Date: Jul 29, 1999 [ 0: 0: 0]
Subject: DNI-NEWS Digest - 27 Jul 1999 to 28 Jul 1999
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Subject: DNI-NEWS Digest - 27 Jul 1999 to 28 Jul 1999
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There are 5 messages totalling 979 lines in this issue.
Topics of the day:
1. August 4/NY/IHRWG vigile/
2. Fwd: THURS, 29 JUL, NYC: IRAN PROTEST
3. Hard-liners Prepare to Roll Back Reform
4. Manouchehr Mohammadi was Acting Dubious, says Safa Haeri
5. Letter From Iran
Date: Wed, 28 Jul 1999 14:05:59 EDT
Subject: August 4/NY/IHRWG vigile/
Please plan to participate in this vigile. Drop me an e-mail if you have any
It would also be useful if those who are know in advance that they will be
there to drop me a line so we have an idea on numbers.
Please forward this as widely as possible.
C A L L F O R P A R T I C I P A T I O N
Vigils in support of HR in Iran
The Iranian Human Rights Working Group (IHRWG) is calling on all
concerned groups and individuals to participate in a weekly vigil
in support of the fundamental human rights of the Iranian people.
Human Rights violations in Iran have intensified following the
peaceful demonstration of students demanding freedom of press
among other things.
The IHRWG is gravely concerned about the treatment of detainees,
as there are strong indications that a number of student leaders were
tortured in an effort to extract false confessions out of them.
Moreover, the IHRWG believes that the lives of many of the people
arrested are in danger, as senior government officials have called
for them to be tried on charges of "corruption on earth" and
"fighting God", both of which carry the death penalty.
The IHRWG calls for the weekly vigils to be held in front of the
IRI Mission to the UN (622 Third Ave. between 40th and 41st streets)
from 4:00 to 7:00 PM every Wednesday, until the following demands
have been met by the Iranian government.
The IHRWG demands:
1 - a. The unconditional release of all of those who have been arbitrarily
b. open and fair trials for all of those arrested activists who have
been charged with any criminal acts.
2 - a. A thorough investigation (conforming with international human rights
standards) into the attack on student dormitories at Tehran University
on July 8 which resulted in deaths, injuries, and arrests of
b. the public disclosure of the results of above investigation, including
release of the number and names of all those killed and detained all
c. that those responsible for these attacks be brought to justice in
open and fair trials.
3 - The unconditional return of the bodies of all those killed in the
recent unrests to their families.
4 - a. The full disclosure of the results of the investigations into the
killing of dissidents (Forouhar, Eskandari-Forouhar, Mokhtari,
Pouyandeh and Sharif) by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence;
b. the full disclosure of the number, names and rank of the agents
who have been under investigation in relation to those killings;
c. open and fair trial of the agents involved in those killings.
5 - Control and dismantling of paramilitary and extra judiciary groups
who have been terrorizing the public.
We also remind the IRI of its obligations, as a signatory, to respect
the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR),
which include the right to life, freedom from torture, cruel and
inhumane and degrading punishment, and freedom of opinion and
We ask you to show your support for human rights in Iran by simply
gathering in front of the IRI mission to UN at the above address
for three hours a week. Banners and slogans will be restricted
to the above demands and support of human rights in general.
Iranian Human Rights Working Group
P.O. Box 2422
Portland, OR. 97208
For more information on the vigils, call (732) 728-9627.
Date: Thu, 29 Jul 1999 02:15:02 EDT
Subject: Fwd: THURS, 29 JUL, NYC: IRAN PROTEST
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Subject: THURS, 29 JUL, NYC: IRAN PROTEST
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 24 Jul 1999 19:05:22 EDT
From: ad hoc cmte in solidarity w student and people's protest in iran -
new york city <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: THURS, 29 JUL, NYC: IRAN PROTEST
In response to the recent student protests in Iran we, Iranain youths in New
York City have organised The Ad Hoc Commitee in Solidarity With the Students
and Peoples Protests Against suppression in Iran. We ask our fellow
students, youths and all who value basic human rights and a free press to
show their support for the Iranian students and their outrage with the
Please read on to learn more about the recent demonstrations and our rally
for next Thursday.
