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Subject: DNI-NEWS Digest - 23 Jun 1999 to 24 Jun 1999
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There are 3 messages totalling 664 lines in this issue.
Topics of the day:
1. Saeed Emami and the murder of three priests
2. fingers of 15 is ordered to be cut for theft
3. Iran/National Geographic of 07/1999: Testing the Waters of Reform...
Date: Thu, 24 Jun 1999 12:26:07 +0100
From: "a.abdi" <a.abdi@BTINTERNET.COM>
Subject: Saeed Emami and the murder of three priests
Hamshahri reports about the involvement of Saeed Emami in the murders of
Date: Thu, 24 Jun 1999 23:21:12 +0100
From: "a.abdi" <a.abdi@BTINTERNET.COM>
Subject: fingers of 15 is ordered to be cut for theft
http://www.rferl.org/bd/ir/ According to Persian Service broadcasts of
RFE/RL on Thursday (24/06/99), part II, 15 people were sentenced to have
their fingers to be amputated for theft by a judge in Mashahd.
Date: Thu, 24 Jun 1999 20:07:59 -0500
From: "Aryo B. Pirouznia" <aryopirouznia@EMAIL.MSN.COM>
Subject: Iran/National Geographic of 07/1999: Testing the Waters of Reform...
" Testing the Waters of Reform":
"We have freedom of speech in Iran," he joked. "But it's what happens after
we speak that becomes a question."
By Fen Montaigne
On a sparkling afternoon in April, three young couples climbed the steep
hiking trail that follows the Darakeh River in northern Tehran. The river
rushes out of the Elburz Mountains, whose snow-covered peaks form a majestic
backdrop to the nondescript sprawl of the capital. At nearly 5,000 feet
[1,500 meters] the area along the Darakeh is one of the few refuges from the
dirty air and clamor of Tehran, and on this Friday, an Islamic day of rest,
the couples were chatting easily as they strolled under willows and plane
trees loaded with brilliant green buds. They passed vending stalls where
merchants offered dozens of varieties of nuts and dried fruits or sodas
cooled in old bathtubs filled with frigid river water. Men popped corn on
propane stoves. Nearby, people paid a few hundred rials (about a dime U.S.)
to a man whose parakeets told fortunes by strutting along a line of folded
papers and pecking out missives that predicted wealth, long lives, and
Suddenly a stranger in civilian clothes approached one of the young men,
Majid Rafiai, barking, "What are you doing? Why are you holding that woman's
hand? Are you afraid someone will steal her?" In Iran, displays of affection
between the sexes, however innocuous, are frowned on.
The inquisitor was a basij, a term often used disparagingly to describe
people who, with the blessing of the authorities, act as guardians of public
morals. The word originally applied to the members of a loose-knit Islamic
militia, many of whom served as suicide fighters in the war with Iraq from
1980 to 1988.
The young people were indignant at the intrusion but held their tongues.
Later I sat with them on a carpeted platform above the river, drinking tea
and listening as they vented their anger. They said they had voted for the
popular new president, Mohammad Khatami-a moderate clergyman, intellectual,
and former minister of culture who ran on a platform of greater
openness-precisely because they were tired of this kind of meddling from the
die-hard defenders of the Islamic regime. "The period of Khatami has come,
and the period of those people is finished," said Hossein Youssefian, a
24-year-old university student, as the others nodded in agreement.
Twenty years after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his devoted followers
overthrew Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi-the last in a line of Persian monarchs
dating back to Cyrus in 559 B.C.-and installed a religious government, many
of Iran's 64 million people are fed up with the scowling clerics who have
run their country and their lives. The dissatisfaction boiled to the surface
in May 1997, when 70 percent of the electorate chose Khatami as president.
Since his election Iran has been undergoing an uneasy transformation, a
second revolution in as many decades and one that seeks to soften the
overbearing rule of the theocracy.
"When I look at Iranian society, I see a society that has graduated from the
school of fundamentalism," says Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, who served as
Iranian ambassador to the United Nations under Khomeini and is now a
professor in the United States.
