During six fateful days in mid-July 1999, Iran's theocratic regime witnessed the most daring challenge to its absolutist authority since the 1979 revolution. The open political defiance began as a minor, peaceful march by a couple of hundred Tehran university students on July 8. The marchers were protesting against the court-ordered closure of Salaam, a left-leaning, "pro-reform" newspaper, and the provisional passage by Majles hardliners of a draft bill designed to further curb press freedoms initiated by President Mohammad Khatami. The pro-democracy move got out of hand when an Islamic vigilante group (alleged to be Ansar-e Hezbollah), aided by the local police, stormed the students' dormitory in the middle of the night, long after the early-evening rally had ended and marchers had gone to bed. The storm troopers reportedly beat up awakened students, ransacked their quarters, damaged their belongings, and even pushed them from the windows.1 Some deaths, scores of injuries and substantial property damage ensued.
The next day, the students' fury over their earlier mistreatment quickly attracted thousands of bitter and angry fellow protesters who got into pitched battles with the police and the Ansar around the university campus. The day afterward, a larger crowd of students and "non-students" joined the demonstrations, and the turmoil degenerated into widespread chaos and violence. In frightening resemblance to the anti-shah uprisings of 1978/79, the city-wide rampage flared into angry shouting, bloody clashes with the anti-riot police, stone throwing, tire slashing, teargas lobbing, and the closing of shops, banks and public buildings. The capital's unrest immediately spread to some 18 major cities throughout the country.2
The six-day turmoil, although firmly and resolutely quashed by the security forces with the arrest of the protesting students and a large number of "nonstudent" provocateurs, deserves close scrutiny from at least three vantage points: its predictability, counter-revolutionary significance, and the political implications for the Islamic regime.
By most welfare criteria, Iranian university students are not the least privileged group in the Islamic Republic's social strata. But by virtue of their superior intellect, familiarity with the outside world and ambition for future leadership, they are the most vocal, articulate, demanding and excitable group. Their great and rising expectations usually far exceed their forbearance. Thus, while their latest protests were overtly triggered by the fundamentalists' desperate maneuvers to reverse President Khatami's political glasnost, the unrest was actually the culmination of long-unfulfilled dreams and piled-up frustrations.
University life in Iran, contrary to that in the West, is neither emotionally rewarding nor intellectually satisfying. A grueling entrance examination whereby only one out of four applicants gains admittance is an anxious beginning. Religious and ideological commitment to the concept of the velayat-e faqih (governance of a supreme theologian), required for both admission and graduation, often clashes with the context of their studies or their inherent secular tendencies. Housing is cramped and crowded. Outdated teaching methods and materials in the hands of often part-time, overburdened and inadequately qualified instructors waste much of their time and talent. Four to eight years of formal study for an advanced degree under these circumstances still does not equip them to obtain satisfactory gainful employment.
Off-campus life is not much better. The stifling clerical injunction, in the name of combating the "Western cultural onslaught," against such popular forms of recreation and entertainment as casual t-shirts, pop music, off-beat video cassettes, unchaperoned dating, mixed-sex parties and social drinking makes their social life exasperating. These largely unenforceable prohibitions lead them to seek more cumbersome, dangerous and expensive alternatives, or to give them up altogether. That drug addiction among Iranian youth is widespread (and officially acknowledged) shows how miserably the regime has failed to legislate morality. The unchecked authority of some reactionary, hypocritical, corrupt, ignorant and inexperienced men at the top of the power pyramid is another source of the students' fury. Denying these stirred-up young men and women the "fundamental freedoms" for which they elected President Khatami in 1997 has made rebels out of them.3
While this state of affairs had gone on for years with only one or two minor protests, the July unrest was spawned by a new combination of economic hardship and crushed political expectations. The economy was mired in double-digit inflation and high unemployment; the worst agricultural drought in 30 years was occurring; industrial production was at less than 50 percent of capacity; the national currency was steadily losing value against foreign monies; the job market for university graduates was bleak; and the much publicized Economic Rehabilitation Plan was getting exactly nowhere. The only bright spot on the horizon was the president's promise that his glasnost and political liberalization would soon attract sufficient investment, provide new jobs, and help revive the "sick" economy. To this end, a proliferation of vocal new dailies and the emergence of many courageous new editors and commentators taking the entrenched conservative elements to task for their incompetence, venality and corruption, were expected to pave the way for the president's political reforms and eventual economic recovery. While most petitions for redressing the students' grievances were routinely ignored or rejected by the conservative Majles and the courts, the mere freedom to air them publicly was itself a great solace to the frustrated intellectual underclass.
