8 May 2003

Scholars Say that Iran has Potential for Democratic Reform from Within

(Seminar on the future of Iran examines the ferment in Iranian
society) (780)
By Afzal Khan
Washington File Special Correspondent

Washington -- Several scholars at a seminar on the future of Iran at
the American Enterprise Institute on May 6 believe that democratic
reforms will come gradually from within that country.

"Iran like Israel and Turkey can change from within," said Bernard
Hourcade, a senior research fellow at the Centre National de Recherche
Scientifique in Paris, France. According to Hourcade, Iran is already
"a post-modern state" and the struggle for democratic reforms inside
Iran is much more sophisticated and complex than merely a struggle
between Islam and modernity.

Hourcade said that the only country in the Middle East that one can
rely on for future stability in the region is Iran.

Hourcade said that unlike Saudi Arabia and Algeria, Iran has
experienced political Islam. According to him, the three forces
operating in Iranian society are nationalism, Islam and the desire to
move into the 21st century through developments in science and
technology. He said the main aim of the reformers in Iran is to find a
balance between these forces and divide political power equally
between nationalists, Islamic clerics and technocrats.

Hourcade said that Iran is at a crossroads today because the ruling
Islamic regime is pressured by the majority of its young population
demanding more reforms and U.S. forces occupying Iraq. Many Iranian
leaders believe it has become more urgent for Iran to develop nuclear
weapons to defend itself especially in the light of the fact that its
arsenal of conventional weapons is outdated, he said.

Hourcade also cautioned that it was wishful thinking to envision a new
Iran without a strong streak of Islam. He said the main aim of the
1979 Iranian Revolution was to gain independence for Iran from foreign
intervention and influence, but at the same time Islam was one of its
slogans. Hourcade said that even the very democratic and wine-drinking
technocrats in Tehran have at least 10 percent of Islam in them.

Hourcade said that there were new elites in Iran today composed of
technocrats and progressive clerics who want the country to be in the
21st century. The old guard who ushered in the revolution in 1979 is
slowly losing power, he said.

Guy Dinmore, a diplomatic correspondent in Washington for the
Financial Times of London, said business is thriving in Iran.
According to Dinmore, the Tehran stock market is perhaps the
second-best in the world with steady profits for investors. He said
Western investment was encouraged, and recently a German company took
majority control of its partnership with an Iranian company.

Dinmore said the Khatami government in Iran is slowly opening up the
private sector. He noted that Iran issued two Eurobonds in 2002. Also,
the Iranian riyal has appreciated slightly against the U.S. dollar,
and Iran's foreign exchange reserves are a healthy $20 billion,
according to Dinmore.

Dinmore said that although rule of the law in the Western sense was
not prevalent in Iran, there were some notable examples of
transparency being practiced in some Islamic courts with automatic
death sentences being commuted and lawyers being provided.

Dinmore noted that Iran's population is nearly 70 million and growing
rapidly, with the majority of them young people. He said the
reformist-minded President Mohammad Khatami is liked and even
worshiped by some. However, he noted that Khatami lacked power.

Ladan Boroumand, a French-educated historian from Iran, said that one
Iranian university has concluded that 85 percent of Iranians want a
referendum to determine the form of government and that most Iranians
want to renew ties with the United Sates.

Ladan said that Iranian intellectual elites have a strong hatred for
the kind of totalitarianism practiced by the present regime. According
to her, these elites believe in "man being defined by his rights and
not his duties."

Ladan said that there was a strong undercurrent of a pro-democracy
movement for secular government in Iran. She noted that the 1979
revolution was alien to the traditions of Iran and that Khomeini had
actually ushered in a totalitarian regime and not really an Islamic

In the question-and-answer session that followed, an Iranian-American
scholar in the audience pointed out to Ladan that the main opponents
of the Islamic regime in Iran today were not the students but the
two-million strong bureaucracy who want greater efficiency in the
administration. He said that "proto-democracy" prevails in Iran today
and not "proto-totalitarianism." He noted that the tyrannical aspect
of the present regime was reflected mostly in its social laws.

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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