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Iran's Reformist-Led Parliament Petitions For Political, Social Changes - 2003-05-25

Nearly 130 members of Iran's reformist-led parliament have signed an open letter calling for the country's top religious leader to break the deadlock holding up political and social changes.

This latest move by Iran's reformists is seen as a last attempt to rescue the political reform process endorsed by President Mohamed Khatami. The open letter calls for supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to accept reforms and stop unelected government institutions from blocking changes.

It names Iran's Guardian Council as the biggest obstacle to reform. The 12-man Council can veto legislation it considers unconstitutional or contrary to Islamic law.

The Council recently rejected a parliamentary bill seeking to curtail its power to disqualify candidates from elections. It also refused a bill giving President Khatami the right to question rulings made by Iran's hard-line judiciary system.

Although reform supporters won a parliamentary majority two-years ago, their decisions have been consistently overruled by the Guardian Council and the conservative clerics who control Iran's courts.

An Iran expert, Pakinam el-Sharkawy, political science professor at Cairo University, said the country's hard-liners are gaining ground in Iran, partly due to the U.S.-led attack on Iraq. "In the domestic arena, the conservatives begin more and more to regain some of their power within the major sector in the society. They see the Iranian society as threatened by an external force on the regional arena, so the conservatives in this time of crisis have regained some of their credibility," he said.

Iranian authorities told shops to stop producing and selling women's coats which are considered by hard-liners to be too tight or too short.

Under the country's strict Islamic law, women must dress in loose-fitting, ankle-length clothes and cover their hair and neck with scarves. Violators are fined or sometimes even lashed.

Reformists warn Ayatollah Khamenei that the conservatives are out of touch with Iran's mainstream society and particularly with its youthful majority. They say time may be running out for change from within.

Political and social tensions in Iran are coinciding, they say, with a changed geopolitical reality. With the fall the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Iran is now surrounded by countries that in varying degrees are under U.S. influence.