Thus, when the old guard decided to whittle away at this new-found (albeit vacuous) freedom, a violent reaction could not be avoided. Also, lurking behind the students' agitation, and an ever-present impetus for the unrest, was a major conflict on strategy between President Khatami and some of his ardent followers. The president's supporters- students, women, young professionals, a small remnant of the old middle-class modernists, some young clerics and seminary fellows - sought much faster progress toward participatory democracy, social liberalization, the rule of law and cultivation of civil society. They were highly critical of the glacial pace of promised reforms. In contrast, Mr. Khatami - by nature a cautious, non-combative and tolerant man - would be willing to do anything short of resigning to avoid a political showdown with his unyielding conservative opposition. For every inch of advancement in sociopolitical liberalization that he could proudly point to during his short tenure, his impatient supporters would remind him of the many miles that he still had to go to deliver on his election promises.4 The stage was thus set for a confrontation sooner or later.
A NEW REVOLUTION?
If one believes that history repeats itself, the mid-July upheaval in Iran could serve as an exciting case. In the 1970s, the students' opposition to the shah's regime was instrumental in Ayatollah Khomeini's ultimate victory. And the self-inspired and unauthorized seizure of the American embassy by the "students following the Imam's line" in November 1979 was subsequently declared a heroic act by the Ayatollah and christened "the second revolution." Against this historic backdrop, the new protests are portrayed by one seasoned analyst as "harbingers of a counterrevolution."5 The cover of a recent issue of The Economist, featuring a protesting student lifting a bloodied shirt, wondered if the turmoil was Iran's second revolution.6 An experienced Middle East hand hastily called it "a revolution within a revolution."7
Plausible as the analogy may seem, a comparison with the 1978/79 events would be rather farfetched. To be sure, the July unrest was a first since the creation of the Islamic Republic in terms of size, intensity and the openness of the defiance. Measured by the number of participants, the seriousness of purpose, and the emphasis on freedom, justice and democracy, the protests were indeed unparalleled. Subsequent nationwide escalation of the original march into mass demonstrations, riots, arson and destruction of property was also unprecedented. They posed the most serious threat to the clerics' monopoly on power in two decades of unchallenged totalitarian rule. The placards carried and the slogans chanted by the street demonstrators also crossed al! forbidden lines, breaking a twenty-year record in audacity and provocation: "Death to dictators!" "Death to despots!" "Khamenei, shame on you!" "Rahbar, resign!" "Khatami, where are you when your sons are killed?" "Down with the puppet Majles! “Either Islam and the !aw, or another revolution!" Some of the rioters tore up and burned pictures of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (the supreme leader or rahbar) - a criminal offense. None of this had been heard of since the 1979 revolution.
The initial burst of protests held the potential for further escalation. At the height of the chaos, when no one knew who actually ruled the streets of Tehran, the regime's leadership faced its severest crisis of confidence. Since the earliest years of the revolution (when a number of clerical, military and political leaders were systematically assassinated) and the last year of the Iran-Iraq War (when Iraq's use of chemical weapons and surface-to-surface rockets convinced Ayatollah Khomeini that the war was lost), the government had never come so close to losing its nerve. In a hurried reaction to the fast-deteriorating situation, the leadership seemed clearly unnerved. Not only did President Khatami, who saw his supporters being brutalized by Hezbollahis, condemn the assault as "an extremely bitter and intolerable incident," but Ayatollah Khamenei, whose henchmen were allegedly behind the attacks, called the event "ugly and unacceptable," castigating the rogue security officials for going overboard. He called the injured students "my children" and said "the bitter incident hurt my heart.''8 Two senior police commanders were summarily dismissed and turned over to the judiciary for prosecution. In a similar conciliatory gesture, a group of the rahbar's representatives at various universities issued a statement (undoubtedly at his urging) siding with the students against the police and security forces.