As Iran struggles to liberalize its Islamic republic (no one would suggest
publicly that the theocracy be scrapped), the big question is how far
Khatami's geniality and popular support will carry him in his contest with
the hard-liners, headed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the "supreme leader" of
the republic. What is certain, however, is that Iranians, after two decades
of war and revolution, want some freedom and levity back in their lives.
"People are very tired," said Farideh Farhi, a political scientist. "We didn
't expect so much austerity. Severity is against our nature. We like fun. We
Certainly that was the country I found during a seven-week visit to Iran, a
stunning land of desert plateaus, verdant Caspian shoreline, and two great
mountain ranges, the Elburz and the Zagros. I had traveled in Iran in 1974,
several years before anger over government corruption and the shah's
pro-Western, anticlerical policies would ignite the revolution. I arrived
this time with stereotypical images of the Islamic republic in my mind: the
menacing, bearded face of Ayatollah Khomeini, the 52 blindfolded American
hostages, the black-robed women burning the United States flag. But these
images faded as I met with warmth and hospitality, surprisingly little
anti-American sentiment, and a people longing for improved relations with
the West and a more prominent place on the world stage.
I also discovered that under the Islamic revolution many Iranians had seen
basic improvements in their lives: Paved roads, water, and electricity in
most rural areas; access to higher education for the masses, especially
women; and a greater sense of unity in this richly multiethnic nation, whose
population includes 51 percent Persians, 24 percent Azerbaijanis, 7 percent
Kurds, 3 percent Arabs, and numerous tribal groups.
Although the mood of Iranians has shifted under Khatami, the fundamentalist
laws and customs of the Islamic republic remain in place. Under Iran's
constitution the real power rests with Khamenei, the orthodox heir to
Ayatollah Khomeini, chosen by a council of religious leaders. Khamenei is
not nearly as popular as Khatami, nor does he have the following of the
charismatic Khomeini, who died in 1989 and is still revered by devout
Iranians. Yet Khamenei and his allies control the army, the police, the
judiciary, and the Revolutionary Guard, a volunteer unit originally created
as a parallel force to the army. They also have a core of powerful
supporters, including businessmen and bureaucrats tied to the regime, as
well as veterans and war widows who receive government stipends.
Today the struggle between the two sides overshadows everything else, and
change comes in fits and starts. Newspapers proliferate, exploring the
limits of the allowable, and then are shut down; reform politicians, such as
Gholamhossein Karbaschi, Tehran's mayor, are convicted on dubious corruption
charges; five critics of the regime are mysteriously killed, and the
government announces that rogue agents of the Intelligence Ministry have
been arrested for the slayings.
* * *
I saw firsthand how fluid the situation is when I interviewed Mashallah
Shamsolvaezin, the editor of Society, one of the country's new, rambunctious
newspapers. Shortly after the revolution Shamsolvaezin was the first editor
of a militantly Islamic newspaper. But he had mellowed, and in early 1998,
encouraged by Khatami's brand of glasnost, he founded Society, located in a
house in central Tehran. Shamsolvaezin, a chain-smoking intellectual, smiled
as he recounted how his newspaper had broken new ground by printing mildly
critical stories about the government and by publishing two front-page color
pictures of women-one in tribal dress, the other in a Western-style wedding
"We have freedom of speech in Iran," he joked. "But it's what happens after
we speak that becomes a question."
He would soon find out. The increasingly bold editor published several tough
stories, including an interview with an opponent of the regime who had been
jailed for 15 years and tortured. In June 1998 a court that oversees the
press ordered the paper closed. Shamsolvaezin opened another paper, Tous,
which published a number of controversial articles and was shut down on
vague charges of undermining national security. Authorities then tossed
Shamsolvaezin in jail for several weeks. Undeterred, he started a third
As the larger struggle has unfolded in Iran, many citizens have watched
quietly, hoping Khatami and the reformers will prevail.