Support the Iranian Student Protests
Thursday July 29th 1999 4:30 PM - 6:30 PM
The mission of Iran to the United Nations
3rd Avenue bet. 40th and 41st Streets
On Thursday July 8th 1999, militants belonging to a fanatical branch of the
Islamic Republic of Iran's security forces, laid siege to the Tehran
University campus where students had staged a peaceful sit-in to protest the
closing of a newspaper and the tightening of anti-press laws. Students were
brutally beaten in their beds. Some were thrown out of second and third
floor windows. Dormitories were raided and set on fire. At least 5 students
were killed, hundreds wounded and many arrested.
In protest to the savage attacks there were major demonstrations across
Iran. Demonstrators asked for the immediate release of those arrested and
the punishment of those responsible for the attacks. These protests were
also savagely suppressed by the security forces and armed vigilantes.
Student sources in Iran report at least 1,400 arrested. Hundreds were
injured. The number killed is not known - the authorities removed bodies
The students and citizens who were arrested are being accused of "fighting
against God" and "spreading corruption". These are hanging offenses.
Government officials have threatened to execute the demonstrators who have
We ask you to join us to
* Demonstrate our unequivocal protest at these acts of repression.
* Demand the immediate release of all the students and those supporting
who were arrested.
* Declare our solidarity with their demands for freedom and democracy.
We ask all students, academics, youths, workers, women and anyone defending
universal human rights to join our protest by gathering with us on Thursday.
Or for further information or to offer your support, please contact us:
Ad Hoc Committee in Solidarity with the Students and Peoples Protests
Against Oppression In Iran - NYC:
(917) 314-9457 voicemail
Get Free Email and Do More On The Web. Visit http://www.msn.com
Date: Wed, 28 Jul 1999 23:49:00 -0700
From: Arash Alavi <aalavi@US.ORACLE.COM>
Subject: Hard-liners Prepare to Roll Back Reform
08/01/1999 Jane's Intelligence Review 1999
Copyright Jane's Information Group Limited 1999
Iranian hard-liners prepare to roll back the work of Khatami
As next year's parliamentary elections loom for Iran ,
Hazhir Teimourian reports on the degree to which the
country is evolving towards President Khatami's 'civil
society' - and what the hardliners are doing to stop it.
TWO years after the inauguration of the reformist cabinet
of President Mohammad Khatami in August 1997, Iran is a
different place in some important respects, yet remains the
same in others. The appearance of a plethora of independent
newspapers has given voice to millions of people who had
been denied the chance to express their frustrations, but
the country is still chained to Koranic laws governing
almost every aspect of its daily life.
Take the following news headline which was broadcast by
Tehran radio recently: "Financial compensation for murder
adjusted for inflation". The text of the story contained
more clashing juxtapositions of antiquity and modernity. It
disclosed that the price of camels had been rising, and
therefore, on the basis of 100 camels per man, the new sum
for first-degree murder in the financial year 1999-2000 was
IR61 million, or US$6,880. The broadcaster, being a
government organisation, did not go on to say that the
corresponding figure for the families of women victims of
murder was half the above. However, the details were there
in the statement of the Ministry of Justice, and some of
the new newspapers did not censor it to spare the state
embarrassment. Indeed, they went out of their way to point
out that traditional Islamic law had, in places, become
"inadequate" in the modern world.
On such occasions, cries of 'counter-revolution', 'Western
agents' and 'treason' quickly fill the next Friday sermons
from a thousand pulpits up and down the land.
A more open society
This more open society is, without any doubt, the most
important achievement of the Khatami administration and its
only hope of taking Islamic Iran towards what the president
says it needs above all: a "civil society", one that does
not feel alienated from its government, but participates in
The government's readiness to grant people of
non-revolutionary backgrounds the licence to publish
newspapers has given Iranians a relatively modern press
that palpitates with excitement and contradiction, not only
in the realm of political news but also in thought and
Only three years ago, when Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani
ruled in smooth co-operation with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
the state's spiritual leader, it was almost unimaginable
that today a newspaper might publish an interview that cast
doubt on the very foundation of Islam. Such a newspaper is
Iran , a nationalist daily which takes great pride in Iran
's pre-Islamic civilisation. It recently interviewed an
author who said that Mohammed, the Islamic prophet, only
imagined that the archangel Gabriel had dictated the Koran
to him. He implied that the holy book was the work of
no-one except a mere mortal man.
