Reformist’s Struggle in Iran
Since 1997 that Khatami was elected as the president in Iran by the incredible vote of above 70% (among above 90% of people who actually voted), the hope for lots of changes began to grow inside and outside Iran for political changes and increasing freedom. After Khatami’s interview with CNN in 1997, where he called U.S. people to open a friendly dialog, the hope in West increased that the disastrous U.S.-Iran relationship was going to be solved very soon.
Today after passing 7 years, the situation is not what it was expected, but worse. You may wonder why and how Khatami was ineffective?
I believe that to see the struggle, there are different reasons:
When Khatami was elected in 1997, he and his allies, which consisted of ordinary people and some semi-party political groups, were not actually ready to win the election. They didn’t believe that they were going to win Iran’s election by that historic results. They were saying in their interviews before and after election, that they wanted to prevent the hardliners to get the whole 100% power in the country. It was about 10-14 days before election day that everything was changing in Khatami’s favor.
In Iran, there was no real political party. It has a historic reason, because of a long run of kingdom since more than 2000 years ago, the need for actively participating in political process was not practiced long enough. More importantly, while some brave people during the last 50 years were active in the politics, they were always ended to be killed including the 1953’s coup, the 1953-1979 kingdom of Pahlavi, 1979-revolution, ....
Right after revolution, there were hundreds of different political parties growing very fast, but unfortunately this situation didn’t last, because of, I believe, nature of revolution. Some people who were kind of key in revolution were killed by some of the others. (Like French revolution that the first revolutionists were killed by some of the others). The Constitution of the country was made after months of thinking, discussing, and finally voting by the people. Except some of the principles, most of the Constitution was still progressively and open-mindedly written.
Then the US-backed attack of Iraq under Saddam Hussein to Iran happened in 1981, an unfortunate event that helped government in Iran to completely shut every political freedom in the name of security. The 1981-89 terrible Iran-Iraq war basically damaged every political process for growing freedom in Iran. After the war, Khomeini died in 1990, and then there was a hidden step-by-step change in the key elements of power in the country.
Some of the very conservative, superficially religious, and very powerful groups started to gain the power in every aspect in the country. They were among those conservatives that Khomeini did not let them to grow till he was alive, who were later became famous as hardliner conservatives. They changed the Constitution in 1990 and added some other parts into it, that later it showed its effect in every aspect of the country. They basically increased the power of Supreme Leader and decreased the power of President.
In the first Constitution, the Supreme Leader was controlled by an elected Experts Assembly who could even force him to resign. After selecting a Supreme Leader that was among themselves (Khamenei), they made another law that the candidates for membership in the Experts Assembly would be allowed to participate its election, if they could pass a 12-member Guardian Council, who was cyclically selected by the Supreme Leader. Some of the lawyers and reformists, at the time, complained about this cycles in power, but the hardliners had the Supreme Leader and other powers in their side and just shut those voices.
In 1997, when Khatami was elected, after 2-3 years, Iranian public could deeply feel the effects of those changes made in the Constitution, the very high power of the Supreme Leader.
Khatami came to the power with the hope of gradual change of this situation. But in spite of his thoughtful and careful steps, the power and control of the hardliners over military, economic charities (as a financial source for hardliners), main media, and Judiciary system, that was indeed based on the 1990’s constitution helped the hardliners to be able to resist Khatami and his 70% allies of people.
There was still hope that this situation could be changed if this step-by-step change could be helped by the outsider world. In the Clinton’s period, the help to reformists in Iran was verbally and diplomatically great and smart. Madeline Albright’s statement, that apologized for 1953’s coup in Iran and Clinton's different positive messages that were mostly responded positively by Iranian reformist counterparts, were helping reformists against hardliners in Iran. But the US situation didn’t last, and in 2001 election, Republicans grabbed the power. Furthermore, after 9/11, the situation became worse for reformists in Iran. Because of military environment around Iran, hardliners had enough excuse to shut down every small political freedom that existed over there, in the name of security.
So in some sense, the 9/11 in the US, had helped the hardliners to be more powerful in Iran and be able to harden the political process again. I believe if Democrats were in power in the US in 2001 election, the US-Iran relationship had been solved by now.
Anyhow, now the situation is worse than ever. I still believe that military action just delays the political process in Iran. After a possible war, some other non-democratic, and probably non-religious groups would finally get the power, and the process of demanding political freedom just will delay.
On the other hand, if US could use the diplomatic language and pressure to force the hardliners to give more freedom to people, it would be great for the sake of reform in Iran. The thing that is very unlikely to happen, because whoever that believes in freedom would be able to do such things but current US administration, I don’t think, really believes so.
But let’s be optimistic and hope that the situation gets somewhat that it will happen.