"We are a very complicated people," said Shahla Lahiji, a publisher and
advocate of women's rights who lives in Tehran. Lahiji is a handsome woman
with pale skin, prominent cheekbones, and a deep, infectious laugh. "We
always live two lives-one outside the home and one inside. Obedience was
always for the outside. Disobedience was for the inside. Outside we don't
trust anyone. It is the reason for our survival. We had all these invasions,
but we still have our language, and we still have our land. We obey the
invaders, then change them."
Iran's 2,500-year-old civilization has survived invasion by Mongols, Turks,
Afghans, and many others. Lahiji's unspoken message, I surmised, was that
the harsh regime of the ayatollahs has become alien in its own land, forcing
millions of Iranians to express their true feelings only behind closed
doors. So I was surprised, on my travels, at how willing people were to
criticize the government.
I had one such encounter on the edge of the Dasht-e Kavir, an austerely
beautiful scrub desert broken by occasional high sand dunes. My traveling
companion, Farokh Mostofi, editor of Shekar-o-Tabiat, a nature magazine
based in Tehran, and I were exploring outposts along an old camel caravan
route from Yazd to Tehran. We drove along the edge of the desert on a dirt
track in Mostofi's four-wheel-drive. To the north, for several hundred
miles, lay the empty Kavir, a brown waste dotted with rocks and shin-high,
sagelike shrubs. Dust cyclones skittered across the landscape. A half mile
away, a shepherd led his sheep and goats home under an enormous blue sky
across which sailed gray-bottomed clouds.
We decided to spend the night in Ashin, a hamlet consisting of a dozen or so
domed mud houses perched on a hill at the southwestern edge of the Kavir.
Only two families were in residence, the others having abandoned the hard
life of shepherding and farming for jobs in larger villages and cities. The
holdout families tended a green-and-khaki-colored patch of wheat, cumin, and
fruit trees at the base of the mountains, a lush oasis fed by a stream.
As the sun set behind clouds and a full moon rose in the eastern sky,
Mostofi and I sat on a rough carpet outside one of the houses, eating and
talking with the two families. By the light of a hissing kerosene lamp, a
gaunt man with sunken cheeks covered in white stubble relaxed with the
gregarious Mostofi and spoke freely.
"Islamic government is a myth; it's propaganda," said the man (whom I'll
leave nameless), echoing a widely held sentiment that the ruling clerics and
their families have become nearly as corrupt as many of the shah's top
officials were known to be. "I doubt these people are working for Islam.
They're just collecting money for themselves."
He also doubted whether the president could get much done in the face of
intransigent hard-liners. "Khatami has good policies, but he can't challenge
the powers against him," he said. "He can't even move a glass of water from
here to there." Indeed, understanding the intensity of his opposition,
Khatami has moved very slowly on reforms.
That night I unrolled a thin sleeping bag on the flat mud-and-straw roof of
one of the abandoned houses. The hard bed made for a fitful night, but the
discomfort was offset by the sight of the moon creeping across the sky,
suffusing the rugged desert landscape with an ethereal light.
* * *
The high hopes Iranians had for Khatami have been tempered by time and the
slow pace of change. But two years ago his candidacy stirred passions that
caught the fundamentalist regime utterly by surprise. One of four
presidential candidates approved by a religious council, Khatami delivered a
restrained, often populist message that caught on like a prairie fire. He
emphasized respecting people's privacy and guaranteeing their "civil rights
and freedoms." His gentle demeanor, as much as his words, won over the
"Everybody was depressed," said Shahla Lahiji, the Tehran publisher. "It
seemed that laughing was forbidden. Khatami had a huge open smile. He showed
he cared about people."
His election also showed that the yearning for change cuts across Iranian
society: women, resentful of inequities and restrictions; journalists,
intellectuals, and artists, chafing under government censorship; workers and
businessmen, weary of the economic stagnation brought on by the government's
mishandling of the economy; and, most of all, the young.
In Iran 40 million people are younger than 25 years old. Comprising
two-thirds of the population, they are the baby boom that followed the 1979
Islamic revolution. Many of them have no memory of either Ayatollah Khomeini
or the birth of the Islamic republic.
