Jamileh Alam al-Hoda, the wife of the Iranian president, did not participate in this week’s summit in Istanbul organized by Emine Erdoğan, the first lady of Türkiye.
It remains unclear whether President Ebrahim Raisi's wife was not invited to attend, or if a recent controversy surrounding the title of "first lady” of Iran is behind her decision to skip the event.
In recent months, the role of the first lady has become a contentious issue in the Islamic Republic, which distinguishes itself from other countries with a unique legal and political standing.
During previous presidencies such as those of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the presidents’ wives occasionally hosted their foreign counterparts, but the title of "first lady" was not used.
Jamileh Alam al-Hoda has sought to be more active than the wives of the three former Iranian presidents since the beginning of her husband's presidency in 2021.
Recent media reports have referred to her as the "first lady."
But after the International Congress for Women of Influence in Tehran, which was organized by the president's wife, Foreign Minister Hussein Amir-Abdollahian said that she was not referred to as the "first lady" of Iran by her guests.
"In Iran, the first lady is a person who has been beside the supreme leader during the difficult moments of exile, torture, and imprisonment, and she is our model," Jamileh Alam al-Hoda has recently said, in reference to Mansooreh Khojesteh Bagherzadeh, Ali Khamenei's wife.
However, the reality is that Khamenei's wife has played no discernible role in society, and she did not appear in public during Khamenei's 34-year rule over the Islamic Republic.
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, unlike in other government systems, the wife of the country's top leader is not designated as the “first lady.”
While the system is referred to as a "republic," the president is the second-ranking official within its hierarchy, after the supreme leader.
Khamenei's political position is unparalleled among all government systems. Despite having unlimited power, he is not considered as the top executive authority in Iran.
According to the constitution, the president holds the primary executive role and is accountable to the people.
The president makes foreign trips, while Khamenei has not left Iran during his leadership because he has no counterpart in the world.
The unlimited powers accumulated in the hands of Khamenei explains why Jamileh Alam al-Hoda refrains from calling herself the first lady.
At the same time, the political position of the leader of the Islamic Republic, who is a non-executive official according to the constitution, carries the expectation that his wife does not assume the role of a first lady.
Also, since the early days of the Islamic Revolution, Khamenei has not allowed his wife to engage in social activities that would qualify her for the title of first lady.