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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 February, 2004, 12:09 GMT
Analysis: Iran's uncertain future

By Jim Muir
BBC, Tehran

Iran is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the revolution which swept away the Shah and gave birth to the Islamic Republic. But the anniversary finds the country deep in political crisis.

With thousands of reformist candidates barred by an unelected right-wing body from competing in next week's general elections, many of the millions of Iranians who voted for reform and change will be wondering where the country is heading.

Iranian woman with pictures of former supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini and current supreme leader Ali Khamenei
The revolution is said to be at a critical point
Ebrahim Yazdi, who returned from exile with Ayatollah Khomeini and became the first foreign minister under the Islamic Republic, feels very differently now from 25 years ago.

"I was with the Imam on the plane coming from Paris to Tehran. Obviously everybody was happy - the Shah has gone, the revolution has succeeded...

"I knew that we were confronted with many problems, but I never foresaw what we are confronting now. It is something new, it is very unfortunate, the Islamic Republic is at the very critical turning point."

Reforms stall

Noisy, enthusiastic rallies for the reformist President Mohammad Khatami were frequent in the heady years after his first election victory in 1997.

We tried to put an end to the Shah's dictatorship, but we wanted a new democracy


Reza Yousefian
Reformist MP

Some people saw this as a second revolution within the revolution - a movement to bring about the freedoms that were stifled as clerical rule followed the ousting of the Shah.

But seven years on, the reform movement in office has all but ground to a halt, blocked by a powerful, entrenched hardline minority.

Hopes for peaceful change from within the regime have been dashed, at least for the moment - few people want to see radical change brought about by violence and upheaval - they have seen enough of that.

So on this occasion Mr Khatami and his fellow reformists may feel they have little to celebrate, with the Islamic Republic plunged into one of its most serious political crises in its quarter century of existence.

The annual rallies staged to commemorate the Islamic revolution have become occasions largely for regime loyalists these days. For more than half of the population, they are marking an event that happened well before they were born.

Frustration

The crunch came for the reformists when hardliners decided to assert their authority as elections approached.

Meeting of MPs during sit-in
Some MPs think the election will provide a wake-up call
The right-wing Council of Guardians barred many of its opponents in parliament from standing in next week's elections, causing them to resign angrily en masse.

The reformists dominate the outgoing parliament, but their chances of winning again have been drastically reduced by the elimination of an unprecedented 2,500 would-be candidates.

Reza Yousefian, one of the MPs who resigned, says that many of those who were in the vanguard of the 1979 revolution are the most unhappy now.

"The people who invented the revolution are now disappointed about the events that are going on," he said.

"They say that, OK, we tried to put an end to the Shah's dictatorship, but we wanted a new democracy. Unfortunately this process couldn't fulfil this aim. We should keep ourselves ready to confront if any other dictatorship wants to emerge."

Ali Mazrui, another resigning deputy, believes the election might yet provide a wake-up call.

"This challenge that we have between democracy and dictatorship or the ways that they want to impose on the people to accept the rulers - this is the problem now and this election I think will solve this problem."

New generation

He added that a low turnout would demonstrate that people did not agree with the situation and were ready for new reform.

The 25th anniversary doesn't mean anything special to us because as days go by, there's been nothing new for the people, nothing but more complaints
Iranian woman
On the streets, it is certainly hard to find many who are happy about the situation.

Many of those who voted so hopefully for the reformists have become disillusioned with them, and with the whole system. And for many of the huge new generation born after the revolution, its anniversary means little.

"They made the revolution happen first of all for freedom, and then for Islam," said one man. "The slogans of the Revolution have not been realised, we haven't reached our demands, that's why I personally don't care what happens to the revolution."

"The 25th anniversary doesn't mean anything special to us because as days go by, there's been nothing new for the people, nothing but more complaints," a woman said.

Could all that pent-up frustration produce an explosion of popular anger? Nobody would rule that out.

But few see the stirrings of a new revolution. Change from within may have largely failed so far. But Mr Yazdi, who now heads the opposition Freedom Movement, believes change from within is the only way.

"It's very difficult," he says. "The gap between the people and the state, as well as between the reformists and the people, is very wide... I say they have to revise their policies. What will come out of it, we don't know. But we are hopeful to get to what we wanted - a real democracy."

With the hard line now being reasserted, what is going to come of all those frustrated hopes for change?

Nobody really knows where the Islamic Republic goes from here.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jim Muir
"The people turning out here are essentially regime loyalists"



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