Iran Hardliners Target Rouhani Over Female Singer at State Event

(Bloomberg) -- A woman’s solo has given Iranian hardliners another opportunity to bash President Hassan Rouhani.

At Tuesday’s opening of the annual Fajr festival, one woman’s voice rang out above the others during a televised play celebrating the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution. That set off a firestorm of attacks by hardliners who disapprove of a relaxation of Islamic tenets including a ban on female solos, which they consider potentially sexually arousing.

Such “immoral cultural spectacles” are a distraction from Iran’s difficult economic conditions and a “trap” set by Rouhani, Nasrollah Pejmanfar, a cleric and lawmaker representing the holy city of Mashhad, told hardline state-run Fars news agency. Rouhani wants to provoke outrage from believers of the revolution so he can then tell his followers, “See, I am bringing you freedom,” he said.

Criticism was also leveled at Culture Minister Abbas Salehi, who attended the play. “I heard nothing but the choir,” he tweeted on Wednesday. The public relations team for the state-run Fajr festival said the singer’s voice wasn’t as distinct to those physically present and the audio had been distorted in the television broadcast.

Rouhani has faced pushback from hardliners from the beginning of his presidency in 2013, over his efforts to ease Iran’s isolation through a multipower nuclear agreement and his declared desire to create greater social liberty. The U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear pact and the economic battering that’s surrounded it have given hardliners more ammunition against him.

While musical performances and concerts have multiplied in Tehran over the past decade, and acceptance of female singers has gained ground, solos have remained a flashpoint.

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