Middle East

Iranian reformists fall in line with hardliners
By Ramin Mostaqim

TEHRAN - Back in March, Mostafa Boroumandi, a self-made tycoon, could not wait for the war in Iraq to begin. For Boroumandi, as for many progressive people in Tehran, this would be a move to break a pattern of repressive regimes in the region.

Today he speaks a different language. "I wish I had never thought of war like that," he says. "It is so tragic, just think of the casualties." Boroumandi owns a set of printing presses. His friends include leading writers and intellectuals in Tehran. Today he and many like him are taking the same position on war as many of the hardline Islamists. Everyone talks with sympathy of the "oppressed people of Iraq".

Pro-reform newspapers such as the Yas-e-Nou and Hambastqi had begun to talk early of a post-Saddam Hussein regime and champion Ahmed Chalabi, the US-based leader of the Iraqi National Congress. Now, they do not want to bet on the future of the likes of Chalabi.

A change is creeping into the urban middle classes in cities such as Tehran, Esfehan and the historic southern city Shiraz. The rich in these cities have traditionally been apolitical. But as the war claims more casualties, and turns uglier than anyone could have imagined two weeks ago, people dining out in the most elegant restaurants complain now of the evils of the export of US democracy.

If the United States had a following in these classes over the years, it is likely to have lost much of it in the past two weeks. The government has been active in encouraging demonstrations against the war. Many thousands have joined protests, in which men are separated from women.

But opposition to US President George W Bush does not always mean the same thing as support for Saddam. A leader announced at one demonstration that people must express solidarity with the "oppressed people of Basra, and curse Bush, Saddam and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon". The attendance at these demonstrations is telling. The demonstrators have included well-connected civil servants, soldiers in uniform and women dressed in black.

Political leaders talk of Iran's "active neutrality" in the Iraq war. That means in effect taking a strong line against the US without getting involved. Dissident leader Ayatollah Montazeri, who was released from house arrest two months ago, has asked people to remain impartial in a war "between two equal evils".

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi has said that Iran will only recognize a democratically elected government in Iraq, not one imposed by the United States. Mohsen Rezai, a key member of the Expediency Council, an influential body within the government, has asked for "further active diplomacy to resist the hegemony-seeking of the US administration in the region".

Iran is seeing unexpected contradictions. Traditional Muslims have begun to distance themselves from the strict official interpretation of Shi'ite Islam for some time now. On the other hand, moderate and reform-minded people are taking the stand of the hardliners.

(Inter Press Service)
Apr 4, 2003

Iran stakes its Iraq claim
(Apr 3, '03)

Russia warns of Iraqi fallout
(Apr 2, '03)

Iran feels the squeeze 
(Apr 1, '03)


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