Khatami turns on hardline critics
By Jonathan Lyons
TEHRAN, July 21 (Reuters) - Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and his
reformist allies, accused of failing to defend the Islamic system during
recent unrest, on Wednesday moved against hardline publications that had
The Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry, firmly under Khatami's control,
said it had moved against three newspapers after they published a letter
by Revolutionary Guards commanders criticising Khatami and warning their
patience with ``insults against the system'' was running out.
The Guards' warning set off alarm bells in some quarters over the threat
of a possible coup d'etat.
The ministry said the Guards' letter to the president was classified
``top secret'' and its printing violated the press law. It said it had
sent the case to an advisory committee, a prelude to legal action by a
press court which can close the dailies.
The move was the first concrete step by the Khatami administration to
strike back at its hardline rivals, many of whom have used last week's
riots to question the revolutionary credentials of the government and its
It also follows the closing by a hardline clerical court this month
on similar charges of a leading pro-Khatami daily, which set in motion
a series of events culminating last week in some of the worst unrest since
the 1979 Islamic revolution.
``The policy of this ministry department is to be equal. What is important
is that the press law be put into practice for everyone,'' said a senior
culture ministry official.
The ministry did not name the targeted publications, but press officials
confirmed the case was aimed at the influential hardline dailies Kayhan
and Jomhuri-ye Eslami, as well as a conservative weekly. All three printed
the Guards' letter.
Khatami's political faction, led by his brother Reza Khatami, and a
leading leftist clerical group attacked the Guards, reminding them that
the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had barred the
military from interference in factional politics.
``Force is not a suitable solution to social and political problems,''
said the Islamic Iran Participation Front, headed by Reza Khatami.
``The threat that your patience is running out...is a blatant violation
and could itself breach security.
``You must know that two years ago Khatami received 20 million votes,
and he is still popular because he has been sincere in his promises to
voters. To line up against such a big section of the population will deprive
you of popular support.''
The leftist League of Militant Clerics, a key Khatami constituency,
warned the Guards commanders that any ``impatience'' was a greater threat
to the Islamic republic than those sentiments unleashed by Khatami's social
and political reforms.
``If there is a threat to supreme clerical rule, it will not be from
the rule of law, freedom and democracy. Clerical rule will be harmed by
acts of monopoly and violence and disrespect,'' the group said. ``The practice
of democracy and freedom and the rule of law will only make society progress.''
The commanders had accused Khatami of being soft on student protesters,
some of whom chanted slogans challenging supreme clerical rule during the
The Iranian press, encouraged by President Khatami as a key part of
his reform programme, has emerged as one of the central battlegrounds between
the reformist government and the conservative clerical establishment.