In the small town of Zagh Marz on the Caspian Sea a fisherman in his early
30s, Abadin Salimi, invited half a dozen teenage girls to chat with me one
evening. Sitting on the floor of Salimi's home, the young women said they
wanted to retain Iranian and Islamic traditions, such as tightly knit
families and respect for elders, but the theocracy's steady drumbeat of
anti-American propaganda had done little to blunt their keen interest in the
When I asked one of them, an 18-year-old teacher who declined to give her
name, what appealed to her about life in America, she talked of the freedom
to enjoy simple pleasures in mixed company. "Things like riding a bicycle or
swimming," she said. "We have wishes for enjoyment and a different
lifestyle, but with this government we can't achieve them."
Throughout the country, state-controlled radio and television do their best
to weed out "corrupting" Western influences. But the Internet and
surreptitious satellite dishes are beginning to shred the Islamic curtain
with which the authorities have sought to shield Iran.
Interest in the West has also been heightened by the close contact between
Iran and its diaspora. An estimated one million Iranians, many of whom fled
after the revolution, now live in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. I saw the
effect of these expatriates at a wedding one evening in a middle-class
neighborhood in Tehran.
A dark-eyed beauty of 22 named Toktam, wearing a bare-shouldered,
Western-style wedding dress, was marrying 31-year-old Hossein, who runs a
rental-car agency. Her family had lived for years in San Jose, California,
and the ceremony, attended by several dozen guests, was a blend of American
and Persian traditions. A mullah read the vows to the couple as older women
in chadors looked on. But before the ceremony the mullah had to avert his
eyes from female guests who were dancing provocatively in sexy gowns.
For sheer brazenness, none of the women could match Toktam's 18-year-old
sister, Azadeh, who had long dark hair and black eyes. Azadeh, whose name
means "freedom" in Persian, spent the first 12 years of her life in northern
California. She wore a tight, royal blue dress that spectacularly violated
the Islamic dictum against showing curves. Dancing around the room, she
showed a lack of inhibition that seemed, well, un-Persian. She told me she
chafed under the restrictions of the Islamic government and had been a rebel
at her all-girls school in Tehran.
"I don't like it here . . . I can't wait to go back to America," said
Azadeh. "You can't walk down the street without someone bothering you. How
can you be a teenager here? You're always 50 or over. . . . I'm really
trying to take the best of American culture, like being honest and direct,
and mix it with the best of Iranian culture, like the way families are so
close, and become a better person." In the authoritarian atmosphere of Iran,
Azadeh was a fresh breeze of freedom and irreverence.
Young women like Azadeh demonstrate that patience with the sexually
discriminatory laws of the Islamic republic is dwindling. Women's rights
advocates say inequities still exist in Iranian family law, citing statutes
that allow a man to have several wives and to divorce more easily than a
woman and that give fathers preference in custody battles. Despite the
constraints, women are more integrated into Iranian society today than they
were under the shah, mostly because higher education is more accessible.
Iranian women are, in fact, among the most educated and accomplished in the
Muslim world. Before the revolution 35 percent of women were literate; now
the rate stands at 74 percent. In the shah's time about a third of
university students were women; now women make up fully half of new
admissions. Better education is paying off professionally: Today one in
three Iranian physicians is a woman.
Shireen Ebadi, a lawyer and former judge, whom I met in her office in
central Tehran, explained this seemingly paradoxical progress. "Before the
revolution many traditional women would not go to university or work. But
because the revolution made these places so accessible, conservative
families let their daughters go to university and into the workplace." But
this had an unintended consequence. "With the revolution, many women came
out of the kitchen. Women who emerge into society cannot be oppressed
Iranian women have indeed begun testing the limits of freedom. Women are
still required by law to observe the hejab, the Islamic dress code, by
covering their hair and the curves of their bodies. But in Tehran and other
cities it is now common to see young women showing hair under their scarves
and wearing makeup.
