Is Reformist Politics Dead in Iran?
Summary of a Middle East Project meeting with Farideh Farhi, independent researcher and Adjunct Scholar at The Middle East Institute.
Though the reformist agenda is currently faced with serious obstacles in Iran, the struggle to reform the Iranian state remains at the center of Iranian politics. At the Woodrow Wilson Center on Thursday, January 17, 2002 Farideh Farhi provided a briefing on the present status of the Iranian reformist movement.
The reformist movement has yet to "work itself out," to mature, so the movement cannot possibly "be considered dead." All the elements that have led to the rise of the reformist agenda within sectors of the Iranian leadership and society continue to be present and will not allow the broader push for reform to be sidelined. The increasing strength of the Iranian civil society and its organic, even if somewhat strained, linkages with the reformist Iranian leadership will continue to be a major force in shaping Iranian politics despite open conservative efforts to slow and even push back reform. According to Farhi, with the intensification of elite conflict and the increasing presence of the United States in the neighborhood, the Iranian political environment has become more tense and expecting of something to "happen soon."
The intransigence of conservative forces to allow for meaningful changes and their efforts to push back the reformist political gains has led to a soul-searching and public discussion within the reformist camp about available options, including the option of withdrawing from the government. This may make the implementation of the reformist agenda more probable in the long run. But even the discussion of withdrawing from the government is occurring as part and parcel of discussion about the tactics that need to be used to pursue the reformist agenda and not as an acknowledgement of the failure of that agenda. In other words, the realization that the conservative forces, or at least the extreme elements that dominate the conservative front, are not interested in any kind of negotiated settlement among forces that are vying for power has led of the reassessment of tactics used so far to resist the conservative assault.
"The reformist leadership still has some 'weapons' at its disposal to use against the conservatives," commented Farhi, while remaining committed to the strategy of non-violent and patient agitation for change. This is while the conservatives, particularly the most extreme elements within them, have used "every possible weapon in their arsenal" to attack the reformist leadership. She noted that the recent successful threat by the reformist leader and speaker of the parliament Mehdi Karoubi to withdraw from parliamentary activities unless a jailed parliamentarian was released is a reflection of the kind of weapons the reformists have at their disposal in their confrontation with the conservatives. The direct call on the spiritual leader Ali Khamanei to avert the conservative offensive against the parliament suggests the possibility of more direct negotiation between the leader and reformist forces in the future.
In conclusion, she suggested that the open public discussion about the two possibilites that face the Iranian state in face of conservative intransigence-- a peaceful transfer of power led by the reformist leaderhsip or total collapse -- is a reflection of how mired Iran remains in the struggle for reform.