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Thursday, 14 June, 2001, 10:17 GMT 11:17 UK
Is reform possible in Iran?
Iranians have re-elected their president, Mohammad Khatami, by a huge majority.
Initial results suggest he received just under 77% of the vote. But the enthusiasm that greeted his rise to power four years ago is absent.
President Khatami has failed to deliver the reform that his followers had expected.
Iran's conservative establishment has closed down the liberal press, arrested scores of journalists and intellectuals and persecuted Khatami's allies.
Mr Khatami was powerless to stop them. He appeared reluctant to stand again but he has become the symbol of reform.
But is reform possible in Iran? Have the last four years shown that it is not? Or do you think a second Khatami term will prove to be different?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Khatami is defiantly the best choice for Iran under the circumstances. Those that think a westernised Iran is the way to go are in the dark. If they were to look at the westernised world in its true light and look for positives and negatives, they will find the negatives are overwhelming.
M A Sanjarani, UK
It is no longer a question "if" reform will take place but one of "when". Reform has already taken root. Waiting for reform in Iran is like watching a seed sprout from the ground; one knows it will happen one day, but continuous watching and waiting is futile.
Khatami is incapable of reform. So long as this regime is in power, the policy of executions, torture, export of terrorism, fundamentalism and the crisis will persist as an inseparable part of the regime. The only way to establish democracy and popular sovereignty in my homeland is to seek to overthrow this medieval regime and all its factions and internal groupings.
Democracy in Iran is more alive than in the USA and other western countries. In the States candidates are eliminated based on the size of their pocketbook and their loyalty to special interest groups. In Iran candidates must first prove their allegiance to Islam. And yes, having money helps as well. It is an exciting time to be an Iranian youth in Iran. The evolution must be slow in order to be sustainable and stable.
I voted for Khatami, and I don't expect that Khatami can perform miracles, but I am agreed with any gradual movement in our society. Reform is moving gradually, and will open more doors for our people.
"You can't stop a revolution but you can slow it down." Khatami is just another Ayatollah like others, and he is only in power to slowdown the process of revolution in Iran.
The goals of the revolution, freedom, independence and prosperity will, God willing, be achieved. However, those who think this will come "overnight" are naive. The changes will take many years, and will not come through violent revolutions, wars or military coup d'etat, but it will come through step-by-step reforming the system, so that it moves closer to perfection. I am glad to see the young generation of Iran participating so actively in shaping their future. All groups and individuals who want the best for Iran and her people should lay down their weapons and cooperate.
The arrogance displayed by many European and sadly Muslim individuals on this message board is amazing. Someone mentioned that Iranians are "torn" between Islam and the Persian culture. I refute that totally-Iranians are some of the most committed Muslims in the world. What the Iranian problem is the concept of POWER. It is understandable that people are resentful of unelected Mullahs. However, I do not think Iran needs the problems of the west (although not strictly confined to) i.e. teenage pregnancies, crime and adultery - then again I don't think any society needs these evils! It's all a question of balance. If people want to practice religion, let them, if they don't let God be the judge. But the fundamental laws with regards to social values cannot be compromised because the West thinks it best. One of the most dignified concepts of European law is respect for other people's cultures and this has to be applied to Iran - Iran will sort itself out.
Khatami is definitely the best possible choice. The most amazing aspect of this general uprising to re-elect Khatami despite his rather poor performance in the case of student riots in Tehran
University (summer 99) indicates that after all people do care about what is happening in their country and that is the best thing that could have happened. Reform is a matter of change as long as a peacekeeper is elected the reform pace can remain uninterrupted and that's good enough. The rest comes in time.
Democratic reform is incompatible with Islam. A true Islamic republic is governed by Allah and not the masses as in a "democracy". Khatami and his stooges are handing Iran over to the West by stealth and therefore undermining the foundations of the Ayahtollah Khomeini's work.
Mukhtar Amin, USA
How can there be freedom in a country where the laws of religion and state are entwined?
