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Iran's Parliament Debates National Dress Code - 2004-08-23


In what is being called the national fashion reform bill, Iran's conservative parliament is debating whether to institute a stricter dress code for Iranian citizens. While some experts say a dress code could have its advantages, others say the proposed legislation is simply a veiled way of dictating how Iranian women should dress.

The purpose of the proposed dress code is to combat what the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calls a corrupting cultural invasion. He says there are dangers in imitating foreigners, and said Iranians need to design their own styles.

According to Iranian expert and professor of Iranian studies at Egypt's Ein Shams University, Mohammed Abdel Moeemen, the supreme leader's idea of a dress code would have some cultural and economic benefits.

Mr. Moeemen says the dress code proposal is a new idea in Iran. He says the supreme leader believes it would give a special image for Iran's contemporary civilization; would benefit the country economically by encouraging local production of ready-made clothing, and would help dissolve the differences among the social classes.

Mr. Moeemen says the proposed dress code would likely be accepted by low-income Iranians because, he says, they would see it as a way to save money while also helping to erase economic differences.

But according to Iranian expert, Amal Hamada who teaches at Cairo University, the proposed dress code is mostly aimed at Iranian women who are already required to wear veils in public and clothing that covers most of their body.

"It is adding further anger to the women of Iran because they were hoping the restriction on the dress code would be lessened more and more with the advancement of the reformers," she says. "But, even they may have their dream that there will be no enforcement to wear a veil. Women would be free to choose what they want, what they wear. But now it's not only the law but increasing restrictions."

Ms. Hamada says Iranian hard-liners are attempting to tell Iranians how to interpret the Islamic holy book the Koran, which states that women should wear veils while in public. But, Ms. Hamada says people should be free to decide whether to obey or disobey the teachings of the Koran.

The chief of police in Tehran recently warned women not to dress, as he put it, like models. And, over the past few months police have been arresting Iranian women for wearing what were deemed to be flimsy headscarves, shortened trousers and coats that revealed the shape of the body.

Iran's cultural commission recently stated there is a need in Iran for what it called a national costume for both men and women that adheres to an Islamic dress code.

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