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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 June, 2005, 18:06 GMT 19:06 UK
Competing visions of Iran's future
By Jamshid Barzegar
Iranian affairs analyst

Supporter of opposition candidate Mostafa Moin
Getting the message across has been hard for reformists
After reformist President Mohammad Khatami won Iran's presidential election in 1997, a range of the Islamic Republic's critics and opposition groups began to support his plans as they instilled a hope in solving the country's problems.

However, this support seems to have reached its end at the end of President Khatami's second term of office.

"Loyalty to the Islamic Republic" and "working towards regime change" have turned out to be the main lines of demarcation between various political groups.

Democracy, human rights, secularism and the establishing of a full-fledged secular republic are the bottom lines for all the opponents of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Nevertheless, opposition groups inside and outside Iran have different views about the extent of changes and how to bring them about.

Internal versus external

A large group of the opposition inside Iran, including students, modern religious groups, nationalist-religious organisations, and even some of the secularist opposition groups are in favour of gradual peaceful reforms.

Iranian man sits in front of a mural depicting Islamic leaders
Loyalty towards the Islamic regime is a key line of demarcation
However, they maintain differing views about co-operation with the reformists within the government.

A major part of the opposition in exile follow more radical methods - but still believe that change needs to be made peacefully and without foreign intervention.

But part of the exiled opposition supports the toppling of the regime by any possible means.

In their media, they call on Iranians to change the political regime and are in favour of foreign intervention similar to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Access to media

Iranian opposition groups both inside and outside the country face a major problem, namely that of communicating with the people.

We have to move towards a democratic society stage by stage
Pardis, Tehran, Iran

Inside Iran, radio and television are under the control of conservative groups. Not only the opposition, but even the reformists who share political power with the conservatives are not represented on Iranian radio and television.

After a short period of relative freedom, Iranian newspapers have become increasingly cautious in order to ensure their continued publication following the clampdown on liberal press by Iran's conservative-dominated judiciary.

Communicating with the people is also a problem for the opposition abroad, although access to the internet is widespread and part of the US-based Iranian opposition groups broadcast their views on satellite television.

However, opposition figures living outside Iran have been away from their homeland for more than two decades and young Iranians hardly know of their existence.

International pressure

The 17 June presidential election is equally important for the Iranian government and its opponents as it can have a major impact on Iran's future developments.

Exiled Iranian opposition members demonstrate in front of the EU headquarters in Brussels
Opposition goals are more ambitious - and remote - outside Iran
Both the critics who support reforming the current structure of power and the opponents who believe no reform is feasible within this political structure are looking forward to the outcome of the election.

But there are concerns over the possibility of a low turnout, a factor that has become even more important than who will replace President Khatami.

The authorities desperately need a high turnout at the polls on 17 June in order to cope with the international pressures on Tehran about human rights violations and its ambitious nuclear programme.


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