True, the editor of the publication has been summoned to
appear before a court and may well lose his licence, but as
soon as such newspapers are closed down by the hard-line
judiciary in the control of the Ayatollah Khamenei, the
government allows others to take their place, often with
many of the same writers as before.
A publication that did lose its licence earlier in the year
was a women's magazine edited by Faezeh Rafsanjani,
daughter of the former president and a member of the
Islamic Majlis (parliament). In March, it committed the
unprecedented act of publishing an excerpt from a New
Year's message to the Iranian nation by the former empress
Farah, living in exile in the USA. Ms Rafsanjani has not
been arrested and has been negotiating with a current
publication to take over its licence.
By Western standards, the Iranian press is timid, even
reverential, towards authority. Personal criticism of
Khamenei is out of the question, and one pro-Khatami
newspaper even serialises an adulatory biography of the
founder of Islam on its front page every day to fend off
suspicions of weak faith.
What brought this situation about was a major
miscalculation by Ayatollah Khamenei in the spring of 1997.
Through the Council of Guardians, a body of six
conservative theologians whose job it is to vet legislation
and aspirants to high elected office from an Islamic point
of view, he barred several hundred candidates -including
nine women - who wanted to be president, but allowed
Khatami, a minor clergyman who had once been toppled from
the ministry of culture for his perceived leniency, to stay
among the remaining four candidates.
The Ayatollah appeared confident that his own favourite,
the hard-line speaker of the Majlis (Ayatollah Nateq
Nouri), would win with ease. Furthermore, as in the past,
the Revolutionary Guards Corps would always be on watch
beside the ballot boxes during those long hours of the
It is now generally believed, however, that the massive
crowds who greeted Mohammad Khatami everywhere during the
campaign made any manipulation of the vote unfeasible.
Despite alleged interference and intimidation of voters in
the remoter areas, 70% of the electorate, particularly
among the women and the young, voted for the man who said
one of his priorities would be to 'uphold the law'. He
condemned the routine violence of state-backed vigilante
groups in the name of God, the disappearances of critics,
the existence of secret, private prisons and so forth, and
he said that even non-believers were citizens. The totally
unexpected victory, with its clear implication that the
Islamic revolutionaries of 1979 had lost the backing of the
people, stunned the Right and reduced it to a state of
paralysis that has continued until recently. While the
hard-liners maintain their grip on all main levers of
power, such as the armed forces and the defence and
intelligence ministries, they have allowed the reformists
around Khatami to create the new press, appoint their
supporters to all provincial governorates and even win the
support of some top ayatollahs and many members of the
A sick economy
A major failure of the Khatami government has been the
economy, although this has been partly due to bad luck
rather than incompetence. A country such as Iran which
relies for 80% of its foreign trade on a single commodity -
oil - remains at the mercy of price fluctuations, and the
price of oil in 1998 fell to its lowest level since before
the oil crisis of 1973.
With an estimated GDP per head of only $1,352, the country
whose population has risen from 38 million to some 70
million over the past 20 years of the revolutionary regime
is now one of the poorest countries in the world and is
gripped by high unemployment and an inflation rate of at
least 20%. The Right's claim that Khatami concentrates his
energies on such 'abstractions' as the freedom of speech
and neglects the unemployed does carry weight with
increasing numbers of the poor.
What is not always admitted is that part of the blame lies
with the Right itself. Its heavy subsidies for a large
number of economic foundations it operates as virtual
fiefdoms, and its resistance towards any suggestion that
the public sector be somewhat diminished in size, almost
disenfranchises Khatami in economic and financial matters.
The crisis has reached such proportions that the head of
Tehran's Chamber of Commerce said in June: "We must admit
that anyone who invests in Iran today has made a big
mistake. In a country that has virtually no production, any
talk of increasing exports is useless."
Take, for example, the fate of Iran 's famed rug industry.
Over the past six years, exports have halved to only $600
million per year, and Iran 's share of the world market has
also halved to about a quarter since the revolution.
