Four more years?
Raised expectations have turned into deep frustrations
By Mehdi Ardalan
October 11, 2000
As Mohammad Khatami approaches the end of his first term as president,
his supporters are reflecting critically on the achievements of his administration.
Khatami himself has showed signs of unease when he got his top adviser,
Mohammad Abtahi, to convey the "President's concern about the difficulties
facing the realization of his promised plans and objectives."
It isn't clear whether Khatami will succeed in enticing the public's
sympathy for his predicaments. Many believe his steady retreat in the face
of conservative pressure became complete with the resignation of his pro-reform
Culture Minister, Ataollah Mohajerani.
The once-flourishing press freedoms, administered by Mohajerani, were
the most visible manifestations of Khatami's promise of reform, earning
Mohajerani the label "the president's left arm", the right arm
having been the impeached Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri, now serving
a five-year jail sentence for criticizing the excesses of the Islamic Republic.
Iran's state of press freedoms may now be attuned with the country's
political realities. But raised expectations in the first year of Khatami's
presidency have turned into deep frustrations with his current cautious
pragmatism. Skeptics believe Khatami will face the same fate as former
That may be unlikely, given Khatami's continued popularity among reformers
and the general public. Privately, however, Khatami loyalists express concern
that widespread disillusionment may translate into a low voter turn out
in the presidential elections next spring.
Reformers justify the slow pace of political change by insisting on
"active pacifism". Westerners tend to believe that this strategy
is inspired by a spirit of turn-the-cheek pacifism. But in Iran it is seen
differently. Some reformers are inclined toward pacifisim because of their
sense of devotion to a state that they see as essentially legitimate if
allowed to function as intended. But for most reformists, pacifism is a
virtue made from necessity.
Conservatives opposed to political reform say active pacifism is a guise
for reformers to sow seeds of unrest. However, this is not why critics
are expressing serious misgivings about this strategy. They say active
pacifism has not deterred entrenched opponents in the conservative establishment
to at least slow down their crackdown against leading proponents of the
"Beyond Khatami" is a newly articulated slogan emerging from
the evolving vocabulary of those reformers who seek fresh leaders. Mohajerani
is keeping his lips sealed at least until he leaves his post at the Ministry
of Culture, but he seems to be a favorite with some disappointed partners
in the pro-reform coalition, especially the centrist Executives of Construction
With the highest-circulation newspaper, Hamshahri, at its relative
disposal, the ECP can create headaches for Khatami loyalists in the Islamic
Iran Participation Party (IIPP), which has the highest number of seats
in parliament. To the IIPP, Mohajerani is after all an "ECP man".
Of course, a Khatami Vs. Mohajerani scenario may not surface at all
if the conservative-dominated judiciary puts Mohajerani on trial and condemns
him to serving prison along side several prominent journalists who got
there by exercising the freedoms afforded by his Ministry of Culture.
Conservatives can gain confidence by a low turn out in the May 2001
presidential elections. They could argue that misleading actions by supporters
of the president have turned the people away. For now, everyone is hiding
their cards, including Khatami who has yet to officially announce his intention
to run for another term.
How will all this jockeying for power affect the voting public? The
coming months will be crucial. Khatami still has an opportunity to retain
the trust of his constituents especially during the course of events in
which Mohajerani's fate will be unraveled.