Slowly but surely
Reform or revolution?
By Mehdi Amini
June 27, 2001
I recently attended a meeting organized by the Iranian Cultural Society
(Kanoon-e Doostdaran-e Farhange Iran) in Washington, DC. The topic of that
evening was Iran after the presidential elections. Having listened to the
speakers and the participants I was prompted to write these few lines.
Some of the listeners, who stood up to talk after the speakers, were
stating that the election was a farce and Khatami's call for reform was
a ploy by the regime to extend its existence and that their downfall was
imminent. These speeches were without logic, fact and figure and knowledge
of the Iranian society.
As I got up to leave at the end of the meeting, I felt sorry for ourselves.
I thought, Oh God, we sure have a long way to go. And these people call
themselves intellectuals who want to lead our people to freedom and prosperity.
If they sat down with common Iranian people who are not as "sophisticated"
as they are, and listen to their day-to-day experience of living in Iran
and the changes that our society has gone through, then maybe they will
To us it may look like a nominal gain if men and women walking side by
side is no longer a crime. To us questioning authorities maybe normal. To
us it may be no big deal if one newspaper shuts down and another one pops
up. Surely the religious right will not sit back and watch their grip on
power diminish. But that is expected.
Following Khatami's victory in the first election, I had noticed a shift
in Iranian expatriate attitudes toward events in Iran. There was a glimpse
of hope. Could we have finally matured? But this mood changed as we got
to the end of his first term in office. Many of the opposition forces were
calling for the boycott of the elections. They were saying that this time
around no one will be participating.
I decided to participate in this years' elections and ignore the call
for boycott. I voted for Khatami. Not because I had complete trust and confidence
in Khatami fulfilling his slogans but rather a complete mistrust of the
opposition forces abroad. They showed what they could do even when not in
power. God knows what they would do once in power.
Just last year, these forces managed to disrupt a conference in Berlin,
where many of the speakers had come from Iran. They claimed the conference
was organized by the Islamic Republic, where in fact it was organized by
Heinrich Boll Foundation and the German Green Party and the guests were
critics of the regime. These same forces intimidated people in various cities
abroad by throwing eggs at them and forcing them not to vote in the presidential
The issue is not whether this election was a ploy by the regime or not.
The real question is, are we better off now compared to four years ago or
not? For the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic, the absolute
authority of Velayat-e Faghih has been questioned. Even among the Islamists.
There has been talk of freedom of the press, civil society and accountability.
Khatami came to power with certain slogans that are now the people's
daily demands. For three years we had a dynamic period of critical journalism,
which led to a lot of new political and cultural values among the Iranians.
Simply put, the political and cultural climate for moving towards democracy
is much better now than four years ago.
Certainly the road to freedom and democracy is not an easy one. There
are gains and setbacks. Sometimes we are moving forward inch-by-inch. But
is the overall trend moving forward or not? We must look at the long term.
Let us ask ourselves, if the Islamic Republic is toppled tomorrow, what
will come next? A regime that is possibly worse in certain respects, i.e.
a regime created by the Mojahedin-e Khalq?
Iran could change in two ways. One is reform, which is a gradual and
stage-by-stage, and the other is revolution, which is based on violence
and non-democratic methods. What we must ask ourselves is that do we want
this change to be deeply rooted or are we merely looking for a change of
What we say and do here in exile will have very little impact in Iran.
But there is one thing we can do which could be beneficial to the people
in Iran. That is pressuring the U.S. government to lift the sanctions. One
thing I am sure about is that trade and the lifting of travel restrictions
between Iran and the U.S would help the growth of democratic values.
And if we get more opportunities to speak with our fellow countrymen
living in Iran, we may get a better grip on reality. The more dialogue between
us, the better understanding we will have. I haven't lost hope. I am confident
of the Iranian people and their future. I am just crossing my finger that
maybe some day we will grow up!