SLUG: 5-48661 Iran - Yearender DATE: NOTE NUMBER:









INTRO: It has been a difficult year for Iran's President Mohammed Khatami and the reform movement he leads. With only a few months to go in his term, he is facing considerable dissatisfaction from the more radical wing of the reform movement. Yet many moderates and even some conservatives grudgingly acknowledge they see few alternatives to him and expect President Khatami to run for and win a second term. Middle East Correspondent Scott Bobb takes a look at developments in Iranian politics over the past year.

TEXT: The year began in triumph for Iran's reformists. They won a landslide victory last February in elections for the national assembly, the last remaining elected body that they did not control.


Reformist candidates drew large, exuberant crowds to their rallies. And when they swept 70 percent of the seats in the assembly, many thought Iran had turned the corner and greater political and social freedoms were inevitable.

A professor of political science at Tehran University, Sadigh Zibakalam, says the size of the victory made the reformists overly optimistic.

///1st ZIBAKALAM ACT. ///

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.

/// END ACT. ///

The conservatives struck back, using religious oversight councils, the judiciary and security forces, which they still control. Over subsequent months, they closed nearly 30 reformist newspapers and sent to prison many prominent reformist journalists.

In addition, the cleric dominated Guardian Council vetoed nearly a dozen bills passed by Iran's parliament aimed at removing restrictions on political activity and the news media.

/// OPT /// Conservatives also brought to trial nearly a score of civic leaders for attending a conference in Germany during which they said certain un-Islamic practices occurred. And in August, conservative militia's broke up a conference of reformist student associations and beat up students as they were being bused home. /// END OPT ///

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

/// 2nd ZIBAKALAM ACT. /// /// OPT ACT ///

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."

/// END ACT. /// /// END OPT ///

The reversals have enhanced the influence of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is heard more frequently criticizing the reformist factions.

President Khatami has publicly lamented that he does not have the power to fully implement the Iranian constitution. This has brought criticism from the extreme wings of both the conservatives and reformists, who question whether the president could - or should - run for a second term.

Nevertheless, moderates remain optimistic. They acknowledge that Iranian society is changing less rapidly than some want, but note that restrictions have been eased on women's dress and public interaction among young people.

In Egypt, where Iranian affairs are closely watched, the feeling is that despite the setbacks, Iran is changing.

Egyptian political analyst Mohammed Sayed Saiid says Iran is going through a process of considerable moderation.


I think the trend is extremely clear. At least 95 percent of the Iranian people are willing to support a policy of moderation and gradual change of militant Islamic legacy that was imposed on Iran since 1980.

/// END ACT. ///

/// OPT /// Professor Saiid says the spirit of change has touched all of the people of Iran and only what he calls the heirs of the revolution are against it. As a result, he does not think the conservatives can reverse the trend even by military means. /// END OPT ///

A political Science Professor at the American University of Cairo, Said Eddin Ibrahim says Iran's moderates need more support from the outside world.

/// IBRAHIM ACT. ///

President Khatami is leading a very enlightened, moderate trend, not hostile to the west, not trouble making in the region. And these moderate forces must be nurtured and encouraged by all concerned.

/// END ACT. ///

Moderates in Iran are urging patience, saying gradual change is best because it does not threaten powerful conservative interests and is less likely to cause a violent reaction.

Yet many Iranians - and the younger generation in particular - continue to chafe under restrictive laws, high unemployment and falling standards of living. And an alarming rise in crime, illegal drug use and social alienation among the young is causing many to worry about the future course of the country as the Iranian revolution enters its third decade. (Signed)