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Iran Reformists Say They Are Down, But Not Out


The election of a hard-line conservative to the Iranian presidency last year was a shock for reformists, who had been hoping for a more liberal successor to former President Mohammad Khatemi. But as VOA correspondent Gary Thomas reports from Tehran, the reformists have not gone away.

One year after the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the reformist movement in Iran is still around, but somewhat quiet.

Mohammad Atrianfar, editor of the reformist newspaper Sharq and an associate of political leader and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, says the reformists are like a caged animal in hibernation. They will awaken, he says.

The 2005 election split the reformist movement. There were divisions over whether to support Rafsanjani when their first choice, Mustafa Moin, lost in the first round of voting, or to boycott the second round.

After Mr. Ahmadinejad defeated Rafsanjani there was much mutual recrimination within the reform movement as factions accused each other of losing the election, says democracy activist Edmadeddin Baghi.

While keeping a low profile, the reformists are monitoring every move of the government. The new strategy appears to be to lay back and let the government self-destruct.

Mohammad Atrianfar says inept and inefficient economic policies will do what the reformists could not.

"And this economy will break the back of the government," Atrianfar says.

Promoting democracy is a tricky and sometimes dangerous business in a country like Iran. On June 12, police used heavy force to break up a protest against discrimination against women.

It is also an unequal contest, reformists point out, since the government has control of the airwaves, while the reformists rely on newspapers to get their message out.

According to both reformists and diplomats here, there is also intense internal debate within the reform movement over accepting outside help for democratization in Iran.

The Bush Administration has pledged millions of dollars to boost broadcasts to Iran and promote other avenues of pro-democracy activism in Iran.

Emameddin Baghi says the answer is thanks, but no thanks. He says accepting outside aid just helps the government by letting it label reformists as foreign agents.

"I admire America as a dynamic democratic country, he says, but I cringe at U.S. statements about promoting democracy in Iran," Baghi ssays.

Baghi, who works on behalf of political prisoners in Iran, says democracy has to be indigenous and homegrown so people do not, as he put it, think that it was bought with Bush Administration broadcasts and money.

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