The election is over and it is not surprising that Khatami won a landslide victory. The choice for the people in Iran was to elect either Khatami who promised freedom and reform, or one of the hard-liners.
Now he has to prove that he can deliver. As we have seen in the past 4 years, there will be a few superficial changes, but in order to remain in power the hard-liners and Khatami need each other and will continue the same game. Give a little to placate the masses and put on a friendly face for the West.
The Pandora's box, however, is now wide open and the people cannot and will not be fooled.
The same reasons that caused the downfall of the Shah will hasten the decline of the hard-liners in the Islamic republic - arrogance, lack of foresight and increasing distance from the common man. It is bound to happen, sooner or later.
Maziyar Moghaddam, USA
The real point everybody is missing here is that we are not talking about a person whoever he or she could be! Iranians must learn, believe and feel that they are the ones who are in charge.
The elections are a game that the Iranian government is playing. We need to throw these Mullahs out of our country and send them back to washing carpets.
Khatami is a coward, unwilling to stand up for the freedom of his people from the evil, twisted version of Islam that enslaves them. He is more pathetic than Gorbachev. Actions, not words are what Iran needs.
The Reform is noticeable in Iran when you walk, yet still when you walk in the streets you can't feel safe.
Khatami is the representative of Iranian eagerness to live in democracy. We have learned to be patient and take steps at a time. We honour him for his respect for Iran and Iranian culture. He has brought to us a sense of self-respect that was absent for a long period of time.
Malik Ahmad, Canada
Trade with the sovereign republic of Iran, do not demonise it. A literate, sophisticated and relatively homogeneous culture like Iran will certainly find its own long-term peaceful political solutions without our speculation or interference. Let us not forget that the reactive mullahs were brought on by western perfidy.
If all your enemies are happy with what you are doing, then definitely you are doing something wrong. Now all the West wants Khatami to win and bring reform. And what is this reform? Isn't it the culture the West is vomiting out? The countries which are backing Khatami definitely, want to see Iranian society destroyed.
Religion is no panacea for economic ills much less for social emancipation, though it may make excellent political sense. It is a choice the Iranians have to make: to build a modern, educated, liberal and prosperous society based on their ancient culture or continue to embrace rigid, dogmatic, medieval doctrines that have destroyed Iran economically and helped it to be further isolated in the comity of nations.
Ali , Iran, right now a student in USA
1. Voting in an election makes the people more aware politically and this is a good thing in itself regardless of the outcome of an election.
Despite the label of 'reform', during Khatami's reign, we have seen more closures of newspapers, more jailing of journalists and in general more injustice against the citizens of Iran. Iranians suffer from an identity crisis; on the one hand cannot accept Islam fully and on the other have not been able to escape from it. Until they resolve this issue, the country will remain in turmoil, as the Persian roots are too strong to completely submit to the words of Allah.
Reforms are not possible now because of the strength of Ayatollah Khameni's forces with the determination to preserve and propagate Islam. Khatami has to buy time while the popularity of these pro Mullahs drops before he puts in reform. Otherwise the Imam at Quom is still calling the shots.
While there is no basic freedom and democracy, there is no accountability. When there is lawlessness and when there is no alternative to Mr. Khatami, I think Mr. Khatami is a good choice to drive the reform forward with wisdom and caution so as not to make the conservatives more aggressive and put them in a defensive position but beat them at their own game.
I wish Mr. Khatami wins again with a bigger margin than the last election.
ADAM AZAD, CANADA
While the talk about 'reform in Iran' sounds good, it is ultimately meaningless. In a country where the Guardian Council approves or rejects candidates, where the Supreme Leader's words cannot be challenged, where the fundamentals of the regime cannot be questioned or criticized, reform and democracy are meaningless concepts. This election is not about any of these ideas. It is merely about a group of state-approved candidates putting on a puppet show to entertain a very frustrated and rightfully angry public.