Such a bold and defiant political challenge to the leadership had up to that time been unthinkable. While some of the student protesters had occasionally taken issue with Mr. Khatami's cautious approach and demanded a more aggressive move against conservative diehards, they were not expected to cross the loyalty line under any circumstances. Yet, when he issued an emotional appeal for calm on the second day of protests, some demonstrators defied the ban.9 When his outspokenly liberal interior minister, Mussavi Lavi, sought to address the restless crowd, his car was pelted with stones.10 Even when the rahbar's own initially sympathetic speech was broadcast to the assembled students, it was met with scattered boos - an unprecedented insult. And, when a representative of the rahbar tried to read a sympathetic message from him, he was shouted down.11
It is not, therefore, difficult to find many similarities between the pre-revolution protests and the July unrest. In both cases, there was an underlying ideological exhaustion caused by unfulfilled promises, and a consequent demand for action. In 1978, there were growing doubts about the dawn of the shah's promised "Great Civilization." In 1999, it was the failure of the 20-year-old Islamic Republic to create a moral and just Islamic society or a thriving, egalitarian and self-reliant Islamic economy. At both times, there were demands for political accountability. In 1978, the National Front within the opposition wanted the shah to "reign" but not "rule"; in 1999, secular intellectuals and even some eminent clerics among the dissidents (including Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, Ayatollah Khomeini's initially designated successor) wanted the vali-e faqih (the rahbar) to tend to national religious affairs and refrain from day-today administrative micromanagement. At both times, the establishment held all the levers of power (i.e., both guns and butter) while protesters had only their voices and their resolve. At both times, the regime's survival depended on fundamental political change, and students presented themselves as the agents of that change. Finally, as in 1978/79, there were many ambiguities and unknowns about some aspects of the disorder and its unfolding sequences. In the pre-revolution months, state security agents were rumored to have been responsible for looting, arson and destruction in order to discredit the opposition. In the mid-July events, too, the identity of the midnight raiders to the dorms, the rioters and arsonists around the capital, the invaders of the Ministry of lnterior, and those who clashed with the riot police are still largely unknown. There are still many unanswered questions regarding the motives for the unprovoked crackdown on sleeping students, the instigators of demonstrations away from the campus area, the orchestrators of the bloody riots, the number of casualties, and the extent of the property damage.
Mainstream student activists have accused the Ansar and militant hardliners of hijacking the peaceful demonstrations and masquerading as students in order to portray Khatami's government as ineffective, discredit his liberalization program and undermine his resolve. The Hezbollah group, in turn, has publicly denied any involvement in the disturbances and accused the "reformers" themselves of plotting a creeping coup. The Intelligence Ministry has blamed the disorders on the Nation of Iran party founded by Dariush Foruhar, the National Front founded by Mohammad Mossadeq, "Zionists," the CIA, foreign media and other "enemies" of the Islamic revolution.12 Strangely enough, the ministry's communique did not name the usual suspects, the Iraq-based Mojahedeen-e Khalq, as the culprit. Ironically, the Mojahedeen themselves boasted about having been "extensively involved" in directing the demonstrators from their nearby bases.13 At the climax of the melee, however, no one on the streets of the capital seemed to be in charge, and no outsider reportedly knew who was in whose camp.14
Despite these manifest similarities in purpose and process, the recent upheaval was distinctly different from the 1978/79 student opposition to the shah's rule in many respects. To begin with, the background, status and affiliation of the student protesters in the two events were vastly dissimilar. This time, nearly all participants were sons and daughters of the "Islamic" revolution who were expected to have a different world view and adopt a different lifestyle than those who protested against the shah's "undemocratic" rule. They were supposed to embrace an Islamic government resembling neither the Godless East nor the democratic West, as proscribed by Ayatollah Khomeini. A good half of the students belonged to the poorer, less advantaged and supposedly more loyal social classes - the Revolutionary Guard, the rural Basijis, welfare beneficiaries, family members of Iran-Iraq War martyrs, ex-servicemen and disabled veterans. Nearly half of these students had received preferential treatment in admission, financial aid during their studies, and less vigorous standards for graduation. An overwhelming majority were taught and trained by faculties and academic cadres, meticulously selected for their Islamic conviction and loyalty during a 20-year period of academic inquisitions and wholesale purges under the so-called Islamization of the universities.
Another significant difference was that this time the protesters had neither a clear "revolutionary" objective nor a unified command. In the two years leading to the shah's overthrow, university students, like other opposition groups, had a single, simple, clear and unwavering objective: to oust the monarch and to end the "2500-year-old" monarchy. Whether deeply religious or secular, they, like other anti-shah contingents, had faithfully or expediently accepted Ayatollah Khomeini's unquestioned leadership. This time, the objectives were narrow, muted and mundane. The movement was not "after a revolution or overthrowing the government," as a student activist candidly observed.15 The demonstrators did not call for a change of the regime.
The slogans and posters were clearly offensive to the clerical leadership and, for the first time since 1979, truly went beyond the pale. But they still largely asked for the rights guaranteed under the Islamic constitution: they wanted greater personal freedom, more government accountability and an opening up of society. Even their publicized seven-items "wish list," which they presented as requests (rather than demands) resembled a local trade union's roster of grievances 16 submitted to a strong company management, rather than a political manifesto designed to shake the government's roots. The most daring reform proposal by the majority was for the supreme leader to be chosen directly by the people for a limited tenure of office and to be accountable to the Experts Assembly. Only scattered voices called for the separation of mosque and state.
