The smiling cleric’s revolution

More than a decade before Iran’s politically disaffected had launched the Green Movement — much less the latest protests that broke out across the country on Feb. 14 and were brutally put down by police — they had the optimistic and incremental reform movement lead by the "smiling cleric" and philosopher Mohammad Khatami. If the ...

PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images
PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images
PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images

More than a decade before Iran's politically disaffected had launched the Green Movement -- much less the latest protests that broke out across the country on Feb. 14 and were brutally put down by police -- they had the optimistic and incremental reform movement lead by the "smiling cleric" and philosopher Mohammad Khatami. If the latter had worked according to plan, the former never would have been necessary. The reformers had hoped Iran would serve as a model of democratic governance for the rest of the Muslim world. Now they're taking their inspiration from the peaceful Arab uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

Khatami was elected to two terms, beginning in 1997, with overwhelming support from young people and women, and he staked his tenure on the belief that the Islamic Republic could be peacefully transformed from within into a modern democracy. That era in the late 1990s came to be known as the "Tehran spring," an atmosphere of political openness then novel in the region. Civil society grew more confident, an independent press flourished, and reformists seemed ascendant within Iran's political system. Khatami promised Iranians that the Islamic system could rule more lawfully and that the regime had the ability and the obligation to offer its people greater freedoms.

Read more.

More than a decade before Iran’s politically disaffected had launched the Green Movement — much less the latest protests that broke out across the country on Feb. 14 and were brutally put down by police — they had the optimistic and incremental reform movement lead by the "smiling cleric" and philosopher Mohammad Khatami. If the latter had worked according to plan, the former never would have been necessary. The reformers had hoped Iran would serve as a model of democratic governance for the rest of the Muslim world. Now they’re taking their inspiration from the peaceful Arab uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

Khatami was elected to two terms, beginning in 1997, with overwhelming support from young people and women, and he staked his tenure on the belief that the Islamic Republic could be peacefully transformed from within into a modern democracy. That era in the late 1990s came to be known as the "Tehran spring," an atmosphere of political openness then novel in the region. Civil society grew more confident, an independent press flourished, and reformists seemed ascendant within Iran’s political system. Khatami promised Iranians that the Islamic system could rule more lawfully and that the regime had the ability and the obligation to offer its people greater freedoms.

Read more.

Azadeh Moaveni is a former Middle East correspondent for Time, author of Lipstick Jihad,and co-author of Iran Awakening.

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