Why Iranians turn to Reformists


Why Iranians turn to Reformists
by Esfand Aashena

If is often said in this website that Islamic Republic cannot be reformed and the Islamic Constitution strictly prohibits reform of its most archaic foundations.  However, that’s not what has been happening since the inception of the Islamic Republic.  In fact, all those who are staunchly opposed to Reformists had never heard or even used the word “Reform” until people started lining up behind them.

The question is not whether Islamic Republic is reformable or what Reformists have or haven’t done in the past.  The question is why Iranians turn to reform and Reformists every few years or so?  Why?  Why do Iranians actually want reforms?  After the 2009 elections and its aftermath many are disenfranchised with Reformists and would now like more of a “regime change” than reforms but how and where would they show these desires?

Iranians turn to Reformists during election cycles because there are no other alternatives, at least no other alternatives that they could openly support in Iran.  At the same time they don’t want to remain silent until a legitimate alternative (read the hidden Imam Mahdi ;-) shows up so they could rally behind him.  If they wait too long they’ll become another 40 year old virgin and who wants that!

So what do they do, they talk and argue all their frustrations, disappointments, corruptions, abuse of power, gender apartheid and human rights violations while “supporting” a Reformist candidate.  That is what they have been doing and what happened in 2009 and this while all other ‘alternatives’ refused to even see such tendencies or acknowledge it only to laugh it off as futile.  Don’t get me wrong there are alternatives, they definitely are, but not in any format that can garner any legitimate and actionable support.  All the good ones have left, Elvis has left the building!

Iranians came to vote en masse in 2009 to end Ahmadi’s rein during which all kinds of restrictions that were fought against successfully in the past were brought back and Iran was becoming more and more of a pariah in the world.   I believe the argument that by eliminating Reformists and supporting Ahmadi, Iranians will become more frustrated and against the regime so the revolution will be “accelerated” is flawed because the same argument is used to say that Shah should’ve mowed down Khomeini and his followers to “stop” the revolution.  Would revolution have been “accelerated” if Shah had mowed down the opposition any further?

With the experience of Arab Spring in front of Iranians it remains to be seen how the people (note I said how the people not “Reformists”) will channel their fighting spirit this time around.  The Reformists themselves have not said what they want to do although their candidates, if any, are being disqualified for the current parliamentary election.  Will the 2013 elections be a non-event?  This year’s election seems to be a non-event.

Khamenei and company want to do away with Presidential elections altogether to deny Iranians a vehicle to channel their emotions.  They believe Iranians are less involved and passionate about parliamentary elections so this would be a good way to take away people’s chance to show emotions.

Many of the political parties or newspapers that are established in Iran in order to participate in elections have very short shelf lives once they gather support and interest and are often shut down by the regime rather quickly within few months or a year or two max.  Karoubi’s party lived for about 4 or 5 years before it was shut down and Mousavi’s party was shut down in about two years.

Iranian people are moved by rather smaller steps.  In fact, regime’s ‘cash subsidies’ is a response in trying to show small steps where Iranians can look to in terms of tangible “show” of distribution of wealth where 80% of the country’s revenue is through oil.  At the same time this cash subsidy is regime’s achilles heel and it’s wrong on so many levels.   Where would the regime go from here?  Gold and foreign exchange currency (and inflation) are rapidly increasing which means people do not believe in or trust regime’s economic policies and the sanctions are having major impact and most importantly the prospect of a looming war is ever more present.

Photo caption:  Motorcycle "taxis" in Baharestan median in downtown/south/old Tehran waiting for customers who are walking around.  Have you used one while in Tehran?!


more from Esfand Aashena

In due time they'll come

by AMIR1973 on

In due time they'll come back again

Probably some time after the return of Emam Zaman. Salavat befres! The Khomeinist "reformists" have achieved so, so much. Sure they have.

BTW, after Mousavi-Karroubui were placed under virtual "house arrest" earlier this year the streets of Iran EXPLODED -- not.

