Khatami's First-Term Presidency: An Assessment

In his assessment of the first term of Mohammad Khatami’s presidency, the author attempts to measure his campaign promises against the actual performance of his administration. He believes that in the first two years of Khatami’s presidency the Iranian society witnessed a measure of political liberalization and greater socio-cultural freedoms. In fact, a number of encouraging developments made Iran clearly a freer and more tolerant place to live. Signs of progress include increased popular interest and participation in politics, the election of a large number of reformist candidates in 1999-2000 municipal and parliamentary elections and the regime’s begrudging toleration of religious and ideological dissent.

However, the rule of law, one of the most often-flaunted of his objectives, was never achieved, and many civil liberties, press freedoms, and the right to dissent were later reversed and rescinded. Furthermore, equality before the law, one of the most progressive features of Iran’s otherwise seriously flawed constitution, was never even addressed. In 1997, Iran was a politically repressed, socially stifled, and economically vulnerable country, yet hoping to see the birth of a new era. In 2001, the country was still politically restrained, socially restricted, and economically fragile, but also fearful of a turn for the worse. In all fairness, the post-election euphoria simply overlooked or ignored the far-reaching implications of the new president’s agenda for Iran’s closed-circuit theocratic oligarchy.

The catalyst for the acceleration of inevitable changes may actually emerge from the government’s current impasse in finding solutions to any of its intractable political, social, or economic problems. The tug-of-war between conservatives and reformists and the paralyzing differences between interventionist proponents and free-market advocates over the direction of the nation’s economy have pushed the debates into new and uncharted grounds. Whether or not workable and effective compromises can be forged during the second Khatami administration is a drama whose last chapter is still being written.

Jahangir Amuzegar
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