* * *
In the hinterland, where the roots of Islam go deepest, women are emerging
more slowly. Climbing above the scorching plain of the Dasht-e Kavir, I
visited Khvor, an emerald green oasis of plum, apricot, and walnut trees
tucked into the folds of the barren, dusty brown mountains. Other than its
renowned orchards and walnut crop, Khvor's mainstay is carpet weaving.
In one house I watched as Tahereh Salmani, 20, and her two sisters, ages 16
and 17, wove a carpet. Sitting erect behind the vertical carpet frame,
Tahereh-who has been weaving since she was 11-deftly threaded wool through
the string guides and fired off instructions to her sisters. Asked how she
liked her work, Tahereh, who wore glasses and a white print chador, replied,
"If we didn't like it, we wouldn't do it."
In nearly every household in Khvor young women like Tahereh make carpets to
sell to dealers in nearby Tabas. The carpets usually bring from [U.S.] $300
to $1,000, a handsome sum in a place where the average monthly income is
less than $150. The village school ends at fifth grade, which is when most
girls drop out to begin weaving. While some families send their sons to
middle school in Tabas, they prefer to keep their daughters at home under
sheltering parental wings.
Standing beside the girls was their father, Mohammad Salmani, a balding,
retired laborer dressed in a T-shirt and baggy trousers. He has ten
children, so the extra money his daughters make is important. He said he
will use it to help pay their dowries, which could amount to [U.S.] $2,000
each. "They are the hardest working girls in the village," he said proudly.
No matter where you go in Iran, people seem preoccupied with making ends
meet. Leaving the desert, Mostofi and I headed to the Caspian Sea plain on
the north side of the Elburz Mountains. After the scrubby, khaki-colored
vistas of the desert, it was a relief to be in a forested landscape once
Driving past brilliant green rice fields, we saw a man the width of a door
puttering down the road on a motorcycle, the back of which was piled high
with leafy branches. "Mulberry leaves," said Mostofi. "Food for his
The motorcyclist's name was Ali Akbar Shafei, and with his permission we
followed him to his home in Now Deh, a village of brick and concrete houses
set on winding streets in the foothills of the Elburz.
Shafei, a 32-year-old whose 220-pound [100-kilogram] body, fierce black
mustache, and week-old stubble belied a gentle disposition, pulled into his
courtyard and hauled the pile of branches into a room attached to his brick
house. There he was fattening up 20,000 white silkworms, whose cocoons would
produce fibers for carpets and textiles. He would sell the silkworms to a
local middleman, netting about 500,000 rials, roughly $165. Not a bad
sideline for a man who earns about a hundred dollars a month as a security
guard and who grows half a ton of rice a year to help feed his family.
"I cope, I survive," said Shafei, who has a wife and two children, as we sat
on his front stoop drinking tea. "I live in a village and it's cheap, but
you couldn't survive without growing something. Inflation is just killing
us. It's crushing us. We don't save anything."
At the time we spoke, inflation was running around 20 percent a year.
Falling oil prices (from $36 a barrel in 1981 to about $11 in 1998) and
production problems in Iran have caused a slide in oil revenue from 22
billion dollars in 1976 to 10 billion in 1998-a huge setback considering
that oil is Iran's number one source of export earnings.
Since the inception of the Islamic republic the economy has suffered other
blows as well: the flight of many of the country's business and technical
elite, the protracted war with Iraq, trade sanctions by the U.S., a doubling
of the population. The regime worsened matters by nationalizing all the
major industries; spending more than 11 billion dollars a year to subsidize
the prices of gasoline, bread, and electricity; discouraging foreign
investment by confiscating businesses; and allowing shady government
foundations to dominate such important areas as real estate.
President Khatami's allies say he understands the need for reforms, but it's
a huge challenge in a country riven by ideological splits and ruled by
clerics with little understanding of economics. In late 1998 his government
proposed raising the price of state-subsidized gasoline, which, at 12 cents
a gallon, is the world's cheapest. That proposal was shot down by the
conservative parliament, which preferred to continue popular policies.