Another failure of the Khatami cabinet has been in the
sphere of citizens' security. Six months after the
announcement that members of the Ministry of Intelligence
had been behind the series of abductions and brutal
killings of journalists and dissident politicians late last
year, no-one has been brought to trial, despite the brief
interrogation of the former occupant of the ministry, Ali
Fallahian. Furthermore, the purported chief of the killers,
Deputy Minister of Intelligence Said Emami, "committed
suicide" at a high-security jail in Tehran in June,
quashing any possibility that any link between him and the
Ayatollah might ever come to light.
Groups of black-clad vigilantes on motor cycles regularly
beat up students in mixed-sex gatherings, break up public
lectures and attack government officials in broad view of
the security forces. One medium-ranking clergyman, Mohsen
Kadivar, has been sent to jail for 18 months for fearing a
white-wash over the killings and insisting that they be
Even three of Iran 's 'grand ayatollahs' - of whom there
are usually only about half-a-dozen - have been put under
house arrest for believing that the constitution's concept
of Velayat-e-Faqih (guardianship of the theologian) that
makes the Ayatollah Khamenei Iran 's supreme leader for
life is an innovation in Islam.
All eyes on next February
There is every sign, though, that the Majlis elections of
18 February next year have recently jolted the Right out of
its paralysis and concentrated the minds of both sides on
that crucial battle to come, for if the Right loses its
present majority in the assembly, any repeated future
vetoing of government bills by the Council of Guardians on
behalf of Khamenei will parade the Ayatollah as a usurper
of power who blocks the will of the people. That would, in
turn, almost certainly spell the end for the system.
Everywhere, therefore, Friday Prayer imams, who are
appointed by the Ayatollah, have been launching fierce
attacks on the moral character of the president's
supporters and urging the faithful to start organising
themselves for the campaign as soon as possible.
There are also persistent reports that leading members of
the Right in Tehran are holding regular meetings to
investigate the past lives of their opponents with a view
to launching private complaints against them in the courts.
The calculation is that the existence of such cases before
the courts next Spring would give extra ammunition to the
Council of Guardians to block the defendants candidacies
for the Majlis.
Another device being prepared is a tough bill presented to
the Majlis to make newspapers much more easily liable to
prosecution for perceived deviance from the path of Islam.
At the same time, the Majlis is preparing to defeat a bill
put forward by the government that would force the Council
to publicise on what grounds it might have blocked
particular candidacies. The six theologians who make up the
Council are at present suspected of allowing their
political and personal motivations to influence their
An old habit raises its head
An ominous old habit of the radical clergy has been raising
its head recently. Some of the most powerful figures around
the Ayatollah have begun to announce that, when the
interests of Islam are thought to be in danger, the
physical elimination of the opponent becomes justified. The
most shrill among these voices has been that of
Hojjatol-Islam Taraqqi, the Majlis representative for the
holy city of Mashhad in eastern Iran . Referring to the
assassination in 1965 of Prime Minister Mansour by a Muslim
zealot, the Hojjatol-Islam recently told the assembly:
"Today, also, there are many brave and self-sacrificing
youths who are ready to blast open the breasts of those who
conspire to bring down the most holy Islamic system of
government in the world."
In a similar vein, Ayatollah Khazali, a member of the
Council of Guardians, reminded the reformists of their
supposed absence in the war against Iraq in the 1980s.
"When we were fighting," he said in a broadcast speech,
"you were locked away in your own worlds and were making
love in north Tehran."
In another part of his speech he revealed the chasm that
separates such Muslim fundamentalists as himself from those
around Khatami who push for more democracy in the land:
"The constitution says that all the three branches of the
state are under the supervision of the Guardian Theologian.
If you, who say you do not believe in that supervision,
were to attract even 30 million votes, instead of your
present 20 million, from among the people, it would count
for nothing unless the Guardian Theologian approved of
you." No wonder, then, that Saiid Hajjarian, one of
President Khatami's closest advisors, said: "The situation
is intolerable. We're in a minefield, and we don't know
where the mines are."