Esfand Aashena

Iranians still follow Muhammad 1400 years later!

by Esfand Aashena on

You said, you said!  I said putting Iranian down, dishing them, doesn't solve anything.  You said you are putting Reformist down and not Iranians.  I then said why are you separating Reformers from people who followed them and you said separating Iranians from Khomeini!  And the list goes on!  So much for the realities!

Last time Iranians took to the streets it was 2009 when Arab countries were being ruled with dictators.  In due time they'll come back again and do whatever they feel like doing, probably something inline with the Arab Spring now that they have someone else doing the heavy liftings in the Middle East.

As I said in the blog peole have been discounting Reformists from the very beginning.  In your own words "over and over and over".  In essence you passed them "over" 3 times in the past yet they are the only ones who brought people to the streets with enthusiasm for at least 3 times that you passed them "over"!

Do you want to have the last word?  Sure go ahead be my guest.  

Everything is sacred



by AMIR1973 on

Now why are you separating "Iranians" from "Reformists" whom they followed?

Now why are you separating "Iranians" from Emam Khomeini whom they followed (at one time)? If having followers is the criterion. then let us all go see Emam's face in the moon (he had a lot more followers than Karroubi. BTW, when is the last time large numbers turned out for Mousavi-Karroubi? Compare their nothingness with what is going on in Syria everyday).  

I think the problem is that you're NOT dealing with "realities on the ground". The REALITY is that the Khomeinist "reformists" are a dead end and have not brought the country a single millimeter closer to real freedom and justice, as many years of experience have shown over and over and over and over.

Esfand Aashena

Realities on the ground.

by Esfand Aashena on

Amir, I am not interested in you taking a sentence and then me and then back and forth.

I am under no illusion that I can change anybody's mind here.  I am just speaking my mind and when presented with new thoughts engage as appropriate.  Most of us on this website are pretty much have set minds and views. 

Realities on the ground means that Iranians are by and large religious and in the past 30 years religion has been ever more tattooed into their psyche.  For the past 30 years Reformists have been the only viable opposition and the only opposition Iranians have rallied behind.  This is the realities on the ground.   Acknowledging this reality is what I am talking about.  But you don't like it because it is not served right.

Now why are you separating "Iranians" from "Reformists" whom they followed?  I believe Reformists did NOT get most of what they wanted and Iranians know that so they knew and know ever more importantly now that in order to make viable changes (reform or regime change) they need to have more support in order to stand up to this dictatorship.  Between Khatami and Khamanei who do you think "Iranians" blame for the dictatorship?  If you say both, then ok that's your opinion.

Bavafa jaan, I don't have any specific love lost for Reformers but I can't close my eyes to what has happened in the past 30 years and who were the ones wanting change.  I can't close my eyes to the fact that despite their shortcomings they have organized more people and rallied more people behind their causes than any other opposition group.  In fact, I don't see any opposition group that can amount to anything!

Amirparviz, laugh it off funny boy. 

Everything is sacred


Funny Thoughts and ideas you presented, I like the part

by amirparvizforsecularmonarchy on

You stated "Iranians turn to Reformists during election cycles because there are no
other alternatives, at least no other alternatives that they could
openly support in Iran." LOL.....

And now everyone in iran Knows that the elections themselves are a sham so why even vote reformist, when the candidate with more votes does not win the position?  At least when Khatami was voted for he got the position, the fact that the position has zero/zilch capability to make changes and has zero/zilch power is just a mere detail as to what a pointless system it is anyway.  LOL.... Makes any intelligent person wonder why the greens Rebelled when their man Mousavi had his victory stolen in broad daylight, its not as if the position gave him or his supporters anything, so why the disappointment? Elections are a mere ceremony in Iran, one where the outcome is known before the first vote is submitted and the power of the position of the winner is zero.

I suppose after betraying the late shah, after he proved his love for Iranians, Iranians showed they were really aching to get robbed, experience injustice and endure suffering, maybe not this harshly but a little too much to be considered healthy.


