the clerics to derail the Iranian election, as much as anything, was their disaffection with Mousavi's intense and outspoken confidant and wife.

Ahmadinejad signaled as much when, in a startling move, he went out of his way to attack her directly in the last presidential debate (and she responded by threatening to sue). Although she rejects outright comparison, Zahra Rahnavard (sporting what is sometimes referred to by conservatives as the "bad hajib" for its floral pattern) is openly admiring of Michele Obama, describes she and Mousavi as equal partners in most things, and has already modeled herself, through her active involvement the the campaign, in the historic role of Iran's first "first lady."

Considering that Ahmadinejad's wife has hardly been seen in public, and the photos that do exist offer her set back and almost completely obscured by the hajib, images like the one above must be profoundly difficult for fundamentalists to swallow, casting Zahra -- in the name of her husband -- as a feminist reformer and an iconic figure in her own right.


This second image is very typical, showing Zahra side-by-side with Mousavi (in a characteristic two-handed gesture), very engaged with the crowd and almost always more intense.

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(image: Atta Kenare/A.P. Tehran. May 30, 2009)