Iranian VP under fire for 'insulting Koran'

AFP Global Edition

Nov 15, 2008 19:00 EST

The Iranian vice-president in charge of tourism on Sunday faced calls for his sacking after girls danced with the Koran during a ceremony staged by his ministry, media reported.

Esfandyar Rahim Mashaie, who survived criticism this summer for asserting than Iran is "a friend of the Israeli people," came under renewed fire from conservatives and from religious leaders for "insulting the Koran."

At a ceremony in Tehran on November 8 on foreign investment in Iran's tourism industry, a dozen dancing girls clad in traditional clothes brought the Islamic holy book to the narrator on a tray.

Official ceremonies in the Islamic republic often begin with a recitation of excerpts from the Koran, but the fact that the book was carried to the narrator by dancing girls went down badly with many influential figures.

Mehdi Jahangari, Mashaie's deputy who organized the ceremony, resigned on Saturday. He defended his action by saying that "bringing the Koran on a tray is part of the traditions of the people in western Iran."

However, his resignation failed to end the storm of condemnation.

Laleh Eftekhari, who heads the "Koran" parliamentary group in the conservative dominated legislature, has asked President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to immediately fire Mashaie, Fars news agency reported on Sunday.

Conservative groups the Bazaar Islamic association and the Islamic Coalition Party, through its chairman Mohammad Nabi Habibi, denounced the "insult to the Koran" in separate open letters.

Two senior clerics, the Grand Ayatollahs Lotfollah Safi Golpayegani and Nasser Makarem Shirazi have condemned the ceremony.

"The insult to Koran is not acceptable," Ayatollah Golpayegani said on Wednesday, adding Mashaie "is not competent for the position."

Mashaie provoked an outcry in mid-July by declaring that Iran is "friends with the Israeli people." He repeated the opinion in August.

The Islamic republic does not recognise Israel and Ahmadinejad has advocated the destruction of its arch-foe while describing the Holocaust a "myth."

Many MPs and clerics demanded Mashai's resignation on that occasion but the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, intervened on September 19 to halt attacks, while also admonishing Mashaie.

Source: AFP Global Edition