Frontline World

IRAN - Forbidden Iran, January 2004


Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "Forbidden Iran"

THE STRUGGLE FOR DEMOCRACY
A Brief History

INTERVIEW WITH JANE KOKAN
Undercover With the Underground

INTERVIEW WITH SHIRIN EBADI
Nobel Prize Winner

FACTS & STATS
Government, People, the Press

LINKS & RESOURCES
Human Rights, Blogs, Nuclear Threats

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The Struggle For Democracy
The Modern Past Khatami: The Harbinger of Change The Student Uprising The Third Force


Mohammad Khatami

Mohammad Khatami, Iran's moderate president, surrounded by supporters on election day. Khatami's election in 1997 marked the beginning of democratic reform inside Iran. (AP/Wide World Photos)
Khatami: The Harbinger of Change - A new president carries the reform banner

The first inklings of change inside the Islamic Republic appeared in May 1997, when Mohammad Khatami, a reform-minded candidate, was elected president in a surprising landslide victory. Khatami was a new kind of politician, a moderate cleric representing the popular demand for greater democratic freedom. His campaign became a voice for women, university students and young people. The 20 million votes he received, representing 70 percent of the electorate, signaled that Iranians were ready for change.

The aftermath of Khatami's election was an era of social and political liberalization. Reform-minded politicians became more outspoken in their demands for social freedom, denouncing the constrictive nature of Islamic politics and law. Dozens of reformist newspapers emerged, exposing the oppression and corruption of the clerical establishment. Khatami, for his part, appointed a woman to be one of his vice presidents. These changes represented a marked break from the conservative agenda of the ruling clerics.

Most important, Khatami's presidency laid the groundwork for the emerging opposition movement. University students and other young people, many of them women, began appearing by the thousands on the streets of Tehran to call for more open reforms. These dissidents were fiercely loyal to Khatami. They viewed themselves as the projection of his voice on the street while relying on him to bring about democratic change from within the government.

Khatami's presidency bitterly divided reformists from the conservative forces -- among them, clerics, the police, academics and politicians -- that controlled most of the instruments of government. These conservatives unleashed a campaign to halt the advance of reform. One of their first strikes was directed at the emerging vanguard of reform politics: the university students.

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