The Corner

Ahmadinejad’s Embrace of Chàvez’s Mother Draws Fire from Mullahs

A photograph of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad consoling the grieving mother of Hugo Chàvez at her son’s funeral on Friday in Caracas has stirred up controversy in Iran, the BBC reports.

Some Iranian clerics blasted Ahmadinejad for violating the traditional Muslim prohibition on men touching women who are not family members. Another photograph was produced by Ahmadinejad’s aides showing the Iranian president pressing his face against an elderly man who they claimed was an uncle of Chàvez. This, they said, was the real photo, and the offending one had been doctored.

It didn’t take long for someone to notice that no, actually, the balding man in the supposedly authentic photo is Mohammed ElBaradei, the former U.N. nuclear watchdog and would-be Egyptian presidential candidate. Since ElBaradei is a full head taller than the diminutive Ahmadinejad, he would find it difficult to nestle up against the shorter man’s chin in the way depicted in the image.

This isn’t the first time an Iranian official has taken flak for illicit contact with a woman in public. Last month, the Iranian ambassador to Germany, Reza Sheikh Attar, was caught on video apparently delightedly high-fiving the chairwoman of Germany’s Green Party, Claudia Roth. The incident was embarrassing to both countries for different reasons. The German press took Roth to task for her chumminess with someone who is accused of massacring Kurds as the governor of heavily Kurdish provinces in Iran in the Eighties. A spokesman for Attar maintained that Roth had misinterpreted the ambassador’s attempted wave, and that he “was completely surprised by this unexpected gesture.” Attar later insisted in an interview with the Iranian news agency Fars that the high five was illusory: “As a sign of respect I raised my hand — I didn’t raise my hand to shake her hand — Mrs. Roth also raised her hand. Of course the distance was small but no touching took place.”

Ahmadinejad has in the past been more careful to avoid contact while greeting women. In a recent visit to Egypt, he skirted a proffered handshake with a bow:

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