Iran in the Balance

Khatami at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 2004.


Soon after reformists won a landslide victory in Iran's February 2000 parliamentary elections, the conservative offensive began in earnest. One of the first victims was Saeed Hajjarian, a top strategist in the reform movement and among President Mohammad Khatami's closest advisers, who was on his way to a meeting of Tehran's city council when a young man hopped off a motorcycle and approached him. The man pulled a gun, pointed it at Hajjarian's head, and fired. The reformist survived the attack, although he was critically wounded, and the gunman and several accomplices were eventually tried and imprisoned. Still, few Iranians believe the attackers acted on their own, and the incident drove home the extraordinary risks now facing Iran's reformers. The shooting also marked the beginning of a sustained assault on the reform movement that has continued ever since.

Anxious to turn back Khatami's democratic reforms, hard-line conservatives are now resorting to ever more aggressive tactics. On March 4 of this year, Mostafa Tajzadeh -- Iran's deputy interior minister and another Khatami confidant -- was sentenced to a year in prison by the conservative judiciary. The trumped-up conviction, ostensibly for rigging votes in last year's parliamentary victory by the reformists, was an attempt by hard-liners to prevent Tajzadeh from overseeing the June 8 presidential election.

Tajzadeh was not the only recent victim. Reformist parliamentarians have been harassed and intimidated, and numerous media outlets have been shut down. The vehemence of the conservative backlash may stem from the hard-liners' fear that they are soon to be eclipsed. Despite all the attempts to stymie the reform movement, the Iranian public has endorsed further change at almost every opportunity -- and, as of this writing, was expected to do so again by electing President Khatami to a second term with a wide margin on June 8. Still, the fate of Iran's democratic movement remains very much uncertain. Despite the popularity of the reformists, conservatives still dominate much of the government. The circumstances are so fragile that relatively minor

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