Iran's Cultural Architect Steps Down
By Jonathan Lyons
TEHRAN (Reuters) - President Mohammad Khatami has accepted the resignation
of liberal culture minister Ataollah Mohajerani, a move which analysts
said could deal a fatal blow to the movement for greater freedom of expression.
Mohajerani was the chief architect of Iran's cultural renaissance, the
man behind the explosion of free press and arts in the country.
State television announced late on Thursday that Khatami -- himself
a former minister of culture -- had accepted the resignation, submitted
many weeks ago.
Political sources close to Mohajerani told Reuters the president had
given in to mounting pressure from conservatives, chiefly from supreme
leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But the official news agency IRNA quoted Khatami as saying Mohajerani's
departure would not derail his drive for cultural openness.
The hardline judiciary has closed more than 30 independent publications
and jailed several liberal activists since April after bitter denunciation
by Khamenei of the reformist media as the ``bases of enemies.''
Mohajerani, 46, said in his resignation letter that he found work in
the current climate unbearable.
``The conditions and requirements that have taken shape in the realms
of art, culture and the intellect have made it impossible for me to continue
my duties,'' he was quoted as saying by IRNA.
``We have not achieved any success worthy of our nation, artists and
writers,'' he added.
Khatami, nearing the end of his four-year term, said he had accepted
the resignation with reluctance.
But he vowed Mohajerani's legacy would live on: ``It is evident the
path to lasting development and to safeguarding freedom of thought and
human rights and dignity is irreversible and will continue,'' the president
Khatami had not wanted to accept Mohajerani's resignation, according
to one analyst. ``He was forced to accept it as a last resort after he
saw his resistance was to no avail,'' said the analyst, who is close to
the former minister's circle.
The forced departure of Mohajerani, a favorite target of conservatives,
marks the end of an era that had seen a brief flurry of press freedom unprecedented
since Iran's Constitutional Revolution almost 100 years ago.
Iran's independent press was already reeling from mass closures by reinvigorated
conservatives in charge of the judiciary. In the absence of the charismatic
Mohajerani, there appears little chance of a comeback anytime soon.
Pressure On President
Analysts say the president, who had looked to the press to fuel his
drive to create a civil society, has little room to maneuver in his choice
of a successor for Mohajerani. On Thursday he named deputy culture minister
Ahmad Masjid-Jamei as caretaker.
``Khatami is really at a loss as to who to choose as a replacement,''
said commentator Saeed Leylaz.
``Mohajerani was very successful in making the press, the cinema and
arts and culture flourish...He was bearing the pressure so as to relieve
Khatami of cultural criticism, so he could have his hands free to do his
job in other fields.
``Now, with Mohajerani out of the way, these pressures can be directed
at Khatami himself,'' he said.
But few in Iran are prepared to accept that Mohajerani, a driven and
deeply political personality, will vanish from the scene. He has even been
mentioned as a dark horse contender in next year's presidential contest.
Under Mohajerani, dozens of newspapers and journals across a range of
political viewpoints received publication licenses and state subsidies.
Secularist writers, denigrated by the post- revolutionary establishment,
found a voice in cultural affairs.
But as one of the driving forces behind Khatami's push for political
and social pluralism, Mohajerani drew his share of pressure from hard-liners
in the judiciary and the parliament.
In May 1999, he confounded his critics and survived a no- confidence
vote in the conservative parliament, after dazzling MPs with a virtuoso
performance laced with Persian proverbs.
Born in the central city of Arak in 1954, Mohajerani received a degree
in Iranian history and culture at Shiraz University, where he came into
contact with a number of leading reformist intellectuals. He later completed
a doctorate in Tehran.
His entrance into Khatami's cabinet as minister for culture in August
1997 was widely welcomed by intellectuals, hoping the president's populist
landslide would help remove long-standing censorship over the arts and