As a result of all this, families like the Shafeis are having to make do
with less. The average income of Iranians in 1999 dollars has fallen from
about $2,600 in 1976 to $1,800 today. Even so, Iran is not an impoverished
nation. Indeed Iranians have a living standard many times higher than those
of their central and south Asian neighbors, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan,
While the ailing economy and heavy-handed religious rule have eroded support
for the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, he retains a core of ardent followers.
This conservative bulwark is closely tied to several phenomena: devout
Muslim faith, continuing belief in the revolution, and the war with Iraq.
To feel the fire of devotion to the regime, one need only visit Khorramshahr
on the Iraqi border. The city suffered more than any other during the war,
which began on September 22, 1980, when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran to
reclaim what he contended was Iraqi territory. The war dragged on for eight
years, killing an estimated million people all told.
Near the northern end of town, close to the Shatt al Arab waterway-the
border with Iraq-is a neighborhood where date palms once grew in profusion
among the mud and brick houses. Flattened during the war, the palm trees and
old houses have been replaced by rows of two-story, beige stucco apartments.
Such rebuilding has encouraged people to return to the city, and the
population is climbing back toward its pre-war level of 150,000.
Habib Eqbalpour, 70, and his wife, Zinat Parvaresh, 63, live in one of the
new apartments. Two of their sons were killed fighting in and around
Khorramshahr, and they spoke with passion about the martyrdom of their boys
in defense of the Islamic republic.
"We are proud we lost our children, Allah be praised," said Mrs. Parvaresh,
pulling a black chador over her chin as we sat on the carpeted floor of
their living room. "We hold our heads high, thanks be to Allah." They
likened their sons to Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
Husayn is central to the religious fervor of many Iranians, some 90 percent
of whom are members of the Shiite branch of Islam, not the Sunni one, which
predominates in the rest of the Muslim world. In A.D. 680 thousands of Sunni
warriors from present-day Syria killed Husayn and scores of his followers at
Karbala, in what is now Iraq. The battle deepened the schism between Shiite
and Sunni Islam, and to this day the martyrdom of Imam Husayn inspires in
devout Iranian Shiites a sense of the nobility of sacrifice in the face of
oppression and threats to the motherland.
"My sons are following in the path of Imam Husayn, and when they are in the
other world, they are helped by Imam Husayn," said Mrs. Parvaresh, whose
boys were 17 and 21 when they died. Because of the family's loss, government
foundations, including the Martyrs' Foundation, provide them with a free
apartment and pay them a stipend of 360,000 rials a month (about $120).
* * *
The war is still a palpable presence in Iran: Thousands of city streets are
named after martyred soldiers, martyrs' cemeteries with flapping
green-and-red flags (green is the color of Islam and red signifies the
martyrs' blood) exist in virtually every village, and gigantic murals of
well-known martyrs are painted on billboards throughout the country. Every
year in observance of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, Iran marks Muharram, a
month of mourning in which people march through towns and cities, flaying
themselves with chains and reciting tales of the nobility of his sacrifice.
I was in Isfahan on Ashura-the tenth day of the month, marking the moment of
Husayn's death-when the ceremonies became a pep rally to cheer conservative
political forces and attack the United States. The focus of Ashura in
Isfahan is Imam Khomeini Square, a stately quadrangle flanked by several
great monuments of Persian architecture. Among them is the Imam Mosque,
completed in 1638, which rises above the low-slung skyline of central
Isfahan, its cerulean dome and beige trim matching the desert sky and sand.
Thousands of mourners filed through the square, including members of the
Revolutionary Guard. Barefoot, many of them wearing the red-and-green
bandannas signifying their desire to make the ultimate sacrifice for Islam,
the mourners trotted en masse past the reviewing stand, chanting and
pounding their chests. Standing just a few feet from these die-hard
defenders of the republic, feeling the concussive thump of hundreds of fists
on chests, I felt a wave of awe-and fear-run through me.
