May 22, 2001 Special Dispatch No. 219

Khatami's Speech in the 'Majlis'

May 22, 2001
Iran | Special Dispatch No. 219

On March 11, 2001, President Muhammad Khatami, the leading Reformist candidate in the upcoming Iranian election [June 8th], addressed the Iranian Parliament [the Majlis]. His speech was broadcast live on the Iranian radio. However, his criticism against his political opponents was censored in the Iranian press. A full version of his speech was reported by the London daily Al- Hayat[1]. The following are the main issues discussed by Khatami:

Reformists Vs. Conservatives

Khatami criticized the attempt to frighten the Iranian people before his election to President in 1997, by claiming that his reign will cause a setback for Islam in Iran, the Revolution and the security of the State. Not only is the Islamic Revolution not threatened under his reign, but his rule is a 'huge opportunity' for the Islamic Revolution. Khatami rejected the 'provocative' accusations [by his opponents] that the Reformists headed by him are opposed the Islamic Revolution: "All the Iranian people," he said, "want reforms that will be logical and within the framework of the constitution." Khatami warned, referring to the murder of Iranian intellectuals in 1998, that the "real danger to Iranian society comes from the existence of an 'extremist group' within the institutions of the government in Iran." "The whole people of Iran have suffered serious blows at the hands of this group," said Khatami, but he managed to stop the series of purges of intellectuals and reformists.

Khatami further criticized his opponents for their refusal to accept the changing times and the will of the people, claiming that they may be regarded as the enemies of the people. "There are two groups that stand against the Reforms. One opposes any progress and stubbornly insists on moving on this uncompromising road. The second consists of those who see any progress in society as connected to 'Foreign Elements'. They are worried that any development is the beginning of the change in the Iranian Revolution and government..."

"The expectations of both groups do not comply with the real reform sought by the Iranian people who want civil rights and oppose an approach based on a security-oriented worldview in public life, especially in the realm of culture and politics, because this approach strengthens the means of [government] control of Iranian society."

"The strategy of prohibition and of [limiting] knowledge and culture, as well as the excessive dissemination of propaganda every day, prompt a clash of values between the government and the society. As a result two cultures are emerging in Iran." "Why not," asked Khatami, "blame those who seek to stop the Reforms as being connected with the enemy?"

The Role of Social and Ideological Changes

Khatami mentioned several significant social changes that occurred in Iranian society since the Islamic Revolution in 1979: "The huge urbanization, the growth of the middle class and the emergence of deep economic gaps within Iranian society." These developments culminated in a "change in the value system in Iran." "Today," he said, "there are new ideological groups within society and the role of intellectuals and academics has significantly grown, which is why various sectors of Iranian society felt they can demand the strengthening of the constitution as the source [of authority] and the principle by which society should be conducted."

Freedom,Democracy, and the Constitution

Khatami stressed the need to anchor basic values such as freedom and democracy to the constitution, which he regarded as "the huge achievement of the Islamic revolution."

However, he was careful to package this call in an Islamic guise. He elaborated on the need "to establish a religious democratic regime" which was preached by the Islamic revolution: "Imam Khomeine too," he said, "preached the establishment of a democratic regime..." "This is what we heard from Imam Khomeine, that the wishes of the people are the criteria by which the regime should go. There is no other way but to accept the people's democratic religious regime."

Khatami stated that there is no contradiction between Islam and individual rights and that the Islamic Republic embodies the ideal combinations of both Islam and freedom. "The Religion complies with human rights and civil rights; freedom complies with Islamic cultural values. The Islamic Republic was created for the sake of this combination."

Khatami's Achievements

Khatami mentioned various achievements of his era:

1) The rise in the participation of civilians in political life.

2) The rising role played by the media.

3) Courts and trials are now conducted in open doors and became transparent and public [although some trials are still handled behind closed doors].

"Today," concluded Khatami, "the citizens know their rights and know the limits of the government and what it can do."

[1] London daily Al- Hayat on May 1st and 2nd, 2001 and Kayhan March 11 and 12th, 2001.

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