Parliament, under Iran's Islamic Republic, has never been a tame nor particularly civil place. From the Godfather-esque years following the 1979 revolution to the scuffles of more modern times, physical violence and crude verbal sparring have become enshrined as legislative traditions. While it makes more good television, it's questionable whether such goings on make for good governance. We chart here the most infamous moments over the past three decades, up to the confirmation hearings for President Hassan Rouhani's cabinet, where MPs tried to outdo one another coming up with unseemly synonyms for sycophant, as they accused one another of turning overnight from Ahmadinejad hand-kissers to Rouhani supporters. What's clear in the end is that unlike in most countries, being a member of Iran's parliament involves the real threat of bodily harm.
1. Shoe Slapping And an Actual Firearm
In November 1983, parliament witnessed its most historic dispute, a massive brawl involving numerous members. Ali Akbar Moinfar, who was beaten severely, has written about his ordeal: “About ten honorable MPs attacked Mr. [Hashem] Sabbaghian, and beat and injured us with punches and kicks. Hadi Ghaffari outdid everyone by taking off his shoe and beating me on my head, my face, and my body. He was also uttering profanities against my wife, mother, and sister...” Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, then Speaker of the House, was watching the fracas silently and peacefully, smiling, and very calm. At one point, however, he spotted something amiss and shouted: “Put that gun in your pocket!”
2. The Three Cleric Scuffle
Brawling was not confined to the over-excited early years of the revolution. Towards the end of 2000, Mohammad Hassan Jamshidi, a cleric representing Behshahr, charged toward the podium in order to beat Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri, and Ghodratollah Nazarinia, another cleric MP, intervened, only to receive Jamshidi's hard slap in Nouri's stead.
3. Reporters: “Children Born of Adultery”
It must be said that a hardline majority has meant more scuffling. In the 2005-2008 session, a hardline MP called Akbar Alami, an opposition MP, a “porter,” and Mohammad Reza Koochakzadeh, another hardliner, called reporters “children born of adultery.” Before reformist MP Ghodratollah Alikhani spoke in objection to Koochakzadeh's remarks, he sent a colleague to persuade Koochekzadeh to take back his statement, to which he replied: “I insist, reporters are children born of adultery.” Koochakzadeh was a staunch support of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and physically attacked two reporters in two separate terms during his long tenure in parliament.
4. “Shut Up And Sit Down, Moron!” Ali Motahari to Koochakzadeh
During the review of a proposed bill on book publishing during parliament's 2009-2012 session, the MP Ali Motahari spoke against Mehdi Koochakzadeh and his cohorts, referring to him as “Koochakov” and alleging that he had Russian roots. Koochakzadeh then threw the microphone at Motahari, who reacted by saying, “Shut up and sit down, moron!” In another story, also in the 2009-2012 term, Roohollah Jani Abbaspour and Amir Taherkhani, two MPs from Qazvin province, slapped each other. Disputes over local affairs of a province have continually provided grounds for many MP’s verbal and physical entanglements in the Iranian Parliament.
5. Don't Mess with our Caliph
Shia-Sunni sectarian tensions are no stranger to Iran's parliament. In April, the MP representing Iran's Sunnis, Mohammad Qasim Osmani, recited a poem critical of Iran’s social and economic conditions. The poem met with objections from two radical MPs, Mehdi Koochakzadeh and Roohollah Hosseinian. When Seyed Bagher Hosseini, a Sunni MP from Zabol entered the fight, Hosseinian began insulting Umar Ibn Al-Khattāb, a Muslim Caliph revered by the Sunnis, and blows ensued. Expressing regret over his inability to beat his opponent, Hosseinian said, “I am not the type to insult anyone, but when Hosseini insulted me I raised my arm, but, unfortunately, I missed him.”
6. Even in the Prayer Room?
MPs haven't just kept their feuds in the family, but have occasionally gone after government officials as well. During the 2009-2012 term, Seyed Hossein Hosseini, an MP from Fariman, had an encounter with Behrouz Moradi, Head of the Targeted Subsidies Organization. Moradi addressed the Parliament as a “stable” and Ali Larijani expelled him for it, but things didn’t end there. Reportedly MP Hosseini slapped Moradi on the back of his neck and injured him, and received a slap and verbal abuse in return. In another incident during the same term, an MP from Boroojen beat Majid Namjoo, Head of National Waste and Wastewater Company, in the Parliament’s Prayer Room, stating that Namjoo had refused to give him an appointment. Majid Namjoo became Minister of Power later.
7. Slapping, The New Rejoinder
Slapping became a common occurrence with the hardline majority in the 2009-2012 term. Once conservative MP slapped a representative from the Vice President’s Office during the volatile impeachment proceedings for Interior Minister Ali Kordan. Also, during a Construction Commission meeting, a hardline MP and the Head of the National Aviation Organization each dealt the other a strong slap on the face.
8. Booing Ahmadinejad
Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never got on with parliament. In 2011, when he showed up to defend his proposed Sports & Youth Minister, the MPs booed him and repeatedly signaled “two,” a convention used by parliamentarians to display their disagreement. Iran’s Supreme Leader chastised parliament for this, saying, “What the Parliament did was cruel and a bad thing...all that’s left to do now is to go and beat them up, too.” This carried little weight, and parliament kept on with its Ahmadinejad taunting ways.
9. Have Tapes, Will Play
“The people now know your character...You have no right to speak!... You have not observed the Islamic Republic’s values!” Speaker Ali Larijani said all this angrily in parliament last February, during what has become the most notorious moment in parliament's modern history. Ahmadinejad had made good on a long-uttered threat and played a recording before the house that allegedly showed a Larijani brother demanding a bribe. The two men proceeded to spar bitterly, revealing the extent to which Iranian politics had degenerated into a personal cat fight. Iran's Supreme Leader stepped in later to admonish both men.
10.We Have Clubs, We Have Sticks
During the recent confirmation hearings for President Hassan Rouhani's cabinet, the hardline MP Mohammad Ali Bozorgvari nominees that he would use a club to extract his region's from them. Bozorgvari also extended his verbal violence beyond the cabinet, calling Rafsanjani’s son a “clerical princeling thief.”
The question that emerges at the end is: why? Why is such Mafioso-style violence and name calling persistent to this day, by an Islamic government that routinely obsesses over morality and public decorum? One could argue that the behavior of Iran's conservative politicians has religious roots. Mohammad Momen, a jurist Member of the Islamic Republic’s Guardian Council, whom Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has described as “one of the fairest and most righteous jurisprudents and political experts in Iran,” refers to some verses in the Koran and Shiite lore in order to state that slandering opponents is permissible. He has said that opponents can be accused of the ugliest deeds such as adultery and sodomy. The mud, it seems, is coming from upstream.