Still further, the student "movement" lacked both direction and organization: it was amorphous, leaderless, uncoordinated and fractured. None of the student "organizers" who were subsequently arrested and made to "confess" their offenses had any real following on or off campus. There were also considerable differences in tactics and strategy within the student movement. The Office of Strengthening Unity, the largest congregation, for example, was not in agreement with many splinter groups. Shortly after the initial rally, student elders calling themselves the Council of Sit-in Students decided to end the protests and issued a plea for an end to offensive invective in order not to give aid and comfort to "opportunists and adventurers." Mainstream operatives further distanced themselves from their few and more radical brethren, who called for the rahbar's resignation or closure of the Majles.
Nor did the movement attract much popular internal or outside support. While the protests were fairly large and emotions in both camps ran high, the capital city was not significantly affected, as it had been in the last disastrous days of the shah. City life, particularly in areas farther away from the university campus, went on normally as student demands gained hardly any support from civil servants, the bazaar, strategic oil workers and the people at large who were collectively instrumental in toppling the shah. This time, even "reformist" newspapers that had promised to suspend publication for one day in sympathy with the students' demand for easing press restrictions were easily persuaded by the culture minister to back down.
Noteworthy further differences between the two cases can also be seen. First, the 1978/79 opposition had a sitting target - the shah. The July unrest had none. Except for scattered voices from shadowy (and as yet unidentified) characters in the crowd, the opposition did not ask for the rahbar's head, but only a cut in his absolute and arbitrary power. Second, student activism this time lacked nationwide credibility since some of the highly visible older gurus at the time the American embassy was taken over back in November 1979 were now fervent advocates of reconciliation with Washington. Some of these elder advisors, who were instrumental in the mass execution of political prisoners in the early days of the revolution and in favor of organizing Lebanese Islamist guerrillas, were now Mr. Khatami's camp followers and valiant advocates of "open society," peaceful dialogue, the rule of law and political liberalization.17 Previous "followers of the imam's line" also were now among the discreet dissenters from Ayatollah Khomeini's "political will and testament."
Third, unlike the late seventies, when expressions of moral support and sympathy from abroad were an asset for the protesters in attracting domestic popular support, this time around, any word of encouragement from the outside world would have been considered a liability. The regime's spin doctors could easily have twisted such support to look like aid and comfort received from the foreign enemies of Islam and the revolution. Finally, the student's demands (i.e., press freedom, free elections, government accountability) did not reflect the rank-and-file's mundane grievances (e.g., inflation, unemployment); nor did they offer a solution to their needs (housing, health care, education). In 1978/ 79, opposition supporters among the population at large had been brainwashed into believing that the shah's ouster and Khomeini's victory would be all they needed to have a better and fuller life. This time around, nothing could have been taken for granted.
The student rebellion was quickly and effectively quashed by the authorities with the arrest and detention of reportedly more than 1,400 demonstrators and a massive counter-demonstration in support of the government. An uneasy calm was also restored soon in all major cities. Nevertheless, the unprecedented outbreak revealed a number of highly significant phenomena.
First, it became embarrassingly evident that the students' resources, mobilization ability and public support were no match for the establishment's levers of power, as indicated by the impressively large display of popular support for the rahbar. One can, of course, argue that the student rally on July 8 was genuine and spontaneous, while the counter-demonstrations organized by the conservatives on July 14 were no more than an "orchestrated backlash" or even a "puppet show."18 Yet the hardliners in charge of the Revolutionary Guard and the paramilitary Basij showed their skill in mobilizing tens of thousands of public sympathizers to back the velayat-e faqih and condemn the "despicable enemies" of Islam. Dozens of municipal buses hauled in loyal seminarians, hordes of workers on the state payroll, disabled war veterans on the dole, and the martyrs' families on public welfare to participate in a spectacular show of support. Public schools were ordered closed so children could accompany their parents in the march. Soldiers and security personnel were furloughed to join the teeming crowd in civilian clothes. Employees in many state and private offices were released to fill the demonstrators' ranks. The Tehran bazaar and hundreds of shops in other parts of the capital were shut down so that employees could take part in the rally. The unemployed, the elderly and the curious also joined the crowd in order not to be left out.19 The regime's eye-catching spectacle totally eclipsed the students' modest show.
The second noteworthy aspect of the dramatic events was the effectiveness of the government' response. Determined not to repeat the shah's mistake, the authorities put down the disorders rapidly and decisively without resort to tanks, armored vehicles or extensive use of firearms. The rioting was smartly halted by well-trained anti-riot squads who used clubs and tear gas to quell the crowd. The skilled anti-riot police were able by themselves to deal with the protesters so there was no need to call either the Revolutionary Guard or the army. And, with casualties kept to a bare minimum, unfavorable public reaction was skillfully avoided.
