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Iran split over female soccer fans

By Amir A. Daftari for CNN

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Iranian women blow horns during an Iranian female national football team match.

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(CNN) -- The decision of the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to lift a ban on Iranian women attending football matches has created new uncertainty in the country.

Last week, President Ahmadinejad ordered authorities to allow women to enter sports stadiums and attend national football games.

Previously, hard-line government officials and religious leaders had deemed it un-Islamic for women to attend men's sporting events, and a ban had been in place since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979.

In a letter to the head of Iran's Physical Education Organization (PEO), Ahmadinejad wrote that women and families help bring "morality" and "chastity" to public venues.

In his directive, Ahmadinejad urged PEO head Mohammad Aliabadi to outline a suitable plan and give women the best seats of the stadiums where national and important games are played.

However, a day after the president's announcement, conservative Shiite mullahs criticized him for not consulting them before taking his decision and insisted the presence of women in stadiums was against Islamic law.

One religious leader, Fazel Lankarani, went further and issued a fatwa against the presence of women in stadiums.

Aliabadi, who announced that women would be permitted to attend live games from the start of next season, seemed to backtrack when he told reporters: "The ban on single women still exists and we won't allow single women to attend any games. Only women who come with their families will be allowed in."

On March 1, Iran's security forcibly stopped 50 female football fans from attempting to enter Tehran's Azadi or "freedom" stadium to watch a match between Iran and Costa Rica.

Mahboubeh Abbass-Gholizadeh, one of the female fans whose leg was broken during the incident, told Radio Free Europe: "We consider this a little victory for the women's movement.

"Before Mr. President issued this order, we were planning on creating some solidarity among Iranian women who live abroad. We were busy working on a campaign to attend matches at the World Cup and chant slogans and have placards.

But it appears that before people outside Iran could hear about the campaign, the president was informed and issued this letter."

But with pressure escalating on him from several MPs and high profile mullahs, it is unclear if Ahmadinejad will now be forced to change his earlier decision, or whether he will stick to his guns and maintain the changes.

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