The speaker, referring to the American and Western culture that was creeping
back into Iran, praised the demonstrators and declared, "These are fighters
for Islam! Yesterday they were at the war front fighting the enemy. Today
they are fighting a cultural invasion!"
The bearded men ran in rows through the square. "We are going to blind those
who love the United States," they chanted.
The zealotry was an unnerving reminder of the Iran that President Khatami
seeks to moderate. As the men filed out of the square, I hurried after them,
wanting to find out if their personal opinions were as fierce as their
"Whenever relations between a wolf and a sheep become good, then we can have
good relations with the United States," Hamid Reza Salimian, a 30-year-old
computer technician, said, as his cohorts nodded in assent and pressed in on
me. One man warned me not to twist what they were saying; others heaped
scorn on the U.S. government. Quietly my translator urged me to leave, and
we squeezed through the marchers and disappeared into Imam Khomeini Square.
A few miles from ancient Persepolis in rural Fars Province, Behnam Fallahi
and other farmers pay little heed to demonstrations in Isfahan or nearby
In the shadow of high brown cliffs where ancient Persians left carvings of
battles fought against Roman invaders, farmers toil to produce the 25 or 30
tons of wheat needed to support their families from one year to the next.
When I met Fallahi, a slight man of 27 in mud-splattered clothes, he and two
other farmers were clearing debris from irrigation channels in a plot the
size of several football fields. As we talked, a hot, dry wind rippled the
wheat. "It's 100 percent better now," he said. "We can decide things for
ourselves, talk for ourselves. In the old days nobody could say anything.
They were really under pressure from the landlords."
He was referring to the landed aristocracy, which until the 1960s ruled Iran
like a fiefdom, with prominent families owning entire villages. The last
shah began a major land redistribution, and after the revolution the Islamic
authorities continued to break up large properties and give the land to
Other changes are visible throughout the wide, irrigated desert valleys,
dotted with buttes and flanked by rocky slopes. Nearly every village has new
paved roads or telephone lines, electricity or irrigation pumps-all part of
a program for rural areas under the auspices of a government ministry called
the Crusade for Construction.
In Shiraz the head of the Fars Province branch, Abdul Karim Razavi, ticked
off the accomplishments of the Islamic republic. In Fars the regime has
paved 1,631 miles [2,625 kilometers] of roads, graded 2,463 miles [4,253
kilometers] of dirt roads, built 4,465 feet [1,362 meters] of bridges,
installed new drinking water systems in 1,340 villages, and increased the
number of villages with electricity from 324 to 2,044-89 percent of the
rural population. These gains, he said, are representative of progress
"Before the revolution we can say that the government led from the top
down," said Razavi, who wore the look preferred by officials-neatly trimmed
beard, dark suit coat, no tie. "Now people participate. Before, people
living in rural areas thought they should migrate to the cities. It wasn't
economical to stay in villages. Now it is."
One reason life is better in the countryside is that the Islamic republic
has managed to slow a population boom that has severely strained the country
's social and economic fabric. After 1979 the regime exhorted people to
reproduce for the motherland. The average Iranian woman had six children,
and the country was growing by more than a million a year. Today, thanks to
public education, free contraceptives, and publicity campaigns emphasizing
the advantages of having fewer children, family size has been halved. (At
the same time life expectancy has risen from 60 to 72 years, and infant
mortality has been reduced from 90 deaths per 1,000 births to 26.)
"Each Muslim has the right to good health care and proper food, clothing,
and education," said Mohammad Ansari, the physician at a health clinic in
Segzi, a small town near Isfahan. "If people with large families are not in
a position to provide those, then we need family planning." Ansari invoked
the words of Imam Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. "He himself said
that the fewer the children, the more peace of mind."
* * *
The invocation of an ancient Islamic figure to further the modern goal of
population control is but one example of how the current regime is
attempting to reconcile the old and the new, the religious and the secular.