The third lesson was the evidently waning effects of ideological indoctrination and intellectual brain-washing in the current information age. By the regime's own account, most of those arrested during the disorders were younger than 20. Their rebellion against the Islamic regime was thus a clear sign that the old anti-shah revolutionaries had failed to transfer their cherished vows and values to the new generation. Despite wholesale revisions of school curricula, massive purges of teaching cadres, uninterrupted Friday prayer sermons against "liberalism" and Western democracy, and extensive activities of the Islamic Propagation Organization (created by the government for this purpose), an overwhelming majority of Iranian teenagers and twenty-somethings are neither impervious to Western ideals nor particularly enamored of the total Islamization of their daily lives.20
Fourth, the civil unrest unmistakably revealed that hostility towards America, Israel and even the monarchy had no overriding priority for Iran's increasingly educated younger generation. They seek a distinct identity, meaningful employment, less intrusion in private life, more contacts with the outside world physically or through the Internet, and a clear hope for the future. And, those who enthusiastically voted for President Khatami in 1997 are increasingly tired of waiting for promised freedoms and progressive reforms to produce results. 21
Fifth, the aborted protest movement and the subsequent surrender of mainstream student leaders showed that despite the youth's legitimate and reasonable demands and their earnest pursuit of them, Iran was not yet on the verge of a new revolution or the overthrow of its government. After going through two years of bloody revolution, several internecine feuds and mutual recriminations within the initial opposition groups, eight years of an exhausting and fruitless war with Iraq (where an estimated 600,000 innocent youngsters lost their lives for the glory of Islam), and ten long years of economic austerity, the public was not ready for any new and bloody insurrection.22 The silent majority wanted the government to honor their basic human rights. They opposed suffocating restrictions on what they eat, drink, wear, watch, listen to, study, write, say or care for. But they shunned renewed instability, riots, bloodshed and loss of life. The Iranian peasantry and an overwhelming majority of the urban proletariat and petite bourgeoisie had, by necessity or choice, become resigned to their fate. They were visibly dissatisfied with their lot and wanted to see it improved. But, they did not want it to be violently disturbed once again in the mere hope of something better. They had had their fingers burnt once already.
Sixth, the savage attack on the student dorms by the police and their goon squads, defying the order of the interior minister, showed that despite official designation by the supreme leader, the minister still lacked command authority over the police, and that security forces were still independent of Khatami's control. The televised "confessions" of visibly exhausted and haggard ring leaders, in turn, cast considerable doubt on the president's ability to enforce the "rule of law." Prolonged official news blackouts regarding various aspects of the unrest also showed the rather hollow nature of openness and transparency that Khatami had promised to make a distinguishing characteristic of his presidency.
Seventh, the sudden turn of events from the students' initial moral victory to subsequent political setback vividly portrayed the fluid, fickle, and divisible nature of Iranian politics. Thus, as soon as the savagely crushed student rally succeeded in attracting widespread public sympathy (even from the supreme leader), the movement was split into a "mainstream" faction that sought dialogue with the authorities and the "radicals" who were demanding immediate drastic change. Student activists were divided into the old Office of Strengthening Unity, the splinter group Association of Islamic Students and Graduates, and the new Student Sit-In Council. A similar rift could be seen within the conservative ranks, where some rearguard, hardline clerics supported brutal suppression of "liberal" tendencies as perfectly "Islamic," and the moderates who opposed violence as a justifiable means of silencing one's opponents.
Finally, for some long hours during the early phase of the outbreak, a frightening power vacuum seemed to emerge when neither the president nor the supreme leader was evidently able to control the extremists in their separate camps. The firebrand radicals within the broad "reformist" faction and the die-hard fundamentalists in the "conservative" corps held strong and uncompromising views regarding the nature and policies of the Islamic Republic. The near anarchy spawned by these rogue elements on both sides now presents ominous prospects for the regime, and political compromise between the two principal camps is thus seen as the only way to save the Republic.
THE AFTERMATH AND BEYOND
In the aftermath of the clamp down on the student protests, three intriguing questions have come up regarding (1) the fate of President Khatami and the future of his reform agenda; (2) the relationships between the president and the supreme leader, representing reformist and fundamentalist factions; and (3) the country's political landscape and the status of the pro-democracy movement during the remainder of Mr. Khatami's term.
The first quandary is whether the president will have sufficient political power and personal popularity to establish the rule of law and promote civil society, as he has repeatedly promised. This is a question not only on the minds of Mr. Khatami's well-wishers but, ironically enough, on his enemies' minds as well, since the outcome is likely to be a zero-sum game: Khatami's success will be his opponents' defeat. The difficulty in finding the right answer to this question lies in the president's equivocal position during the ill-fated student demonstrations, his outwardly closer alliance with the supreme leader now, and the crisis of confidence among some of his supporters.