The longer-term future
Under Khatami, a process of 'de-Khomeinisation' of Iranian
society has begun which has much to do with demography. The
overwhelmingly young population wants to be part of the
modern world, and the widespread corruption and cruelty
exhibited by the Islamic state has meant that religious
government is falling into disrepute. This was clear in the
lack of popular enthusiasm in June for ceremonies that
marked the 10th anniversary of Khomeini's death. As one
emigre newspaper in London put it: "Apart from those who
had to be there by the needs of their office, the
attendants consisted only of the remnants of the terrorists
and kidnappers, beggars from India and Pakistan, and the
Tehran representatives of Shell and Totale." There was some
exaggeration in their statement, but not much.
Khatami is Iranian Islam's best hope, but whether or not he
survives to lead the struggle to achieve his 'civil
society', the longer-term trend is inescapable. Twenty
years after a combination of Muslim zealots and left-wing
ideologists swept away the corrupt Pahlavi dynasty in the
strategic Middle Eastern state, Islamic rule has failed to
make a majority of Iranians either free or prosperous. The
question, therefore, is whether the liberation will come
gradually and from within, led by the country's 'Ayatollah
Gorbachev', or through another violent revolution. In any
case, some turmoil can be expected in Iran before its
present calendar year of 1378 AH ends on 21 March, 2000 AD.
Hazhir Teimourian is a writer and broadcaster specialising
in Middle Eastern affairs.
Date: Wed, 28 Jul 1999 23:50:52 -0700
From: Arash Alavi <aalavi@US.ORACLE.COM>
Subject: Manouchehr Mohammadi was Acting Dubious, says Safa Haeri
Iran Uses Riots to Suppress Dissidents:
Students Distance Themselves From Protesters
By Daniel Pearl
The Wall Street Journal Europe
TEHRAN, Iran -- Security officials in Iran are using recent
student riots to crack down on dissidents opposed to the
country's Islamic regime, and they are getting little
protest from student groups that favor more limited
Mainstream student activists, instead of planning new
demonstrations, are trying to distance themselves from
protesters who called for the resignation of Iran 's
supreme leader or forged links with Iranians abroad.
Representatives of the largest student group met this week
with Iran 's intelligence ministry and Revolutionary Guards
to discuss the violent protests of two weeks ago, and have
asked for a meeting with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali
"We're trying to keep a dialogue," said Akbar Atri, a top
official of the largest student group, Organization for
Fortifying Unity, which says some of its members are still
Another student activist said: "Let's not forget, the
student movement is not after a revolution, or overthrowing
the government," but to win rights, such as free speech,
that are already in Iran 's constitution. "The regime is
capable of making changes," said the student, who asked not
to be named.
The riots, prompted by a deadly July 9 police assault on a
student dormitory, were the worst in a series of street
clashes since the 1997 election as president of Mohammed
Khatami, who promised greater cultural freedoms in Iran .
Tuesday, in his first speech since the riots, Mr. Khatami
said he had expected the country to pay an even greater
price for his recent struggles with extreme hardliners.
Speaking in the regional capital of Hamadan, Iran , he
called the dormitory raid a "war on the president," but
said he is in full accord with the conservative Ayatollah
Khamenei, the country's supreme leader.
Iran 's security forces, led by hardliners, are continuing
to arrest rioters, using photographs and films of the four
days of street protests. Neither the government nor
students will say how many students were rounded up. But
the intelligence ministry on Tuesday released 10 names of
detained students that it says were involved with secular
parties. Some Iranians say elderly activists also were
detained in recent days.
Iran has several small nationalist parties that call for
separation of religion and state. Iran tolerates them,
except when tensions rise. The leaders of one such party
were among a wave of dissidents killed last December; the
intelligence ministry later admitted one of its officials
ordered the killings.
In the latest crackdown, Iranian hardliners are implicitly
warning activists away from contacts with foreigners,
including the news media. Among the charges that Iran 's
intelligence ministry leveled against several arrested
students this week were that they were making "contacts
with foreign media" and that they were soliciting financial
help from Americans.
The hardliner-controlled television has made a media star
of one arrested student named Manouchehr Mohammadi. Last
week, it showed him confessing to contacts with secular
dissidents, and aired footage of Mr. Mohammadi criticizing
the regime in an address to a pro-royalist group in the
U.S. On Monday, it featured an edited interview in which he
described receiving aid from America "three or four times,"
but wasn't specific. A relative answering the phone at Mr.