Don't be fooled by Khatami's spin. He is no Gorbachov. What is the definition of reform? Mr Khatami is not even mentally capable to imagine the reforms that most Iranians seek.
What is the alternative? If there is someone willing to stand as a reformist, then the country has a chance of reforming - but only if the general public fully backs the leader. The alternative would be a total return to the old ways with the tacit agreement that reformation has failed and that the old, oppressive regime is the best way. So it's either put-up or shut up. Reform doesn't happen overnight, and the rest of the world can only pray that the Iranians get the reform they need.
Iran certainly has been changing slowly in the right direction in the last several years, is much better to change slowly rather have a Revolution and go back to square one again. And of course you can have Democracy an Islamic society, the time when Islam was giving rights to human beings, other society were eating human body.
I am just a little scared from Mr. Khatami win because there is a famous saying that if every one is happy then you are doing something wrong. And we know that there are a lot of people from Iran who left when the country was going through a big change. And all they have done from that day is to try their best to defame Iran by false propagandas and helping its enemies. And we know that they are the people backing Mr Khatami's win.
It is a puppet show. People have no real choice. What would you choose between bad and worse? I would not vote as I believe that Khatami is a pressure valve of this backward regime and helping him is helping the mullahs and perpetuating the suffering of Iranians.
The rest of the world, especially the USA, should learn from Iran's election. The strict rules allow for democracy to exist. Each candidate is given the same amount of money; no other income can be used to fund a campaign. Subsequently, each candidate has an equal chance to express his/her ideas. Furthermore, personal attacks against other candidates are not allowed. All speeches and slogans must deal with the issues. These rules provide a more fair and democratic election than many western countries.
I believe that the push for reforms in Iran will eventually lead to open confrontation and violence. I do not condone violence and do not look forward to it, but when it happens I would be supporting a side that stands for openness and basic freedoms in our country. I vote today so that when I take sides in a violent process, I can do so with the knowledge that I personally took part in the process that was promising to reform the Islamic Republic and that I was one of the people who gave the Islamic Republic every opportunity to reform itself and to avoid violence.
No matter, whether Mr.Khatami returns to power or not, Iran will stand as an Islamic republic, overcoming all obstacles. After the Islamic revolution Iran survived 22 years defending all the conspiracies perpetuated by the US and its allies. I hope the nation will continue with the true Islamic principles.
Mr. Khatami is a very nice person but nice people are not always good presidents. Iran needs someone with no fear whatsoever.
What happened four years ago was a remarkable achievement towards hope for our country, Iran. All citizens of Iran must not forget the legacy of our Great Persia during thousands of years. Our people are peaceful, they don't want another revolution in the country. The safest way which will lead us toward democracy is to vote reformist on Friday. Most Iranians still believe in Mr.Khatami's determination to go ahead with his reformist goals. A second mandate for Mr.Khatami will provide him with more strength. Avoiding to vote will be a victory for all those who would like to make Iran a second Afghanistan.
By participating in the election on June 8th we show to our enemy inside and outside of our beloved country that we care about our future and democracy in Iran. By not voting we just give hardliners more of an opportunity to have their way. After more than 3000 years of being careless to ourselves and our future, finally it's time for us to show we care and we want to survive. On June 8th we will go to the voting location no matter where we are and vote. Democracy yes; dictatorship no!
Reforms in Iran are irreversible. Iranians around the globe will go to vote once again on Friday to establish a civil society and more freedom in their nation. Even though Iranians are not happy with their social and economical situation in their country, this time they chose evolution rather than revolution and that is a blessing for all.
The main obstacle of democracy and social development in Iran is that the traditional civil organisations have disappeared or weakened, while modern civil institutions have not established. The traditional clergy has tried to use this vacuum for its own interests, blocking possibilities for organisation of the civil and democratic institutions in Iran. This problem cannot be solved in any other way than a democratic struggle, through which democratic institutions step by step get organised and resisting traditional organisations successively get integrated into a modern genuine system of an Iranian democracy. This fight cannot be done by anyone else than the Iranian people themselves.