After initially sympathizing with the peaceful rally and then urging restraint and respect for the law, the president suddenly shifted gears as the rally degenerated into riots, expressing his disapproval of unruly demonstrations. His stern statement read on state radio and television labeled the protesters' slogans "demagogic, provocative, socially divisive, and a threat to national security" since they attacked "the foundations of the regime" and sought "to foment tension and disorder."23 The president's strong condemnation of off campus demonstrators, on top of his absence from the scene in the early days of protests, caught some of his student supporters by surprise. His apparent shift of position was seen by his radical backers as a betrayal of the intellectuals' demand for more freedom and a co-optation of their enemies' position. Other impatient and frustrated reform advocates saw the president as having sold out the prodemocracy movement in order to stay in power.24 His loyal supporters, however, have persistently maintained that he had little choice in the matter if he wanted to avoid a constitutional crisis or even a coup. Particular reference has been made to a letter by some 24 commanders of the Revolutionary Guard, politely warning the president that his "too liberal" stand was pushing the country toward "anarchy" and that they could "not accept that nothing is being done." Although the letter was subsequently defended by the Guard's supreme commander as a simple expression of sorrow by soldiers of Islam about relentless attacks by "liberal" elements on the sanctity of Islamic and revolutionary values, it was widely regarded as a veiled threat.25
The extent to which the letter influenced Mr. Khatami's decision is hard to determine. What is known is that in a show of undiminished self-confidence, the president told a large provincial crowd a few days later that his reform program will continue unaffected, that the country will have a civil society based on law and order, and that Islamic principles rejecting violence will be followed. Trying to regain the students' respect and affection, he told the crowd that only 10 percent of the demonstrators were students and that the rest were "hooligans" bent on undermining national unity and security.26 The embattled and scarred president called the riots by non-students a "declaration of war" on his agenda and tried to save face by renewing his pledges of "justice and harmony."27 Looking at all this, some political analysts believe that the outcome was a clear setback for the beleaguered president, and that his standing with his most ardent supporters was dealt a severe blow.28 Others argue that, thanks to the rahbar's support, President Khatami emerged from the ordeal somewhat "unscathed."29 Still others think that the hardliners' savagery and hooliganism actually worked in the president's favor. The post-demonstration events give no clear indications as yet. The one truly revealing test will be the Majles elections early next year.
The second question regarding the working relationship between the president and the supreme leader in the coming months has been the subject of extensive speculation. While the world press has in the past routinely reported on a fierce "power struggle" between the two, the political kabuki dance in which they have engaged from time to time seems to belie the allegation. Mr. Khatami has, since the end of the civil unrest, taken great pains to reiterate his loyalty to the supreme leader and the Islamic values he advocates. In his first public appearance after the events, he categorically dismissed the talk about the factional schism within the top leadership as an "illusion."30 On another occasion, he said, "The government is trying to fulfill the views of the rahbar." People close to both men confirm that the two leaders regularly consult each other.
Ayatollah Khamenei, in turn, has tried methodically to deny rumors of a rift with the president. On July 30, in one of his infrequent Friday sermons, he said "There are no differences among the leaders," and added, "I support the respected president and the job he is doing 100 percent."31 Shortly afterward, receiving the president and his cabinet, the supreme leader praised Mr. Khatami as "competent and qualified" to handle all state responsibilities. During the ceremony, in a rare display of cordiality, the two leaders publicly embraced one another. The rahbar called on state officials to put factionalism aside and fully back Khatami's policies.32
The entente between the two, in addition to being a staged photo opportunity, could also be seen as a political marriage of convenience. Contrary to, widespread misconceptions, the two share similar views, not only on basic Islamic tenets, but also on the need for the limitation of political freedoms. In President Khatami's view, an Islamic society allows people the freedom to think and express themselves in a "rational form recognized in a constitution."33 The supreme leader, in turn, notes that "diversity of opinion" is useful in society in order to form "correct" ideas, but freedom "to commit sin and cause destruction" should be banned.34 They both condemn thought control and censorship as defined in the 1979 constitution. Neither one, however, condones the level of press freedom allowed in the West. More significantly, and apart from their agreement on the necessity for considerable constitutional restraints on individual freedoms and basic human rights, the two leaders' rapprochement is based on their desperate need for mutual support. Mr. Khamenei, who carries the mantle of Ayatollah Khomeini, knows only too well that he has neither his predecessor's theological status nor his revolutionary credentials, charisma or high respect among senior Shiite clergy. Unlike Ayatollah Khomeini, who was his own man, Mr. Khamenei is beholden to a number of fundamentalist factions (e.g., Society of Combatant Clergy, Teachers of the Qom Theological Seminary, and the Islamic Coalition Council) and some other hardline groups. True or not, he is seen by the younger generation as following those factions' conservative agenda, and thus is distrusted and disliked.
