Iran 's reformers scramble to contain student anger
By Jonathan Lyons
TEHRAN, Aug 30 (Reuters) - Iran 's mainstream reformers scrambled on
Wednesday to head off rising anger on university campuses, following five
days of Islamic vigilante violence against the student movement.
Pro-reform MPs from the Islamic Iran Participation Front, led by the
brother of President Mohammad Khatami, denounced attacks by hardline gangs,
backed by elements of the security forces, on a big student gathering in
the western city of Khorramabad.
But they also warned students to remain calm and not to take to the
streets, in a repetition of six days of social unrest in July 1999 that
rocked the Islamic Republic.
Last week scores of students were hurt - about 35 people were sent to
hospital - after vigilantes armed with knives and clubs broke up the annual
summer meeting of the pro-reform Office to Consolidate Unity, Iran 's biggest
One policeman was killed and others injured in several days of ensuing
violence. State television said the provincial governor suffered a fractured
skull when he was attacked by hardliners at the officer's funeral.
"If you fall into the trap the opposition has laid and disregard
the rules of the game just because they do, then you have become prisoners
in their hands," Front leader and MP Mohammad Reza Khatami told a
Tehran student gathering on Wednesday.
TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK
"We must tolerate their violence without ourselves resorting to
violence in return," Khatami, the president's younger brother, said
in an address to the Front's student wing.
His remarks followed public allegations on Tuesday by student organisers
that elements of the security forces, at the behest of hardline conservatives,
had abetted the violence in Khorramabad.
They also reflect growing concern among reformers, now with a majority
in the new parliament, that the influential student movement that helped
put them in office may be leaving them behind.
"The students are being radicalised in reaction to the violence
of the Right," cautioned Maysam Saeedi, a former student firebrand
and now a reformist MP from Tehran.
"But you must be aware that both the extreme Right and the radical
students are like two parts of a scissors that will cut the reform movement
to shreds," said Saeedi.
"The threat we face today, especially among the student movement,
is that our opponents are trying to radicalise the campuses by depriving
them of hope for the future."
Last week's violence marked the latest in a string of set-backs for
the reform movement after its powerful showing in parliamentary polls.
Beginning in April, conservatives in control of the judiciary closed
down the reformist press after Iran 's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
denounced a number of newspapers as "bases of the enemy".
That touched off a wider crackdown that has seen prominent editors and
publishers thrown into jail, the reformist majority in parliament effectively
neutralised by clerical power and a renewal of hardline vigilante violence.
Throughout, the Khatami government has had to look on helplessly, a
stance that has alienated many of the young people who provided part of
his core support in the 1997 presidential election.
Under Iran 's constitution, the elected executive controls neither the
armed forces nor the police, making it impossible for him to protect his
constituents' rights of free assembly and free expression.
The judiciary, a stronghold of the clerical establishment, has also
proven overtly hostile to Khatami's vision of a civil society within the
Islamic system of governement.
That has left many of the president's supporters, particularly the young,
increasingly angry and disillusioned that their electoral strength has
not translated into systemic political and social reforms.
"It is regrettable that in a country that is in the forefront of
the idea of 'dialogue of civilisations', such atrocities are committed
against students," acknowledged Mohammad Reza Khatami, in a reference
to his brother's policy of detente.
"One really wonders how such things can happen in a civilised country
on the eve of the 21st century. These events would probably never take
place anywhere else in the world."