London, Asharq Al-Awsat- The formula is whenever America elects a democratic candidate, Iran elects a reformist candidate.
During the presidency of the pragmatic Hashemi Rafsanjani, George Bush Senior was elected as president in America. During the presidency of democratic Bill Clinton, the reformist Mohammad Khatami was elected as president in Iran. Finally during the presidency of conservative George W. Bush, hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the President of Iran.
So who will lead Iran whilst President Barack Obama leads America? If you were to ask an Iranian over the age of fifty who tends to incline towards the reformists, the answer would most probably be Mohamed Khatami. However, if you were to ask an Iranian in his twenties or thirties, the answer would probably be somebody more radical towards reform. For instance there is Abdollah Nuri, who served as Minister of Interior under Mohamed Khatami, Gholamhossein Karbaschi, the former Mayor of Tehran and one of the most prominent reformists, Ataollah Mohajerani, the Iranian minister of Culture under Khatami, Mohammad Mousavi Khoeiniha, the prominent reformist and founder of the reformist Salam newspaper, and Ali Mohtashami, Iran’s former ambassador to Syria who helped form Hezbollah. He was a foreign-policy “hawk” but a “reformist” locally.
For the youth in Iran today, Khatami would not be at the top of the list. The majority of reformists in Iran are to the left of Khatami and are seeking a president that is capable of taking action rather than passively having action being taken against him.
Gisoo Misha Ahmadi, a journalist at the Iranian Press TV channel, told Asharq Al-Awsat, “The Iranian youth should not think that Khatami’s candidature is the solution to everything.” What these candidates have in common is that all of them, with the exception of Mohtashami, are external to the Revolutionary Guards and the Guardian Council for the Constitution, the Council of Experts and the Expediency Discernment Council. Whilst they are all reformists, they differ from one another in their “degree of radicalism” in terms of their reformist ideas, their relationship with the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, their ability to face pressure and their desire for confrontation.
Mohammad Mousavi Khoeiniha is considered one of the senior reformists of Iran and is widely popular among the reformist spectrums. His companions say that he has been “silenced” since the newspaper that he founded, Salam, was shut down. However, those close to Khoeiniha say that it would be difficult for him to run in the Iranian presidential elections as he is very independent and it would be very difficult for Ayatollah Khamenei to subdue him. This is also what makes him an impossible candidate for Khamanei as well.
Today, Khoeiniha is keeping a watchful eye on what is taking place in the political arena in Iran without being active or communicating with the media. In spite of this, however, Khoeiniha is still active politically as he is the Secretary General of the reformist Assembly of Combatant Clerics party, formerly headed by Khatami, replacing Mehdi Karroubi, who left the party after he established Etemad-e-Melli party and participated in the 2005 presidential elections.
As for Abdollah Nuri, who served a Minister of Interior under Mohammad Khatami, he is the intellectual amongst the reformists and is most capable of drafting reformist political, social and cultural concepts and ideas. On his part, Abdollah Nuri was silenced after suffering politically during his time as Minister of Interior. This caused him to resign from his post after the conservatives launched campaigns against him. In spite of his absence from official posts, the conservatives still regard him as their “number one enemy” because of the accusations of financial and political corruption that he cast against some religious Marjas occupying senior positions.
In 1999, an Iranian court accused Nuri of treason and he was ordered to shut down his newspaper, Khordad, and sentenced him to five years imprisonment for undermining the state. In court, he called for reform and reminded the conservatives that they could not impose their own interpretation of Islam upon others. Furthermore, he questioned the court’s religious and legal authority. However, despite his quietness due to the upcoming elections, Nuri recently spoke out against Ahmadinejad saying that the reformists will not be able to secure a victory as long as there is despotism.
Ataollah Muhajirani, a prominent reformist in Iran, was the Minister of Guidance and Culture under Mohammad Khatami. He resigned in objection to the restrictions that reformist journalists were facing, the closure of most reformist newspapers and the censorship to which publishing houses were subjected. In his resignation address, a copy of which he sent to Ayatollah Khamenei, and which was published by the Iranian press, Muhajirani said, “I am not the minister of guidance but the minister of culture.” Today Muhajirani is visible in the Iranian political sphere but does not show any interest in running for president. He has stressed the importance of cultural interests such as translation, writing and studying.
Ali Mohtashami is completely different to other reformists as he has social reformist ideas. He played a pivotal role in creating Hezbollah during his time as Iran’s ambassador to Syria. He has strong ties to the Iranian security apparatus, especially the Revolutionary Guards. Apart from being close to Ayatollah Khomeini, as he was one of his most prominent students, Mohtashami is sharp regarding politics and intelligence. As a politician, he is the only reformist to have established strong ties with the conservatives and could serve as a link between the reformists and conservatives.
Gholamhossein Karbaschi is the former Mayor of Tehran who is well known as the force behind the reformists due to the ties that he developed between the reformist movement and the Executives of Construction party. He is the most popular figure in Iran after Khatami, and because Tehran is the political centre of Iran, such immense popularity was the source of a lot of trouble for Karbaschi who faced charges of corruption and was sentenced to imprisonment and banned from taking part in political activity. Even though the ban ends this year, Karbaschi, just like many prominent reformists, is not intending to run for presidency, paving the way for Khatami, the most popular of reformists, to announce that he will run for presidency.
Mohsen Kadivar, a prominent Iranian intellect and reformist told Asharq Al-Awsat, “We have new faces; there may not be many but these are sufficient. These faces can gain votes but cannot get through the filter of the Guardian Council. For instance, we have Abdollah Nuri, the former Minister of Interior under Khatami. He is an excellent character and if he could participate in the elections, he would get enough votes. However, Khamanei will not allow him to do so. We also have Gholamhussein Karbaschi, the former Mayor of Tehran, who could also win votes, and this is why he was put in jail,” he said laughing. “There is also Mohamed Mousavi Khoeiniha, the publisher of Salam newspaper who headed the judiciary system during Khomeini’s era, and he is also capable of winning votes. Therefore, we have enough to get to the presidency if the elections are free. However all of these figures spent time in prison for criticizing the regime and the government so they will not be allowed to participate in the elections.”
However, many of these reformists may not want to run to the forthcoming presidential elections. Running up against President Ahmadinejad will not be easy, and the popularity of any reformist candidate alone cannot guarantee success. Even Khatami himself, in free elections, might not win if voter turnout does not exceed 70 percent.
Ataollah Muhajirani told Asharq Al-Awsat that many prominent reformist politicians do not want to burn their cards in these elections. “It would be better to wait and strengthen the reformists and their parties and regain their newspapers, as the famous proverb says: he who reaps unripe fruit is like a farmer without land.”