A scandal over a foreign trip by family of Iran’s conservative parliament speaker has turned into one of the hottest topics on Persian-language social media.
"Layette-gate" and "Ghalibaf" rose to the top five hottest Persian Twitter hashtags on Wednesday and have remained there since it was revealed that Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf’s wife, daughter and son-in-law had returned from a "layette-shopping" trip to Turkey with massive extra luggage including a baby bed and stroller which they could easily find in Tehran.
Critics accuse Ghalibaf of hypocrisy for admonishing others for luxury and telling Iranians they should support domestically made products, and telling those who are suffering economic hardships to be patient, when his own family travels abroad to buy luxury products.
In a tweet Wednesday, Mohammad Parsi, journalist, said those like Ghalibaf who promote domestic production, particularly of cars -- despite their very low safety standards resuting in thousands of deaths every year -- are not even prepared to buy their grandchildren's strollers in Iran.
Others have asked Ghalibaf how his family could afford luxury layette-shopping abroad if all that he and his family members own is the very modest assets he declared when running for president in 2017.
Ghalibaf’s son and allies argue that he should not be held responsible for his daughter's "mistake". One of the Twitterati reminded them that this was not the case when hardliners of the Guardian Council excluded former Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani from the presidential elections because his daughter had lived and studied abroad.
Mostafa Faghihi, the editor of Entekhab, a news website close to Rouhani, in a tweet Wednesday referred to the rumors apparently propagated by Ghalibaf allies that his ultra-hardliner rivals in the parliament, the Paydari Front, may be using the scandal to oust him as speaker to drown "the people's voice". "It makes me laugh! One asks what good these imaginary voices have done for people?"
The news of the scandal has spread far and wide among Iranians. On Thursday teachers chanted against Ghalibaf in rallies they held in cities and towns across the country in protest to their low salaries. "One layette set less could solve our problems," teachers chanted in Isfahan.
Media controlled by the Revolutionary Guard, IRGC rushed to Ghalibaf’s defense. Javan newspaper on Thursday claimed that such allegations were "cowardly" attempts to "destroy" the parliament speaker's reputation and influence the outcome of upcoming elections of the Parliament's presidium.
Fars news agency, another IRGC-linked media outlet, also denied the truth of "layette-shopping" and said it had made enquiries from the airline and confirmed that the Ghalibaf family had had no extra luggage upon their return to Tehran.
Relatively independent media, however, strongly criticized Ghalibaf and even called for his resignation. The reformist Aftab newspaper on Thursday ran three separate articles on the "layette-gate" story including one with the headline, "Mr. Ghalibaf, Resignation Please".
"It will be written in history books that the wife and daughter of this country's parliament speaker went layette-shopping in Turkey when Iranian people were struggling to feed themselves," Aftab said in one article and reminded Ghalibaf of his own attacks on rival politicians in the past for similar luxury.