|Iranian reformists fall in line with
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.
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".
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.
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".
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.