Mohammadi's brother's house Monday declined to talk about
Students and followers of the student movement in Iran
describe Mr. Mohammadi, a former economics student, as a
simple villager who was good at organizing demonstrations
but had little following on campus. They say it is
suspicious that he was able to travel to the U.S. last
autumn, because most students have their passports held
until they have completed military service. Some students
also wonder why he wasn't arrested immediately on his
"The way he was acting was dubious, going abroad and
showing up in a meeting with everybody -- monarchists,
communists," says Safa Haeri, a Paris-based dissident who
flew to Ankara, Turkey, to meet Mr. Mohammedi last autumn.
Mr. Haeri adds: "Some people worried he was an informer,
going to see what dissidents abroad are doing."
Either way, Mr. Mohammedi's case shows how diffuse Iran 's
student movement is, with no real leader and little
coordination among groups.
Date: Wed, 28 Jul 1999 23:54:17 -0700
From: Arash Alavi <aalavi@US.ORACLE.COM>
Subject: Letter From Iran
July 19, 1999
Letter From Iran
by Afshin Molavi
Hossein, a young newspaper vendor, is a revolutionary. I
recently fell victim to his revolutionary subterfuge at his
newsstand near Teheran's Revolution Square, a choked and
crowded downtown district where massive images of the late
Ayatollah Khomeini mingle with billboards promoting the
American film The Usual Suspects.
Hossein, you see, was distressed at my choice of newspaper:
the hardline daily Resalat, which opposes Iranian President
Mohammed Khatami's social and political reforms. So he
struck, with great stealth, inserting the wildly popular
pro-Khatami newspaper Neshat between the pages of my
As I walked away from the newsstand, the smuggled copy of
Neshat, which promotes greater social and political
freedom, fell to the ground-- evidence of Hossein's
sabotage. Immediately, I sensed foul play and confronted
him. He came clean. "You are a journalist," he shrugged.
"You write for foreign newspapers. You must not read that
conservative garbage." Smiling, his bright black eyes
twinkling with pride, he added, "You should read Neshat.
This is what the Iranian people are reading."
The episode was vintage Khatami-era Iran. Iranians from all
walks of life have pinned their future hopes on Khatami, a
cleric with a sincere belief in freedom of expression and
the rule of law, a philosophical affinity with John Stuart
Mill and a taste for surfing the Net. Since his election
just over two years ago, many Iranians agree that social
and political freedoms have measurably improved and that
the political discourse of the nation--with talk of civil
society and freedom of expression--has radically changed.
To be sure, Khatami faces formidable opposition from Iran's
conservatives, who still control the main levers of power,
including the armed forces, internal security, the
judiciary, the Parliament and, most important, the Supreme
Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all
matters. The Supreme Leader, whose office is a vestige of
Iran's 1979 Constitution, is chosen by the country's top
clerics and has veto power over all government actions,
although he exercises it with caution.
In this battle for power, Iran's conservatives have
displayed rigid resistance to reform. Since Khatami's
election, they have impeached one of his ministers and
threatened another, jailed a popular pro-Khatami mayor,
closed down several moderate newspapers and blocked
numerous reform proposals from the office of the president.
As a result, Khatami--despite being president--is often
seen by the people as a political outsider. Each time the
conservative forces challenge him publicly, his already
massive support grows.
Two decades after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution thundered
onto the world stage, promising so much to so many,
Iranians are wondering aloud what went wrong. Those heady
days of revolution, when a brave coalition of secular and
religious groups, led by Ayatollah Khomeini--the obstinate
imam with the audacity to challenge the all-powerful Shah--
inspired Iranians to dream of an equitable, free society,
soon gave way to a more sobering reality: violent power
struggles, the deadly 1980-88 war with Iraq, economic
mismanagement and decline, continued social and political
repression, international isolation.
"It all seemed so simple then, so right and true. We really
believed that we were going to change Iran and change the
world," said Morteza, a 40-year-old engineer and former
student activist, jailed for his anti- Shah activities. "Of
course, things did not work out as we expected." Like many
Iranians critical of the revolution, Morteza prefers not to
have his last name used in print.
