Events

After Reform: Iran's Political Alternatives

February 21, 2003 // 7:30am9:00am
Event Co-sponsors: 
Middle East Program

Morad Saghafi, Goft-o-goo Quarterly journal (Tehran) and Siamak Namazi, Atieh Bahar consulting firm (Tehran).

Morad Saghafi examined the state of the reform movement in Iran two years or more after a severe conservative crackdown. The reform movement is substantially weaker, he noted, but this has not led to the empowerment of its conservative rivals. Applying Albert Hirshman’s concept of “voice, loyalty, and exit” to the analysis of the political situation in Iran, Mr. Saghafi said the presidency of Mohammad Khatami can be divided into three phases.

The early years of the Khatami presidency were characterized by a desire of the population and the reformist movement to participate and make their voices heard in politics. In the second phase, the voters showed their voice and their loyalty to the president and the reformists by giving the reformists a majority in parliament and re-electing Khatami with a large majority to the presidency. The reformist movement, however, failed to keep the population vigorously engaged in political debate and in building and expanding civil society. Over the last four years, the judiciary and the conservatives were able to neutralize Khatami’s effort at democratization. Reformist papers were closed down, student protests were crushed, and the Iran Liberation Movement was banned. Saghafi said Khatami’s failure to take a firm stand against these and similar measures led to a third phase of exit, he noted. The population became disillusioned and disengaged from the reform movement and the political system of the Islamic Republic. At the same time, some of Khatami’s closest advisors in the reform movement distanced themselves from the president and the movement. Saghafi said that while the conservatives welcomed the exit of some of Khatami’s advisors they grew concerned when the president threatened to resign in November 2002. The conservatives decided to make it more difficult for the reformist movement to leave the political arena. They will also try and lure the Iranian voters into the political arena again by making economic and social promises to the voters. Their success, according to Mr. Saghafi, will depend on when and under what conditions the population will agree to return to politics.

Mr. Namazi discussed Iran’s attitude towards a possible war with Iraq. He said despite close to a million casualties suffered by the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-87) and Iraqi’s use of chemical weapons against Iran, the Iranian regime would prefer the US not attack Iraq. A war with Iraq will set a precedent of removing regimes in the region by force. A long war may create instability in Iraq and Iran may get dragged into the war if Turkey intervenes or the Shiites of Iraq ask Iran for help. A quick end to the war will still leave Iran surrounded by American military forces. Iran will then worry whether it will be “next” on the American agenda. However, Mr. Namazi doubted that the US will bomb the “pro-American” Iranian people. Since the Iranian leadership knows war is inevitable, they will emphasize a “policy of active neutrality” while conveying its concerns to the US and the Europeans. Iran has also tried to convince Saddam to avoid war and comply fully with the United Nations resolutions. Iran is trying to expand its relation with the European Union, hoping the EU will help reduce tensions between Iran and the US. He noted an unofficial limited dialogue was taking place between Iran and the US, but small arrangements aside, he did not expect a major rapprochement between the two countries.

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