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Tuesday, February 2, 1999 Published at 10:29 GMT

World: Middle East

Analysis: The forces for change

Iranian women are more active than before

By Iranian affairs analyst Sadeq Saba

The Iranian revolution is seen as one of the greatest revolutionary upheavals of the century.

It started with great idealism and expectation and it promised not only to liberate Iranians, but also the oppressed peoples throughout the world.

Freedom, independence and an Islamic Republic were the three main slogans which finally brought down the pro-Western regime of the Shah.

Millions of people who participated in the revolution were hoping to create a better society based on justice, equality, and prosperity.

At that time, nobody knew anything about Islamic fundamentalism and nobody could foresee the direction which the revolution took in later years.

The leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, talked about democracy and freedom before returning home from exile and his first government was dominated by liberal figures.

Most Iranians were astonished when the ayatollah later announced that he was going to establish a theocratic state.

Disappointed hopes

Most Iranians today believe that the revolution has generally failed to live up to its promises.

The standard of life for the great majority of people has steadily declined during the past two decades. Corruption, crime, drug addiction and other social problems are widespread.

But the Iranian revolution has perhaps inadvertedly brought some positive changes.

It has exposed Islam to the realities of the modern world and paved the way for some kind of reformation.

The revolution has politicised Iranian society and Iranians are now much more aware about what they want than 20 years ago.

Iranian women are also taking an increasingly active part in society.

Iranians have also learnt to rely on themselves and enjoy more freedom of expression.

Forces at work

During the past two decades, Iran also went through a great demographic change.

More than half of Iran's 60m people are under twenty-five, including about 24m at schools and universities.

Urban life is rapidly expanding and people have more access to the outside world.

It is believed that these changes together with mass disillusionment with the revolution eventually culminated in the surprising victory of President Khatami about two years ago.

Today, Iran is again in the grip of another movement for change.

A crossroads

The Islamic revolution is at a critical juncture over what future course to take: whether to remain faithful to orthodoxy or make a radical departure.

[ image: President Khatami: Reform hopes pinned on him]
President Khatami: Reform hopes pinned on him
President Khatami is generally seen as the champion of change and freedom. His supporters believe he is the best chance for the survival of the Islamic Republic.

The conservatives, however, fear that his idea of making Islam compatible with democracy and human rights could jeorpardise Islam.

The power struggle between the two factions about the future direction of the revolution is intensifying. Most experts believe that the forces of change are so strong in contemporary Iran that the conservatives have eventually no option but to capitulate.

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