Khatami came to power last time with the ambition of activating democratic aspects of the constitution, and to be honest he did it. The reason of his failures was the lack of civil organisations that could support him, his ministers and the democratic principles that he fought for. With Khatami in office for another 4 years the Iranian people will have another historical opportunity to respond to the call of history, to build up democracy by experiencing it in democratic and civil institutions.
Houman Sanaei, England
Khatami is the best person to lead the Iranian people. He is very honest man and well educated. He is cleric; an insider. He knows what he is doing. People from Yazd province know how to do business with others.
We have a window of opportunity which is honestly quite a historic one where a reformist has been allowed to rise to the level of presidency in this country; everyone should welcome this opportunity. In a way, we should give this our best shot.
If the support for President Khatami doesn't happen to be as much as it was four years ago, then, as a nation, we have a big problem on our hands. That will show that as a nation we are not mature enough to approach the problem in a systematic manner and persist until we get what we want.
On the other hand, the establishment should grasp this opportunity and submit to the people's will or else, very soon, the tone of the conversation between people and the establishment will change and instead of relying the ballot boxes, people will rely on riots and bloody conflicts to get what they want.
Khatami is not and never been committed to reforms. If Khatami had not been elected president 4 years ago, we would have witnessed a complete collapse of the cleric rule in Iran. Khatami simply took the energy and enthusiasm from the freedom movement and ran with it in a "legal" and "parliamentarian" fiasco that not only resulted in more arrests of freedom fighters than 4 years ago, but rather demonstrated a total lack of leadership skills by failing to even bring a small legislative victory to his 75% electoral support. No matter how powerless a leader is, if one cannot negotiate a legislative agenda with the support of 75% of electorate, he is nothing but a wimp or worse.
A real democracy in the context of an Islamic Republic as outlined in the Constitution of Iran is practically impossible. It would be naive to bet on Khatami, as he showed in the last 4 years that he does not have the power to make fundamental changes.
Those who believe that achieving full political and social reforms in Iran will be a quick or indeed peaceful process should think again. The Islamic establishment will be backed all the way by conservative clerics the basij militia, the judiciary and "families of Shohada"(war martyrs). They have dug-in deep within the country's power structure and they are not about to roll over for the reformists without a fight. Of course since they do not have a popular mandate they will be fighting back by abusing the power at their disposal rather than any due process.
The key to Khatami's reform plans in the coming second term is the extent to which Ayatollah Khamenei would wish to be obstructive, without provoking mass unrest.
The people of Iran are not completely happy with Khatami, and they know that he is used as a puppet by the conservative right (Khamenei) as part of a public relation effort to cool people's emotions; but they still have no choice than to vote for him because he is the lesser of two evils. Until one day when a true leader can emerge, we must settle for Khatami, in hopes that he can temporarily alleviate people's burdens, and make small improvements. On June 9th everyone should vote for Khatami not because they want to support him, but to show the government that they dislike the regime, and want change!
What Mr. Khatami has initiated is the process of democratic evolution of governance in Iran. This process is new and will have its Iranian characteristics that are inherent in the historical, economical, and cultural identity of Iran. It is unrealistic and misleading to think that Iran will copy Sweden or say Canada in its progress toward democratic society. Unfortunately, some Iranians abroad are superficially fascinated with the environment they live in and want to see Iran from the West perspectives. This will not work.
The conservatives are inevitably losing their power. The only question is whether it is going to be peaceful or not. If it is not peaceful like the revolution in 1979 Iran like then will end up in anarchy and history has shown that no revolution (not even the French or Russian) has led to a democracy. The only way is to reform this system. People are simply tired of wars, revolutions and repression.
Mr. Khatami's so-called reforms is nothing more than a cosmetic makeover of an endemically corrupt and deteriorating system. While superficial social and cultural freedom is promoted by Mr. Khatami, Iran's economic infra- and super-structure, social coherence, and culture hegemony is crumbling due to extensive state mismanagement, corruption, and disregard to basic human values, let alone the rule of law. How can one talk about social and cultural freedom under a totalitarian system which is more than eager to brutally suppress the most basic human rights such as freedom of thought and expression.