Great blog Esfand jaan....

by Bavafa on

I am not much of believer of the so called “Reformers  but if Iranian people support them and believe they can be a way out of this mess called IRI, then they will get my full support.

'Hambastegi' is the main key to victory 




by AMIR1973 on

The years from 1981-2005 is the 24-year period I'm referring to....AN is from the "conservative" Khomeinist faction, not to be mistaken with the "reformist" Khomeinist faction. However, they are ALL followers of Emam. The other countries are obviously NOT democracies, but at least they have a small degree of tolerance (true, very little) of a true opposition. For example, there are leftists, secularists, liberals, Islamists, etc -- whereas, the IRI tolerates one and only one line of political thinking: Khomeinist Islamism. 

Putting Iranians down does not solve anything.  

I didn't put "Iranians" down. I put the Khomeinist "reformists" down. Why are you confusing the two? 

Acknowleding the realities on the ground is the first step in chartering a road ahead. 

I agree 110%. The reality on the ground is that the so-called Green Movement "led" by Mousavi-Karroubi achieved nothing of substance. That is REALITY, free of wishful thinking and fantasy. "Acknowledge" (your word) that with a different leadership, goals, and tactics the 2009 protests might have led to real change, but they have NOT and did NOT. 



by KouroshR99 on

Whatever happened to Persian warrior blood in our veins? I hate to put it so bluntly, but why are we such pussies? When I see young Persian men strapped with AR-15's, wearing heavy combat boots, with shirts screaming "PERSIAN POWER" on the streets of Tehran slicing a Mullahs throat over a Koran, I'll know that our holy day has come. When I hear about 9 year old Arab girls being stabbed to death in front of their parents in Lebanon by Iranian warriors, I'll know that my race, my blood, my nation is awake. Until then, continue rallying around green flags and acting like a bunch of pathetic liberals.

If you're out there, if you real Persian warriors, who carry the blood of great men still exist. Do us a favor, stop talking, and do something. In case you don't get the message, "do something" doesn't mean have a "peaceful rally".

Esfand Aashena

Reformists/moderates/pragmatists for 24 yrs, what is Ahmadi?

by Esfand Aashena on

What is Ahmadi?  He is not Reformist/moderate/pragmatist, so what is he?

Iranians have less political freedoms?  How much less?  In 2009 the Arab activists were saying Arab Activists Watch Iran And Wonder: 'Why Not Us?'

Besides we have to wait and see where Arab Spring is headed.  Nothing is clear yet in Tunis, Egypt or Libya nor Iraq or Afghanistan for that matter.   Iranians been there done that.

Both Iraq and Afghanistan ("pampered" by the West) are now an Islamic Republic!  In 2012 Iraq is set to explode but I hope not.

Putting Iranians down does not solve anything.  Acknowleding the realities on the ground is the first step in chartering a road ahead.   Again people came to the streets in the millions in support of the Reformers.  Acknowledge it!  What goes around comes around, if people supported Reformers, this time Reformers will support the next movement when the time comes.

No group or philisophy or way of life is 100% responsive to all the issues but flat out dismissing the few good things is just lame. 

Everything is sacred


Reformists/moderates/pragmatists in power for 24 years

by AMIR1973 on

Mousavi was PM from 1981-1989, followed by Rafsanjani as President from 1989-1997, and then the Great Reformist himself Khatami 1997-2005. And remember, all of these wonderful gentleman are still very devoted to Emam Khomeini. The list of achievements during these 24 years (e.g. headscarves going back 3 inches, etc) is very impressive. Basically, "reform" by the Mousavi-Rafsanjani-Khatami-Karroubi faction of Khomeinist Islamists means that Iranians still have fewer personal and political freedoms than Jordanians, Egyptians, Moroccans. Algerians, Tunisians, Kuwaitis, Lebanese, Emiratis, Omanis, Qataris, etc -- i.e. even if we set the bar very low. 

