Mohammed Khatami’s macaca moment

With parliamentary elections due next year, Iran's center-left coalition might be the latest victims of the YouTube effect. The would-be reformers are crying foul over the above video, which has been posted on a number of  conservative Web sites and allegedly shows former President Mohammed Khatami shaking hands with a female supporter on a recent ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.

With parliamentary elections due next year, Iran's center-left coalition might be the latest victims of the YouTube effect. The would-be reformers are crying foul over the above video, which has been posted on a number of  conservative Web sites and allegedly shows former President Mohammed Khatami shaking hands with a female supporter on a recent trip to Italy.

Khatami says the video is a fake and claims never to have shaken hands with any woman, an act considered taboo by many conservative Muslims. A mid-level cleric, Khatami has formed a coalition with more conservative former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi to attempt to stem the tide of Iran's rightward drift. Though emboldened by the defeat of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hardliners in last December's local council elections, reformers still worry they could be disqualified by Iran's religious Guardian Council, which vets parliamentary candidates.

To Western eyes, Iran's Handshakegate looks pretty silly—and it gets much sillier (video)—but with some clerics calling for Khatami to be defrocked, Iran's struggling reformers certainly aren't laughing. It doesn't help, apparently, that Ahmadinejad himself is guilty of the horrible crime of touching a woman; this is about gutter politics, not bedrock principle.

With parliamentary elections due next year, Iran's center-left coalition might be the latest victims of the YouTube effect. The would-be reformers are crying foul over the above video, which has been posted on a number of  conservative Web sites and allegedly shows former President Mohammed Khatami shaking hands with a female supporter on a recent trip to Italy.

Khatami says the video is a fake and claims never to have shaken hands with any woman, an act considered taboo by many conservative Muslims. A mid-level cleric, Khatami has formed a coalition with more conservative former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi to attempt to stem the tide of Iran's rightward drift. Though emboldened by the defeat of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hardliners in last December's local council elections, reformers still worry they could be disqualified by Iran's religious Guardian Council, which vets parliamentary candidates.

To Western eyes, Iran's Handshakegate looks pretty silly—and it gets much sillier (video)—but with some clerics calling for Khatami to be defrocked, Iran's struggling reformers certainly aren't laughing. It doesn't help, apparently, that Ahmadinejad himself is guilty of the horrible crime of touching a woman; this is about gutter politics, not bedrock principle.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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