Mr. Khatami will most probably be elected for another term, but his tenure as the president, as well as the time of the Islamic Republic will undoubtedly remembered as one of the darkest eras in Iranian history.
How can you have reform and freedom within Islamic society? No matter who is elected.
To achieve true democracy, patience is necessary. Iranians need to learn democracy and that takes time. How can one expect to topple one regime, install another and have it be democratic? History has shown us that revolutions have good intentions but once a regime is installed through a revolution, it tends to become just as oppressive as the one it removed. It is a process.
Unless people can learn to tolerate each other's views no democracy is achieved.
Lets not forget that there are people within the system that support it. Denying their rights and voices is also undemocratic.
Voting is the road to democracy.
Even conservatives are focusing on national interests, not Islamic values.
Is there a victory greater than this?
Yes, This is a legitimate right of our people and no one can stop this path. It may be interrupted temporarily, but it is progressing slowly but surely. We will see a new face of Iran in the near future with much more respect from the international community.
Yes, of course we have voted 4 years ago for Mr Khatami and his reformist programmes and we will vote for him on 8th June because we believe that the reform is the only way to build a democracy in Iran and at this time only Khatami can do this for us! and reformists will win because whole people want reform.
It's an election, so individuals voice their views, but this has been taken out of context by the Western propaganda machinery as if there is a conflict in the making. The West needs to stop its demonic intrusion into other countries' affairs. I mean it! The Western vultures who through the centuries have enslaved humanity have the audacity to speak of fairness and human rights.
Of course Mr Khatami is not what the world needed to prove that a miracle is possible. We believe that no one can have a revolution in 4 years. So we don't care what the other parties or even the critics abroad say about our loyal president Mr Mohammad Khatami. We don't want to destroy what we earned after 8 years of war. So we want reforms but not in one night, not with war, but with a logical process. People are as enthusiastic as 4 years ago but in another way. On Saturday the 9th we will give a shock to the world and you will see the enthusiasm.
Better to try and then be disappointed than to sit back and do nothing. Khatami is the best choice for the moment. Let's give him our support.
Today in the election campaign even the so-called conservatives are talking about relations with the US and more rights for women. In the last few months conservatives have used all their power to stop this trend. They closed down dozens of newspapers, closed over 400 Internet cafes and arrested many opposition politicians. Further arrests will follow and the conservatives are certainly going to show a tougher line as they are realizing that reform is inevitable with or without Khatami.
I think Khatami has done a good job so far and he is the only one which
seems ideal for presidency. His mission has proven difficult but good chance to make a difference at this stage of their history. Revolutionary behaviour (what happened 20 years ago, going to the streets and breaking windows etc.) proved a failure. I think hard-liners have realised that they stand no chance with people anymore. I think everyone who wants to avoid disaster happening again and wants a smooth transition should support Khatami.
My dear compatriots from abroad have commented that reform within the Islamic system is impossible. They may be right, but they have neglected one reality. If we had numerous choices then we could choose the best. But we only have one choice and that is reform. The most important fact is not the possibility of reform, it is the inevitable condition of reform as the unique way toward democracy. Please understand it.
I am exceedingly sorry for those individuals who believe that Mr. Khatami's first term was ineffective for Iran. Four years ago, Khatami being elected as the President of Iran, was not only an election for a new president, but Khatami's presidency was a reform, transformation, renovation, a defining moment, a memorable term for Iran's history and society that will not be forgotten anytime soon. I live in the United States, although I visit Iran at least once a year and the improvements and changes that I have seen in the last few years have simply amazed and astonished me.
