Iran reformers fear coup
By Guy Dinmore in Tehran
April 20, 2000
Iran's political crisis deepened on Wednesday when a reformist party
allied to President Mohammad Khatami accused hardliners of plotting a military
coup or other ways of preventing the newly elected and reformist-dominated
parliament from convening next month. Related fearure
The reformist Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organisation was responding
to a statement by the powerful Revolutionary Guards which said that "when
the time comes, small and big enemies will feel the revolutionary hammer
on their skulls".
The unusual warning, broadcast by state media on Sunday, was widely
seen as a threat to prominent reformists. Conservatives lost their parliamentary
majority in elections held two months ago, winning only some 50 of the
290 Majlis seats, as reformists repeated Mr Khatami's own landslide victory
in presidential polls in 1997.
But the hardliner-dominated Council of Guardians, which has supervisory
powers, has not yet ratified the results of 32 seats, nor confirmed a date
for a second round of voting for 65 seats where no candidate passed the
In the last two weeks the Council, alleging malpractice, has also annulled
or changed the results of 10 seats won by reformists, triggering unrest
in two towns.
The outgoing assembly is still in session and this week passed amendments
to the press law that could muzzle Iran's largely pro-reform newspapers,
by preventing them from reopening under a new title if closed down, as
has repeatedly happened, and barring certain journalists from working.
Last week, the Expediency Council, a powerful body also dominated by
conservatives, ruled that parliament had no right to investigate institutions
under the control of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, such as
the Revolutionary Guards, the broadcast media and the Bonyads, charitable
foundations that have grown into business empires.
The violent rhetoric of some hardline Shia Muslim clerics has created
a feeling of insecurity. The attempted murder last month of Saeed Hajjarian,
an editor and adviser to the president, still haunts Tehran.
A rally organised by the Basij Islamic militia on Tuesday chanted: "Death
to the mercenary writers." Their target was Akbar Ganji, a journalist
who alleges that prominent figures within the system were behind a series
of unresolved political killings.
Some analysts believe the hardliners are hoping to intimidate the new
parliament before it meets. Others fear the aim is to create such a crisis
that Ayatollah Khamenei would come under pressure to deploy the Revolutionary
In its open letter, the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organisation warned
unnamed hardliners, whom they described as the "Mafia of power",
that a coup was a "childish dream", as the bulk of the armed
forces supported Mr Khatami and the reformists.
Foreign oil and gas companies bidding for contracts in Iran are watching
the situation closely. One representative, expressing a view also held
by some western diplomats, said he believed the reformist trend was so
strong that Mr Khatami would ride out the crisis but might have to make
compromises along the way.