Ebtekar, Ma'sumeh (1960–)

views updated

Ebtekar, Ma'sumeh

Ma'sumeh Ebtekar (also Massoumeh) is an Iranian feminist and politician who first came to international attention as the spokesperson for the students who overtook the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979.


Ma'sumeh Ebtekar was born in 1960 in Tehran, Iran. She spent part of her childhood, from age three to nine, in the United States, but received most of her education in Iran: a B.S. in medical technology from Shahid Beheshti University, in Tehran, in 1985; an M.S. in 1989; and a Ph.D. in immunology from Tarbiat Modarres University, in Tehran, in 1995.


As one of the Iranian students who participated in the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, Ebtekar came to be known as Mary, the spokesperson for the student militants to the U.S. media. She appeared on almost every U.S. television program that was aired during the 444 days of the hostage crisis. Twenty-one years later, she wrote a book, Takeover in Tehran: The Inside Story of the 1979 U.S. Embassy Capture, in order "to set the record straight" about what happened. From 1981 to 1983 she was editor of the English-language paper Kayhan International.

Aside from a few articles on immunology, most of Ebtekar's writings and professional activities have been in the area of women's studies, particularly on issues related to the integration of women into the processes of socioeconomic development. She was a member of the official Iranian delegation to the 1985 Third World Conference on Women, in Nairobi, and vice chair of the national committee for the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing. She was a founding member and has been a member of the board of directors of the Center for Women's Studies and Research since 1986; a faculty member of the Tarbiat Modarres University School of Medical Science from 1989 to 1995; editorial director and license holder of Farzaneh: Journal of Women's Studies since 1994; and director of the Women's NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) Coordination Office since 1994.

Appointed by President mohammad khatami in 1997 as vice president and head of the Department of Environment, Ebtekar became the first woman in the cabinet since the Iranian Revolution and the first female vice president in Iran's history. She is a member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, and in early 2007, was elected to the Tehran city council.


Ebtekar first came into global prominence during the American hostage standoff, where she employed the fluent English she learned in the United States as a press spokesperson for the students in the embassy. She went on to garner attention as the first female cabinet member in postrevolutionary Iran and its first female vice president. In 2006 the United Nations named her one of that year's "Friends of the Earth" for her environmental work.


Ebtekar has yet to make her full mark on Iranian history, but will be remembered as the first woman to attain cabinet rank in the Islamic republic.


Name: Ma'sumeh Ebtekar

Birth: 1960, Tehran, Iran

Family: Married, two children

Nationality: Iranian

Education: B.S. (medical technology), Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, 1985; M.S. (immunology), Tarbiat Modarres University, Tehran, 1989; Ph.D. (immunology), Tarbiat Modarres University, 1995


  • 1979: Participates in takeover of American embassy in Tehran
  • 1980: Spokesperson for students holding the embassy
  • 1981: Editor, Kayhan International
  • 1985: Attends Third World Conference on Women in Nairobi as part of Iran's delegation
  • 1986: Helps founds Center for Women's Studies and Research
  • 1989: Teaches at Tarbiat Modarres University School of Medical Science
  • 1994: Founds and edits Farzaneh: Journal of Women's Studies; directs the Women's NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) Coordination Office
  • 1997: Selected to be a cabinet member and vice president of Iran
  • 2006: "Friend of the Earth" award from UN
  • 2007: Elected to Tehran city council


Ebtekar, Massoumeh. Takeover in Tehran: The Inside Story of the 1979 U.S. Embassy Capture. Burnaby, BC, Canada: Talonbooks, 2000.

Zangeneh, Hamid. "Massoumeh Ebtekar, Takeover in Tehran: The Inside Story of the 1979 U.S. Embassy Capture." Journal of Iranian Research and Analysis 17, no. 1 (April 2001).

                                        Nareyeh Tohidi

                        updated by Michael R. Fischbach