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HAIL BARONESS AFSHAR!: First Iranian Woman In the House of Lords


Report From Europe by Darius KADIVAR


The first Iranian woman takes up a seat on The House of Lords crossbenches as a non-party political peer in recognition of her work.




The Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.


- The full, formal, style and title of the House of Lords (*)



The Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.

- The full, formal, style and title of the House of Commons (**) - Professor
Haleh Afshar, who is an advisor to the British government on public policy relating to Muslim women and Islamic law and is the founder and chair of the Muslim Women's Network, was chosen as a 'People's Peer', an appointment for people who will bring distinction and expertise to the House of Lords.

"I was really very surprised and honored to be considered a 'People's Peer'. In fact, I was lost for words when I was told. I shall certainly be fighting for equal opportunities for minorities and for women as I have always done," Professor Afshar said after her appointment.

Born in Iran, Afshar has received her PhD from Cambridge University and currently teaches politics and women's studies at the University of York. She is also visiting professor of Islamic law at the International Faculty of Comparative Law, University of Strasbourg.

Professor Afshar is one of the most prolific Muslims in Britain today. She has served on the British Council and the United Nations Association of which she is Honorary President of International Services. She has also been an active defender of the Muslim rights in the UK after the Sep. 11 attacks and a constant critic of the US policies.

In addition to her academic studies, she has written widely as a journalist on Muslim women and the 'War on Terror'.


The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy, that is to say it has a monarch (a king or a queen) as its Head of State. Nevertheless, the Monarch has very little power and reigns with the support of Parliament. Parliament consists of two chambers known as the House of Commons and the House of Lords.




Absolute Monarchy led to Revolution followed by Theocratic Religious Rule under Cromwell. Upon Cromwell's death the Monarchy was restored but Parliament became the center of Power and governess. The King reined but did not rule. ©British Parliamentary System



Authors Notes:


Official Website of Professor Haleh Afshar at The University of York



How does Britain's system of government work?

Britain is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy. Parliament is composed of The House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Monarchy. Parliament passes laws, approves taxation and debates on the major issues of the day. The Prime Minister heads the Government and appoints Ministers, who in turn head individual Government departments.
The House of Commons, where Parliamentary power is held, has 659 elected Members of Parliament (MP's), each representing a local constituency.

While represented in Parliament at Westminster, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also have their own devolved administrations.


Modernity and Tradition: Structure of the British Parliament and Representatives in Ceremonial Suits. ©British Parliamentary System


The Monarchy today


Today the Monarch does not participate in the British government. The King or Queen has no real political power. Parliament makes all the decisions and the Prime Minister runs the country. The Monarch reigns but does not rule. The monarch symbolizes the unity of the British people. Furthermore, he or she is still the head of the Anglican Church.

The monarch :

appoints the Prime Minister after a general election

appoints Government Ministers

summons, prorogues or dissolves Parliament

gives the speech to open Parliament ( to read the Queen's Speech click here)

gives Royal Assent to legislation

has power of patronage in making official appointments and conferring honours

has power to declare war and make peace

heads the Commonwealth

presides over official dinners, receiving foreign presidents

Today, Elisabeth II is Queen of England. HRH The Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, is next in line to the throne. When a sovereign dies, or abdicates, a successor is immediately appointed according to rules, which were laid down at the end of the seventeenth century. The coronation of a new sovereign is a ceremony of great pageantry and celebration that has remained essentially the same for over a thousand years. If Elisabeth II dies or abdicates, her son, Prince Charles will become King and he will reign over the United Kingdom. If he refuses to be king or abdicates, his son Prince William will be crowned. If William refuses to be king, then his brother Harry will be installed King.


Learn More on the British Parliamentary System


Soraya Former Queen of Iran visits British Prime Minister Winston Churchill
on State Visit 1950's.



(*)The Peerage is a system of titles of nobility in the United Kingdom, part of the British honours system. The term is used both collectively to refer to the entire body of titles, and individually to refer to a specific title.

All British honours, including peerage dignities, spring from the Sovereign, who is considered the fount of honour. The Sovereign, as "the fountain and source of all dignities cannot hold a dignity from himself" (opinion of the House of Lords in the Buckhurst Peerage Case), cannot belong to the Peerage. If an individual is neither the Sovereign nor a peer, he or she is a commoner. Members of a peer's family who are not themselves peers (including such members of the Royal Family) are also commoners; the British system thus differs fundamentally from continental European ones, where entire families, rather than individuals, were ennobled.


(**) The term "Commons" derives from the Norman French word communes, referring to the geographic and collective communities of their representatives. It is often wrongly believed that "Commons" refers to the fact that its members are "commoners", as "Lords" indicates that that the members of that house are peers.


The British Parliament is composed of the House of Lords ( Red Seats) and House of Commons ( Blue Seats) ©
British Parliamentary System

Photo 2: Major Figures in the struggle for Parliamentary Representation in the British Monarchy. Top: Charles 1st Divine Rule was challenged by Oliver Cromwell. The King was beheaded in the name of Parliamentary Rule but in the face of political divisions Cromwell  installed a Religious Theocracy and took the title of Lord Protector for nearly a decade. After his death, Charles II son of Charles Ist was brought back and the monarchy was restored including in its divine attributions. However unlike his Father Charles II understood the fragility of absolutism in the British monarchy and prepared his succession by naming his brother James II, King of Scotland as heir. By then Parliamentary Rule was reinforced and strong enough to oppose the new king's arbitrary rule. James II was actually impeached after barely three years of rule and was replaced shortly after by respectively William of Orange and upon the latter's death by his daughter Anne. The Absolute Monarchy was definitively abolished and replaced by Parliamentary rule. Hence the Kings and Queen's of Great Britain Reign but do not rule.


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About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant. He contributes OCPC Magazine and The MiddleEast Magazine.

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