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Mohammad Reza Khatami, Secretary General of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front and the president's younger brother. Tehran, July 27, 2002. Vahid Salemi

Powder Keg in Iran

by Kelly Cogswell

JULY 31, 2002. U.S. threats to invade neighboring Iraq, and looming general elections in which both reformers and hardline candidates will face a disgruntled electorate, are turning the screws on Iran's reformers.

Supported by almost 70% of voters, but stymied by hardline control of the judiciary, the security services, the military, and the broadcast media, reform candidates haven't been able to enact the changes they promised. Worse, each step forward is met with reprisals.

Just this weekend, the regime shut down another daily newspaper, Norouz, for defining national unity as embracing the opinion of the majority, not toeing the line of the hardline minority; Tehran's Revolutionary Court sentenced more than 30 liberal Islamists to up to 10 years in jail for ostensibly seeking to overthrow the Islamic system; the court also banned the Iran Freedom Movement, the country's main opposition group which advocates a fuller democracy, and was supported by many of the accused. A few weeks ago, Los Angeles resident and dancer Mohamad Khordadian, joined a lengthening list of Iranian exiles arrested in visits to Iran and forced to remain as punishment.

To save face after these recent events, reformers are finally threatening to pull out of the system. Sunday, Mohammad Reza Khatami, the deputy speaker of Parliament and the president's younger brother, actually told reporters his reformist camp might leave the government if hardliners continued to block reforms. Pulling out would likely mean the collapse of Parliament, and almost certainly force the reformist President, Mohammed Khatami, to resign.

But a U.S. invasion of neighboring Iraq will probably deter reformers from actually boycotting the government, or undermine any effect if they go through with it. Many Iranians believe that after the U.S. settles with Saddam, it will turn its attention to Iran's Islamic regime, partly because of hostile comments from Washington itself. And while most Iranians look forward to the ouster of the anti-democratic clerics, the specter of a U.S. invasion will not only defuse the push for reform, but may well unite Iranians behind the hardline government.

Related links:

For Human Rights Watch World Report 2001: Iran: Human Rights Developments.

For the lgbt Iranian group Homan.

For Complete Coverage Middle East

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