SLUG: 5-47237 Iran / Political DATE: NOTE NUMBER:









INTRO: It has been four years since Mohamed Khatami was elected president in Iran on a platform that promised to reform - politically, economically and socially - the Iranian revolution. With six months to go before presidential elections in which President Khatami is expected to be a candidate, many Iranians are frustrated over the lack of progress and, in particular, a conservative backlash that they believe has set the reform movement back. Correspondent Scott Bobb recently visited Iran.

TEXT: The publisher of a banned reformist newspaper in Iran agrees to meet a foreign journalist, but, unlike earlier visits, he asks that he not be quoted. He has started many newspapers that have been banned, but this time, he says, it's different. The authorities have locked his offices, so he has no place to work. And under a new press law, his book publishing business could be shut down as well, forcing him into bankruptcy. He is keeping a low profile.

Ever since a landslide victory by reformists in parliamentary elections last February, a conservative backlash has led to the banning of 25 reformist newspapers and the imprisonment of a number of prominent journalists.

The president of the Iranian Journalists Association, Rajabali Mazrooei, says the media crackdown is part of the wider political struggle.


We think the closing of the newspapers is related to the whole problems that we are facing in the reform movement.

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Another group that played a major role in the reform movement, university students, is also under pressure. Vigilantes broke up their annual conference two months ago in the western city of Korramabad and beat students as they were being bused home.

A leader of the student confederation (Student Consolidation Office), Akbar Atri, acknowledges the students are disappointed, but says they have not abandoned their ideals or given up hope of progress.


We did not achieve what we were expecting from the new parliament up 'till now. But I think we will continue the reformation until we (attain our goals), which are the independence, and freedom and the Islamic Republic.

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Reformists swept 70-percent of the seats in parliamentary elections eight months ago. However, the outgoing parliament, before it was dissolved, passed several laws further restricting freedoms. Conservative religious leaders have prevented the new parliament from repealing them.

A professor of political science at Tehran University, Sadigh Zibakalam, says electoral victories made the reformists too optimistic.


There was a general feeling and expectation that this is it. A new era has begun and there will be press freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of association, etc. etc. And it appears we assumed somewhat naively that the so-called conservatives would abide by the rule of democracy.

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Iranian observers say the crackdown may be aimed at goading reformists into violence that would discredit them. Another goal may be to split the reform movement in the hope of undermining support for President Khatami ahead of presidential elections next May.

Professor Zibakalam says President Khatami is under pressure from both radical and moderate elements of the reform movement.

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Although there are some youths, there are some reformists, who have become impatient and they want to break up with the main body of the reformist movement. But there are others who press Khatami (saying) that "you're going too far. You're provoking, you're challenging the right somewhat unwisely. And you better be careful."

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The head of the journalists' association, Rajabali Mazrooei, is not surprised by the conservative backlash, given that reformists have won control over almost every elected body in government.


We were prepared to face this resistance from the opposite side. And we think this is the lowest cost that we are paying to continue the reform movement.

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Leaders of the mainstream student movement agree. They have adopted a tactic they call active calm, and are urging followers to avoid violence.

The leader of the banned Freedom Movement Party, Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi, predicts more clashes between reformists and conservatives but says they will not stop the movement.

/// YAZDI ACT ///

The reform movement will continue. There will be a change in the combination or the component of the rightists. The extremists will be more isolated. But instead, a new conservative will emerge.

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Iranians complain their leaders have failed to address economic problems, like high unemployment, inflation and falling living standards.

They say partly because of the frustration over political and economic reform, a consensus has quietly emerged to allow a measure of social freedom.

Young people now mix in public and many women are abandoning the black cloak, or chador, for light coats and colorful headscarves.

The greater social freedom is largely the result of grassroots pressure rather than government legislation. And it may end up, at least for now, being the reform movement's greatest success. (Signed)