For many Iranians, Khatami is seen as a new chance, a new
hope for a society scarred by a revolution gone astray, the
psychological wounds of a pariah state and a gradual but
stunning fall from economic grace. By May 23, 1997, the day
of Khatami's election victory, Iran was debt- ridden,
demonized, sanctioned, war-ravaged, frustrated and
humiliated. The situation was ripe for a military man on a
white horse, or a chest- thumping demagogue with a bagful
of promises--common figures in modern Iranian history. This
time, however, fate proved kinder to Iran, presenting the
country with a moderate, smiling cleric who called for
freedom of expression and tolerance, who was seen as a
protest vote and a moderate, and who won the presidency in
a landslide election.
"The election of Khatami was a silent revolution," said
Hamid Reza Jalaipour, publisher of Neshat. "It was a
reflection of people's frustrations with the existing state
of things," he said in an interview in the courtyard garden
of the Teheran villa that houses his newspaper offices. The
frustrations are still evident all over the country. Two
years after the "silent revolution," there is a distinct
scent of unrest in the air. It is evident most acutely
among Iran's youth, who are daily waging a gallant and
inspiring struggle for basic freedoms.
"I'm tired of high prices. I'm tired of all of this
unemployment. I'm tired of someone telling me I can't dance
or can't read this book or watch that movie. It's gone too
far, and I'm ready to fight back," said Ali, a defiant
18-year-old with long, meticulously coifed black hair and
blazing blue eyes. Ali, it should be noted, is from South
Teheran, site of Iran's teeming slums and the mostazafin
(the oppressed), in whose name the revolution was fought.
In the early days of the revolution, someone of Ali's class
would have seen the revolution as empowering, a validation
of his Islamic identity, a chance to share in the nation's
bounty, which the rich and "cultivated" North Teheranis
were enjoying. But today, Ali and his South Teheran friends
just want the right to dance. In a public park during a
massive outdoor picnic celebrating a pre-Islamic
Zoroastrian holiday, Ali and his friends sang banned
Iranian pop songs from Los Angeles, widely available on the
Teheran black market, and invited giggling girls to dance
"O beautiful girl, like a flower, please come to my side,"
Ali crooned, mimicking one of those songs, much to the
delight of a large crowd that encircled him, clapping their
hands to the beat. "One girl to dance with, that's all we
need," Ali exhorted, continuing to push the bounds of
"propriety" and, indeed, law, in the severe Islamic
Republic of Iran, which punishes such public displays of
Finally, one brave young girl, her brown scarf displaying
dangerously large amounts of her chestnut-colored hair,
accepted Ali's exhortations and joined the circle of boys
dancing. It was a defiant moment, its importance not
underestimated by the crowd, who gave the girl a rousing
cheer for her courage. After all, Iran's morals police, the
komiteh, could punish the offending dancers harshly for the
sin of dancing in public and mixing with members of the
But these days, Iranians are displaying a resurgent sense
of defiance. They are being led by the country's youth (60
percent of the population is under 21), who are proving to
be its harshest critics, and, most important, noted
Teheran-based political analyst Siamak Namazi, they "have
grown up with the language of the revolution and are adept
at using that same language to counter conservative
Take this missive, for example, from Pouya Kamalian, a
17-year-old student who wrote an open letter to the
conservatives published in Neshat on April 6: "Do you think
my generation is a handful of brainless people who will
believe anything you say without any reason?... Don't act
in a way that people will resort to destruction again.
Thirty years ago, if someone said the Shah would be
overthrown, no one would believe him and he would be
smacked in the mouth. Well, here are the mouths of me and
my fellow youth."
Or this from a university students' association pamphlet in
the southern city of Shiraz: "A society that has
experienced freedom cannot be returned to a closed society
by making use of physical threats, intimidation and
punishment. If freedom is denied to such a society, the
ideology will be turned into counterideology, and it will
assume very dangerous forms."
Protesting against the existing government is a traditional
rite of passage in Iranian universities, but the current
crop of student activists is different. They are protesting
against one faction of the government--the ruling
conservatives--while wholeheartedly, earnestly, exultantly
supporting another. To be sure, there are still a small
number of young supporters of the revolution, many of whom
have shown a willingness to back that support with
violence. It should also be said that big-city youth are
waging this struggle more than their rural counterparts,
but with mass rural migrations to the cities in the past
twenty years, the gulf--both material and
intellectual--between city and village has diminished.