Khatami may not have the right qualifications and education for being the president of one the greatest nations, though I do not see any one else at this time who could perhaps do a better job. I believe it is simply not fair to say that he has not done anything for our country. He is a reformist and his ideas and diplomacy are a commencement and foundation for democracy, egalitarianism, equality, peace, independent, union, and finally freedom in Iran.
Reform is possible only through revolution. The majority of the population does not remember the Shah. But they do know they are being suppressed and they see the stringent limits of their freedoms. And the people see the harshness and cruelty of their situation. Even if Khatami is re-elected, he will not be able to control the advancing paranoia of the real ruling party and the individuals who are striving to achieve the same freedoms they see in the West. I just hope that when the tornado of street protests hit Tehran, it will be so overwhelming, that few people will lose their lives during the transformation.
True reform is not possible in Iran under the current regime. Even if Khatami wins, he will only be allowed to give what the hardliners will allow him. A few breadcrumbs to buy them time while they plunder Iranian wealth into their Swiss and Luxembourg bank accounts.
The only way the Iranian people can have their freedom back is by evicting the current bankrupt regime. This can be done by culminating in a national referendum, beyond this system, and with international supervision, as a means to guarantee freedom and self-determination for the people of Iran.
The current "religious" leaders are morally bankrupt and need to be removed in order for Iranians to enjoy what most democratic nations have. Freedom and not reform.
Mr Khatami is not there for the reform, he is being introduced to the system just to extend the life of the regime and avoid an early collapse of the Islamic government. It is important to understand and remember the fact that if Mr. Khatami or anyone else was really about to deliver reform or bring about any danger to the (so-called) conservatives, he wouldn't have been qualified to be a candidate for presidency.
There is no such thing as Liberals or Conservatives in Iran and if there are some personal differences it's not really about different political groups. Both groups are actually one with just slight differences to their outward face, and that is just to grant legitimacy to the (Islamic) regime of Iran and just to show a more liberal face of the regime to push forward big contacts and projects with other countries so the regime can survive.
Reform is not possible under Mr. Khatami or anyone in this system.
A good reformation needs ingredients other than the election of one man.
We will eventually see a mass uprising in Iran, we can't avoid it.
Let's face it, whether we like it or not, the people will stand up for their rights.
We want the same rights as the average European. Why should the Iranian people's wishes for democracy be ignored? We don't want Islamic democracy, we want secular democracy like the rest of the world. And that Khatami can't deliver.
May the winds of freedom reach Iran
Yes, of course. We voted four years ago for Mr. Khatami and his reformist programmes and we will vote for him on 8th June because we believe that the reform is the only way to build a democracy in Iran and at this time only Khatami can do this for us. The reformists will win because all the people want reform.
Is reform possible in Iran? Yes, but the question should be, "is reform possible under the present establishment?" Then the answer will be no. Mr Khatami has talked of reforms repeatedly, but is yet to show any real signs of it in present day Iran. As he stands for a second term in office, he is yet to define clear-cut plans, for the economy of Iran, let alone reforms.
In the last 4 years economically not only things have not improved, but have taken a turn for the worse. The number of unemployed has risen and the young people are more determined to migrate out of the country, as they see no hope for the future. Mr Khatami says that so far he has been unable to go ahead with his plans, and has hinted that, this is because of the right-wing establishment. If he is to be taken at his word, then it is clearly time for him to stand down, and make it clear to people why he is doing so. If he thinks that the mode of the right wing establishment has changed and he can make a difference in a second term then he needs to make it clear, what those changes are.
On my part, I am inclined to think that for as long as a Supreme leader exists in Iran, real reform cannot be achieved, but if Mr Khatami and his supporters think otherwise, then they need to lay down a clear cut plan and explain it to the electorate. At this moment in time, many people will vote for Khatami because they see him as the lesser of the two evils, for me that is not a choice at all.
Of course reform is possible in Iran - it is in fact inevitable. If the powers that be try to stop liberalisation of the government and the religion then the place will explode and it will happen anyway. There is too big a differential between Iran and the rest of the world even though some neighbouring states are similarly retrogressive.
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