The tenure of Iran's pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami ended today as his successor Mahmud Ahmadinejad was formally installed as president. Khatami came to power in 1997 with huge support especially among youth and women, to whom he had promised more rights. In 2001, he was re-elected with some 70 percent of the vote. However, many of his one-time supporters have criticized Khatami for failing to deliver on his promises. Other observers, though, say that during Khatami's eight-year tenure some positive changes took place.
PRAGUE, 3 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Iran's outgoing President Mohammad Khatami said last week that one of his biggest achievements was granting the Iranian people the power to protest.
He said the more his government was criticized, the more it was successful in realizing the idea of democracy in Iran.
Khatami also said that the Iranian people are the best judges of his achievements.
"The final judgment about the success of the government, which was moving on the difficult and long path of democracy in Iran, is with the nation," Khatami said.
The charismatic Khatami -- who was seen by many reformists as the best hope for democracy in the Islamic Republic -- was not able to implement his idea of "Islamic democracy" in Iran.
Many of his reform plans were blocked by hardliners. His government's granting of scores of licenses for new, liberal publications was quickly rolled back by the hard-line judiciary. Judges closed more than 100 newspapers and magazines and summoned twice that number of journalists to court. Many intellectuals, human right activists, and students were jailed. (See HRW Says Tehran Uses Torture To Suppress Dissent.)
Khatami has been criticized by many of his supporters -- including student activists -- for failing to stand up to the hard-liners and responding weakly to opponents of democracy. Khatami has answered those criticisms by saying that "clashes and chaotic conditions" would have not been in the interest of the Islamic Republic.
Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a member of the Tehran-based Center of Human Rights Advocacy, says Khatami did not use his power and did not confront the hard-liners.
"In many cases he didn't remain faithful to his slogans and goals," Dadkhah said. "One of the most evident examples is [last year's] parliamentary elections when [more than 1,000] candidates trusted by people were disqualified by the Guardians Council without any logical reasons. Khatami did not take any practical measures and did not come among the protesters who held a sit in, and he abstained from directly taking sides."
Despite the setbacks, most observers agree that under Khatami's two terms modest reforms were achieved, some freedom was gained, and the political arena opened somewhat.
Dadkhah says that as a result Iranian citizens now have greater awareness of their rights and enjoy more self-confidence.
"He created this political atmosphere where people see themselves as capable of pursuing their rights," Dadkhah said. "We also had many advances in literature, culture, and art."
Mohammad Sadegh Javadi Hessar, a former legislator and a journalist in Mashad, said Khatami changed the relationship between citizens and the government by encouraging criticism.
"Khatami's critics would criticize him and he would accept it and he would work to make this dialogue work," Javadi Hessar said. "Another major achievement of Khatami's term was preparing the ground for the people's participation in the decision-making sphere."
Javadi Hessar adds that Khatami's presidency led to some transparency and accountability in the Iranian establishment.
"We had [political] prisoners under Khatami, but their whereabouts were known. Before Khatami, some people would be jailed without their location being known, without being granted visits but Khatami's government has been following the cases of prisoners," Javadi Hessar said. "This has led to changes in a way that now officials slowly start to feel they're living in rooms made of glass." (See Judiciary Orders Ban on Torture, But Why Now, And Will It Have Any Effect?.)
Some observers also believe that Khatami had a great influence on Iranian political discourse. He spoke of fostering human rights, civil society, and democracy -- terms that are now being used even by some conservative politicians. Khatami has also been praised internationally for opening up Iran to Europe, for pursuing a policy of detente regionally, and for at times showing a willingness to explore ways to defuse tensions with the United States.
End Of An Era
Khatami's era ended today with the ultra-conservative Mahmud Ahmadinejad being formally installed as president. The change takes place amid growing concern that under the new president some of the reforms achieved during Khatami's tenure could be reversed.
But some observers like Dadkhah believe that the changes that have taken place in Iranian society are irreversible.
"Without any doubt, the tree planted by Mr. Khatami will give its fruit in the coming years and, without any doubt, many forces will try to eradicate it, but [the society] will not let it happen and I hope the results of Khatami's actions will appear in future generations so that...law, democracy, lack of discrimination, and equality will rule in society," Dadkhah said.
The newspaper "Iran Daily" recently wrote that for the millions of Iranians who supported Khatami and for those in the press who paid a heavy price for defending his ideals, there would be a great deal of "sadness and disappointment over" the end of his tenure.
During a press conference last week, Khatami said his meetings with the media were among the best moments of his presidency.
"My sweetest moments were the ones I spent among you [journalists]," he said. "The most bitter ones were when you would quarrel with me and sometimes it was not [fair]. But even that was [pleasant] for me. Being with you and answering your questions are among my sweetest memories, I [also] have many bitter [memories]."
The 62-year-old Khatami who, because of his constant smile, is nicknamed "the laughing seyed" (descendant of the Prophet Mohammad), has said that he will not accept any official post after his presidency. He is reportedly planning to promote his doctrine of "dialogue among civilizations" through a nongovernmental organization.
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