Esfand Aashena

Faramarz jaan why no honey no love?!

by Esfand Aashena on

People voting for Reformers is like staying in an abusive relationship?!  How so?!  Throughout the 30 or so years of Islamic Republic we had only one Reformist president (Khatami) for 8 years.

Please allow me to use a page out of Reza Shah's supporters' handbook and outline some achievements that were made under Khatami's rein;

- School uniforms for school girls were changed to allow multiple colors instead of black only uniforms

- Women's hijab were laxed to the point where mantos became shorter and shorter and eventually transformed into optional one-piece manto

- Women's headsarve became just a throw something back there and show hair. 

- Iranian women became leading consumers of hair highlights!

- Wearing makeup in public was allowed

- Couples started holding hands in public

- Women started wearing sandals in summers and put on less clothing in the 100 degree heat of the summer

- Nose jobs became a major industry!

- New movies exploded and censors laxed.  Many of the major actors like Niki Karimi, Hedieh Tehrani, Taraneh Alidoosti, Golshifteh Farahani as well as filmakers like Jafar Panahi, Makhmalbaf family and others started their illustrius careers with movies that won awards with critical acclaims.

- Iran's first ever Oscar nominee (Children Of Heaven) made it during this timeframe.

- Iran's underground rock was born. Namjoo as well as others started their careers.

- Art became more mainstream

- More newspapers were given permits and Journalists allowed to analyze more

- TV drama and sitcom series started

- Khatamai gave international speeches and UN calls one of the years during his tenure as the year of "dialogue among civilizations" as he had proposed 

- US Foreign Minister Madelline Albright officially apologized to Iran for CIA's role in the 1953 coup.

- Iranian exports for pistachios, persian rugs and kabobs were allowed!

- Iranian diaspora (such as myself) started travelling back and forth to Iran and meet families after decades of separation

The list goes on and these are huge steps for the lives of ordinary Iranians and people benefited.  Is this an abusive relationship?!

Why no love, no honey?!

Everything is sacred


Triumph of Hope over Experience

by Faramarz on

Esfand Jaan,
I think that something irreversible has happened since the June of 2009. Today, there is clarity about who is really in charge in Iran and what they are all about. Before 2009 there was ambiguity and confusion over who actually was running the country, but not today. 

As for the Reformers and why people voted for them, it is similar to why people stay in abusive relationships. They have no alternatives and the change looks scary. So they take it and take it, until they no longer do.

Esfand Aashena

Ash under fire.

by Esfand Aashena on

Anahid jaan thank you for reading and commenting.  While we'll have to wait and see if the same patterns repeat itself one thing is for sure and that is Islamic Republic is scared shitless of what the future holds and how Iranians will react next!

One day they're showing teeth and banning women from ski resorts the next day they're distributing cake!  They just don't know what is the best way to keep people in line.

I believe Reform leaders inside and outside the Government will be swayed whichever the next fire is lit.  Mousavi himself didn't want to be in this position but once people started protesting and blood were shed he had no choice but stay the course.

In 2005 in the election between Rafsanjani, Ahmadi and Karoubi people by and large stayed away from the election and didn't notice the electoral cheating as much.  However, they soon realized reforms are being slowly but surely repealed and Ahmadi is embarrasing them at every corner.

So they came out by the millions and this time they stayed.  Islamic Republic giving people some pretense of choices in Iran is akin to a loss in face of public pressure.

Everything is sacred

Anahid Hojjati

Thanks Esfand for your blog

by Anahid Hojjati on

After reading few lines,  I was telling myself the only reason that...as I was saying it, I read your sentences which are very similar to what I was saying "zeere lab":"Iranians turn to Reformists during election cycles because there are no other alternatives, at least no other alternatives that they could openly support in Iran. "

It remains to be seen if this pattern will repeat itself in near future. Only if IRI thinks that in order to stay around, they have to have some pretense of choices in Iran.