Although Khamenei owes his current position to the so-called "grey wolves" of the regime - the bazaar leadership, the moneyed interests and some senior conservative clerics - he realizes that his survival now depends on a much broader popular base. The unruly extremists in his camp have also scared him enough that he wants to disassociate himself from their vigilante tactics and to side with the "rule of law" advocates. Furthermore, he aspires to play Ayatollah Khomeini's exalted role as a final arbiter of conflicts among various factions, rather than being closely associated with any one in particular.
President Khatami, too, sees his core of support among the youth being infiltrated by more radical and less tolerant elements. Although he owes his election to the dissatisfied masses of students, women and technical cadres, he knows he cannot succeed in meeting their aspirations for more political freedom and fewer sociocultural restrictions without disentangling himself from the insatiable demands of the dissident minority, who will be satisfied with nothing short of a total hold on power. Furthermore, in his running battles with the security establishment, the Judiciary and Majles hardliners, he desperately needs the rahbar's goodwill and support.
The special bond between the two leaders also follows from their overriding objective of saving the Islamic regime at all costs. Up to the recent civil unrest, they differed only on methods of reaching this goal: Hojjatolislam Khatami by allowing a more liberal interpretation of the scriptures in order to accommodate modernist elements, Ayatollah Khamenei by clinging to strict fundamentalist rules in the belief that any concession made to the protesters is likely to whet their appetite for more. Now they both seem to have come closer to each other's position: they have found the road to salvation in compromise.
As part of this new joint strategy, they are making a common appeal to "loyal" students. Mr. Khatami has again complimented them as being in "the vanguard of support for his reform program," and any attack on them as "tantamount to attacking his policies." Ayatollah Khamenei has also received some of the students who were injured in the raid on the dorms, embraced and kissed them, and Jed them in prayer. The state radio said the students had a dialogue with the rahbar "in a climate of friendship and brotherhood."35 The president has further tried to present a unified front with the rah bar. In his characteristic simplification of complex issues and his authoritative-sounding mixture of paradoxes, President Khatami has castigated those who believe that "religion and freedom" do not mix, that "universities are a danger to Islam," or that protecting "national security" means crushing "freedoms."36
The answer to the third question - the likely course of liberalization and reforms in the next few months - is hard to predict at this time with any degree of certainty, due to the increased complexity of current Iranian politics. On the one hand, the conservatives' political weight and legislative clout seem enhanced. Emboldened by the massive show of "popular support" for the rahbar, and by Mr. Khatami's sudden (and perhaps coerced) about-face, rightwing hardliners have stepped up their attack on the president's reform program. ln the immediate aftermath of the crackdown and mass arrests, the president's close ally, the publisher of Salaam daily, was convicted by the clerical court. Dozens of journalists (including Abdallah Nouri, a former vice president and the current editor of Khordad daily) were hauled before conservative-dominated courts. Some pro-Khatami newspapers have been suspended. In a new attempt to reverse the course of liberalization, a new press law has been drafted to restrict freedom of speech in the name of protecting "Islamic values." A comprehensive "political crimes" bill has been prepared by the Judiciary, outlawing any action deemed detrimental or injurious to the regime's sovereignty and security, any criticism of government policies, any information considered weakening the armed forces, any insult to Islamic and revolutionary values, and any contacts between Iranians and foreign media. The reformers' attempt to reduce the vetting power of the Council of Guardians in the selection of future Majles candidates has badly backfired as new legislation by the current Majles has actually expanded the Council's authority over all phases of the upcoming elections. Some 50,000 members of the Basij (national militia) descended on Tehran in mid-August to display their anti-riot potential. A blatantly restrictive election law was provisionally enacted by the Majles whereby the voting age was raised to 16 from 15 (thus reducing the number of potential pro-reform votes by 1.5 million) and banning the display of the leaders' pictures in campaign posters (thus preventing the identification of candidates as Khatami supporters).
At the same time, Ayatollah Khamenei seems to have bent backward to win over some of President Khatami's moderate allies. The hardliner head of the judiciary has been replaced, and some conservative judges have been given less sensitive positions. The Tehran police chief has been dismissed. Seven senior police and security officials involved in the attack on student dorms have been arrested and bound over for trial. Several new dailies have been permitted to publish. The "liberal" interior minister has been allowed by the supreme leader to lead a Tehran Friday prayer. Some new political parties have been legalized to vie in the upcoming elections.
Given the current fluid political climate, it would be naive to assume that the struggle for freedom, human rights and democracy in Iran has come to a standstill. Since none of the underlying causes of the initial protest- unbearable sociocultural restrictions and continued economic hardship - have been effectively dealt with, new political tensions between various factions are bound to flare up again and again. The students' July uprising was neither the first, nor will it be the last, protest against the regime's unreasonable interference in their daily lives. Each turmoil in the past has resulted in some relaxation of restrictions. The same can be expected of future discontents. And violent clashes between extremes within various factions cannot be ruled out.
