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Wednesday, 26 April, 2000, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
How far will Iran's conservatives go?
Conservatives
February's elections shocked Iran's conservatives
By Jim Muir in Tehran

The recent developments in Iran - the banning of 13 newspapers and arrests of journalists - have all the hallmarks of a right-wing backlash in the wake of the reformists' sweeping general election victory.

There's no doubt that the conservatives were taken aback by the magnitude of their defeat in the February elections.

Now the signs are that they have regrouped for a counter-attack.


Clerics
Clerics are fighting back against the reformist victory
The question is how far they intend to try to go.

The events of the past week or two have left Iranian observers divided.

Some believe that what they are seeing is the more hardline right-wingers trying desperately to do as much damage as they can on their way out.

Others argue that the hardliners have no intention of giving up power and that the closure of many reformist publications is merely a prelude to a complete shutdown to cover an attempt to prevent the new parliament from being inaugurated at the end of May.

That period between the February elections and the May inauguration was always going to be a tense one.

But it's been made doubly so by unusual elements of uncertainty.

Delays

The conservative-dominated Council of Guardians, which supervises elections, has only just set a date for a long overdue second-round run off, and it has still not validated the results for Tehran's 30 seats.

All this has raised suspicions in reformist minds that the hardliners may be striving to deny them their election victory.

With political tension extremely high, there's been inevitable speculation about some sort of coup by hardline commanders of the Revolutionary Guards.


Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: rule of law
That's been ruled out by the guards themselves, taking their cue from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

He has stated very clearly that nobody must step beyond the law.

It was his attack on the reformist press last week that appeared to set the scene for the latest crackdown.

But he also stood firmly beside the reformist president, Mohammad Khatami.

Some Iranian analysts believe it's the leader himself who is restraining the real hardliners from making a serious attempt to oust the popular president and to crush the reformists, whatever the cost.

As for them, their tactic is to keep things as calm as possible, to avoid offering any kind of pretext for stopping them taking over parliament.

Until that day comes, the situation is likely to remain extremely tense.

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See also:

25 Apr 00 | Middle East
Hardliners turn up heat on Khatami
24 Apr 00 | Middle East
Iran's liberal press muzzled
23 Apr 00 | Middle East
Iran arrests another journalist
22 Apr 00 | Middle East
Iranian reformist journalist arrested
20 Apr 00 | Middle East
Court summons for Iranian reformists
23 Feb 00 | Middle East
Iran's unique election
22 Feb 00 | Middle East
Reformers promise freedoms
21 Feb 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Obstacles to change
26 Feb 00 | Media reports
Iranian media reviews election results
21 Feb 00 | Media reports
Print media triumphs in Iranian elections
22 Feb 00 | Middle East
Iran vote welcomed
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