Further evidence of this can be seen at Qom, home of a renowned religious
seminary where Ayatollah Khomeini and many of Iran's religious leaders
studied. There, amid the tranquil turquoise-and-green mosaic-tile seminary
buildings and gold-domed mosques is an incongruous operation: the Computer
Research Center of Islamic Sciences.
"Islam encourages us to use technology and knowledge," said Assadollah
Moslemifar, the deputy director of the center. He accompanied me to a long
basement room where turbaned scholars and students sat behind banks of
computers, dissecting holy texts using Windows 95 or training to become
software engineers. The center's staff members, all mullahs, produce
illustrated CD-ROMs of the Koran and other religious products, which are
"With the Internet all human beings will improve themselves," said
Moslemifar. "I think there are ways to avoid corruption on the Internet and
take the positive points." The government permits numerous companies to
provide citizens with access to the Internet but requires that sites deemed
unsuitable be blocked, an increasingly difficult task.
Outside, in the seminary courtyard, I met a young man who was undergoing the
rigorous course of religious education, which can take a dozen years. He was
sitting on a stone wall in the shade of a eucalyptus tree.
Ali Safaryan, a tall 26-year-old with gold-rimmed spectacles and a gray
robe, said he was a student of Islamic law. He spoke forthrightly of his
belief that the revolution has made Iran truly independent of foreign
"I prefer to live one hour in this era than a lifetime before the
revolution." Bracing myself for a revolutionary harangue, I was taken aback
by Safaryan's answer when I asked him about President Khatami.
"He is ideal in all respects. He talks about Islamic democracy. He brings us
this gift of dialogue between cultures. And he has improved the view
Iranians have of Americans."
Safaryan sought to minimize the tug between the forces of reform and
reaction, contending that a majority still supports the basic ideals of a
theocracy. Back in Tehran, Ibrahim Yazdi, head of the opposition Freedom
Movement of Iran, said the country's political forces now find themselves in
a healthy stalemate.
"In Iran no single faction can annihilate the competition," said Yazdi.
"This is a very promising situation. This is the progress of democracy. You
have a delicate balance of power."
On May 23, 1998, the first anniversary of Mohammad Khatami's election, the
soft-spoken president and tens of thousands of his supporters-most of them
young, many of them women-took part in a rally unlike any seen in Tehran in
the two decades of the ayatollahs' rule. This time no one burned Uncle Sam
in effigy. Instead the marchers flowed down Vali-ye-Asr street under the
shade of the plane trees calling for an end to the religious regime's
stranglehold on power.
"The enemy of our society is prejudice and monopoly," shouted a line of
young women in long black chadors. Demonstrators carried banners reading
"Freedom of the Press," "The Military Should Be Reformed," "Freedom of
Thought Is Everybody's Right."
Onlookers stood on balconies and in shop doorways, many of them nodding or
smiling in approval. As I hustled alongside the rows of marchers, listening
to the chanting and taking in the expressions of hope and excitement on the
demonstrators' faces, I was reminded of the pro-democracy, anti-communist
marches I had witnessed in Moscow in the waning years of the Soviet Union.
The marchers converged on the Friday Prayer pavilion at Tehran University, a
place where Iran's revolutionary leaders have traditionally spit fire and
led chants of "Death to America." Khatami, dressed in a light gray robe,
black loafers, and the black turban that marks him as a descendant of the
Prophet Muhammad, faced a crowd that spilled out from under the pavilion and
onto nearby sidewalks and streets. For more than five minutes his supporters
whistled and cheered and pumped their fists in the air. At last Khatami
succeeded in quieting them.
"The future of religion is that it has to cope with freedom; otherwise it
has no future," he told the crowd. "If religion confronts freedom, then
religion will suffer."
As he continued speaking, a small group began chanting "Death to America!"
They were soon drowned out by louder chants of "Death to Monopoly!" For a
moment Khatami stood quietly, the late afternoon sun filtering in golden
shafts onto the speaker's platform. Then he uttered a remark that silenced
everybody. "I prefer," said the President of Iran, "to talk about life, not
End of DNI-NEWS Digest - 23 Jun 1999 to 24 Jun 1999