By Ehsan Mehrabi
June 16, 2021
In Shia Muslim doctrine, Zeinab, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law, is a symbol of strength, piety and the continuation of the path of the third Shiite Imam. And Narjes, the mother of Imam Zaman [Lord of the Age] and the final, “Hidden” Imam according to Twelver Shiite belief, is similarly revered.
It just so happens that two daughters of Ghasem Soleimani, the late commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ expeditionary Quds Force, bear these names. After Soleimani was assassinated last January, 28-year-old Zeinab was afforded a privileged position by the Islamic Republic’s propaganda outlets, and a great deal was made of her auspicious name.
Now, however, her elder sister Narjes Soleimani is trying to cleave her own path – and unlike that of her sister, it’s one to which Iranian hardliners have taken exception.
The widows and children of slain IRGC commanders and military officers have often been known to run for political office in Iran. This was particularly true after the Iran-Iraq war; one of the most famous cases was that of Fatemeh Amirani, the widow of IRGC commander Hamid Bakeri, who stood in the fourth parliamentary elections and was only disqualified by the Guardian Council due to her alleged leftist allegiances.
The children of assassinated Islamic Revolution-era officials, most prominent among them Ali Motahari and Mahmoud Sadeghi, also became MPs during the same period alongside lesser-known names such as Mohammad Mehdi Moffateh.
Despite this precedent, the announcement of Narjes Soleimani’s candidacy in the Tehran City Council elections caused a stir, coming as it does less than 18 months after her father’s death by drone strike at Baghdad International Airport.
Before Narjes registered for the upcoming vote, her younger sister Zeinab had taken most of the limelight after their father’s death. Zeinab, 28, is also head of the newly-established Ghasem Soleimani Foundation. The names of Narjes, her other sister Fatemeh, and brothers Hossein and Mohammad Reza were scarcely mentioned in Iranian state media at all.
Narjes’s decision to stand has led to widespread criticism from Iranian conservatives. Even two of her own siblings have expressed regret in Iranian state media at her apparent use of the Soleimani name for political gain.
But Narjes may also have riled the conservative establishment by registering at a time when the principalist faction was already embroiled in internal rivalries. At least one hardline observer has also made irrelevant public comments about her appearance, calling her presence on the ballot “illegitimate engineering”.
Growing Discontent Ahead of Municipal Elections
The list of principalist candidates for the Tehran City Council election was drawn up in consultation with current Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. Many people were already unhappy about the ex-mayor of Tehran’s seemingly undue levels of interference in the pre-electoral process. And for the time being at least, Narjes Soleimani’s candidacy has been attributed to – or in some quarters, blamed on – Ghalibaf, especially because Soleimani’s widow has been involved in his own wife’s charitable activities.
Criticism of the Tehran conservative coalition has only increased since Narjes’s name appeared on the list. A group of young principalists, who call themselves the “justice-seeking youths”, have accused the bloc of cynically nominating athletes and artists in every election along with the children or relatives of “martyrs”, sidelining the young, in a bid to gain attention and votes.
With a mass boycott of the Iranian presidential election expected this Friday, the atmosphere of the upcoming local elections is similarly chilly. It might be that certain conservatives hope the presence of Ghasem Soleimani’s eldest daughter will increase turnout.
Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, the current chairman of the Revolutionary Forces Coalition Council on the Tehran City Council, complicated matters further this week. He said that in Narjes Soleimani had initially registered as an independent, before principalists decided to put her name on their list. He added that he had asked Narjes to step down, but she had refused.
The biography of Narjes Soleimani has not been made public knowledge up until now, and Haddad-Adel described her only as someone who “studied law and political science and is interested in social activities”.
The spat occurred shortly after Zeinab Soleimani was forced to publicly deny that she supported presidential candidate Ebrahim Raeesi. Zeinab asked the public not to “abuse” the name of her father: a man widely said to have shied away from political factionalism, and who also enjoyed close relations with several Iranian reformists.
There is, of course, a final aggravating factor in the widespread condemnation of Narjes Soleimani’s standing for Tehran City Council. This municipality is still emerging from a period of massive corruption under Ghalibaf and the principalists. In light of this, and the already-known ties between Ghalibaf and Soleimani’s wives, regime supporters are probably worried that any further association will tarnish the “pure” name of Soleimani in the Iranian public imagination – one that Iran’s propaganda machine has been working non-stop to deify since January 2020.