For the near future, the coveted prize will be the control of the upcoming sixth Majles, to be elected in February 2000. Political tensions between reformist and fundamentalist factions are thus bound to continue and even gradually escalate in the run-up to the elections as the first real test of Mr. Khatami's popularity and his enhanced backing by the supreme leader. After the successful 1999 municipal elections (where Khatami supporters and the independents won the majority of seats) and prior to the July turmoil, the president's star was clearly on the rise, and the chances of his candidates' victory in the next Majles elections were rated quite high. Had he been able to stem the tide of initial student protests on their second day, when world sympathy (including the rahbar's) was with the victims, his chances of capturing the next Majles' majority would have been immensely enhanced. But now every seat is up for grabs. The outcome will largely follow the course of events between now and next February.
In any event, the composition of the next Majles is likely to determine the future of Mr. Khatami's presidency, the direction of his reform program, and Iran's relations with the United States - if not the viability of the Islamic Republic itself. The Islamic Republic has, up to now, managed to survive thanks to a combination of certain supportive factors: drawing on the country's considerable natural resources as well as large accumulated financial and industrial assets inherited from the old regime; blaming its failures on the post revolution trauma, the Iran-Iraq War and Western economic sanctions; and benefiting from the fatalistic and submissive nature of the Iranian masses. Now the inherited wealth has been depleted; excuses have run their course; and the people's patience has been exhausted. As now constituted, the Islamic regime seems incapable of dealing with any of its serious problems, not only because it has failed to march with the times, but largely because it has decided to turn back the clock. A new revolution may not be in the offing, but neither may a sociopolitical implosion be ruled out if the current systemic stalemate is allowed to continue much longer.
1 See Elaine Sciolino, "Chaotic Protests Reign in Tehran," The New York Times, July 14, 1999.
2 For day-to-day details, see Iran Times, July 16 and 23, 1999; and The New York Times, July 14, 15, 16 and 17, 1999.
3 Cf Jahangir Amuzegar, "Iran under New Management," SAIS Review, Winter-Spring 1998.
4 Cf "Two Years After Coming to Power, Khatami Battles Reaction in Iran," Agence France Presse, (AFP) August 4, 1999.
5 See R.M. Gerecht, "Khatami's Key Moment," The New York Times, July 15, 1999.
6 "Iran's Second Revolution?" The Economist, July 17, 1999.
7 Robert Fisk, "Iran's Old Guard Brings Revolution Upon Itself," The Independent, July 14, 1999.
8 See Iran Times, July 16, 1999.
9 See Dilip Hiro, "Another Iranian Revolution?" The Wall Street Journal, July 14, 1999.
10 Iran Times, July 16, 1999.
11 Middle East Economic Digest (MEED), July 23, 1999.
12 Iran Times, July 23, 1999; and MEED, July 23, 1999.
13 Daniel Pearl, "Reformers in Iran Try to Defuse Clashes," The Wall Street Journal, July 14, 1999.
14 The New York Times, July 14, 1999.
15 Daniel Pearl, "Mainstream Iranian Student Group," The Wall Street Journal, July 28, 1999.
16 For details see Iran Times, July 23, 1999.
17 Cf Daniel Pearl, "Persian Gulf," The Wall Street Journal, August 11, 1999.
18 See "Khatami's Key Moment," The New York Times, July 15, 1999, and "Protesting in Tehran," The Economist, July 17, 1999.
19 See Elaine Sciolino, "Turning Tables in Iran," The New York Times, July 15, 1999.
20 See John Lancaster, "Calm in Tehran... " The Washington Post, July 16, 1999.
21 Cf Thomas Omestad, "Faithful, but fed-up," U.S. News and World Report, July 26, 1999.
22 Cf Geneive Abdo, "From Revolution to Revelations," Middle East Report, Summer 1999; and Fen Montaigne, "Reform vs. Revolution," The New York Times, July 14, 1999.
23 Iran Times, July 16, 1999.
24 See "Protesting in Tehran," The Economist, July 17, 1999.
25 The confidential letter was later published by the right-wing newspaper Kayhan, July 19, 1999.
26 Iran Times, July 30, 1999.
27 Speech in the city of Hamadan, AFP, July 28, 1999.
28 See "Iran: Riots Jolt Khatami," MEED, July 23, 1999.
29 The Economist, August 21, 1999.
30 AFP, July 28, 1999.
31 The Economist, August 21, 1999.
32 See Hamshahri, August 25, 1999, Islamic Republic News Agency (!RNA), August 24, 1999.
33 Address to City and Village Councilors, IRNA, May 23, 1999.
34 Address to publishers, IRNA, May 18, 1999.
35 BBC News, July 27, 1999.
36 BBC News, July 28, 1999.