"Neshat is selling well in rural areas," Jalaipour said.
"Our ideas are making it to the village."
In Iran, unlike in any other Middle Eastern country save
perhaps Egypt, those ideas are debated passionately,
sometimes violently. When a group of writers, mostly
secular and leftist, recently began speaking out vocally
about the idea of freedom of expression--anathema to
conservatives--three of them were found dead. In all, five
dissidents were killed in a frightening period of
assassinations late last year, the memory of which still
chills Iranian writers and intellectuals.
A firestorm of protests ensued, intensifying when it became
clear that hard-line Ministry of Information/Intelligence
agents were involved in the killings. The minister, a
staunch conservative, was forced to resign amid the
controversy, and the agents were taken into custody.
Although it may offer little solace to the families of the
writers and dissidents who were fatally silenced, many
analysts see a glimmer of hope in the admission of guilt
and the resignation of the minister. "This is unprecedented
in Iranian history for a government agency to admit killing
citizens and to face punishment for it," said Shirzad
Bozorgmehr, editor of the English-language Iran News daily.
"This served notice on the foot soldiers of the right that
they can no longer act with total immunity, and this
Political analysts also point to the late-February
nationwide municipal elections, which were won
overwhelmingly by pro-Khatami candidates, as another
important victory for the president. Khatami, the student
of Mill, is also a student of Tip O'Neill. He knows, like
the late House Speaker, that all politics is local, and he
has used his presidential power to replace all provincial
governors with his supporters and to institute municipal
elections that would devolve some power from the federal to
the local level. "These are the tools at Khatami's
disposal," Bozorgmehr said. "He needs to build a
bureaucratic power base, and the only way he can do it is
by strengthening himself in the provinces in the hope of
preparing for the next parliamentary elections." The
Parliament has effectively blocked many of Khatami's
reforms. There is one major obstacle to a pro-Khatami sweep
of next year's parliamentary elections: the Guardian
Council, an influential conservative body that has the
power to vet candidates, which it regularly does to the
detriment of liberals and moderates.
To be sure, Iran's conservatives are not a monolithic
force, nor are Khatami's moderate supporters. A handful of
conservatives have embraced Khatami's reform ideas, while
some moderate political supporters of Khatami radically
differ with the president on many issues--including the
theocratic underpinnings of the state, which some Khatami
supporters challenge. It would be a mistake to view Iran
solely through the prism of the conservative-moderate
struggle for power, despite the fact that this tends to
dominate both local and international press coverage and
constitutes a very real battle. A better paradigm would be
to view the struggle in Iran as one of freedom versus
repression-- Khatami's ideas of civil society and freedom
of expression versus traditionalist views of patriarchy,
hierarchy and authoritarianism. Within the context of this
struggle, many of those who favor the latter are in
positions of immense power and thus are able to halt
Khatami's reforms and the dissemination of his ideas.
While the political odds may be stacked against Khatami,
Iran's youth remain optimistic. "Khatami is our only hope,"
said Nilufar, a female nursing student from the eastern
city of Mashad. "We must support him fully. We must build a
civil society. There must be government accountability and
an end to monopolistic practices. Freedom is paramount. We
are ready to fight for these beliefs. This is all we have
now." Nilufar uses language that Khatami has made familiar,
a language that instills fear in the minds of
conservatives, who view greater freedom and more open
political participation as threats to their power.
A young political science graduate, Hamid, put it nicely:
"Many in the West see this battle between conservatives and
moderates as a struggle for the soul of Iran. But they are
mistaken. The soul of Iran belongs firmly to Khatami and
the moderates." Said Hamid, a secretary in the office of an
important Iranian official, "We are merely witnessing a
struggle for temporal political power. The conservatives
may be able to hang on for a few more years with desperate
acts, but the May 23 revolution [the date of Khatami's
election] is irreversible."
Afshin Molavi, a former Reuters correspondent, is currently
writing a book on Iran, to be published by Norton.
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End of DNI-NEWS Digest - 27 Jul 1999 to 28 Jul 1999