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Sunday, 11 November, 2001, 15:14 GMT Iranian dissidents on trial
President Khatami (right) is 'concerned' at arrests
By the BBC's Jim Muir
Twenty-five dissidents have gone on trial in Iran, accused of plotting to overthrow the country's Islamic regime.
The hearing is being held behind closed doors in the capital, Teheran.
The defendants are part of a liberal opposition group, the Freedom Movement, which was banned in March.
The trial is part of a campaign by the hard-line judiciary against advocates of greater democracy.
The prosecution has been condemned by international human rights groups, and by reformists within Iran, including President Mohammad Khatami.
Security was tight around the revolutionary court in central Teheran as the trial got underway.
Journalists were barred from the court, and were not allowed even to stand outside in the street.
Lawyers for the accused have been warned not to talk to the press, so information is scarce.
'Plot' details sketchy
The 25 opposition activists on trial are accused of acting against national security and plotting to overthrow the regime.
These charges could carry the death penalty, although all but six of the accused were eventually released on bail after being arrested in April.
The arrests were part of a broader crackdown by the hard-line judiciary against liberal figures advocating greater democracy.
They were seen as part of an ongoing struggle between diehard conservatives, who control the judiciary, and reformists led by President Khatami.
Concern in parliament
Members of the reformist-dominated parliament are also concerned.
Four parliamentary commissions have asked for members to be allowed to attend the trials.
Reformist leaders say political trials should be held in public before a jury.
Intelligence Minister Ali Younessi had earlier reported to parliament that the Freedom Movement's activities did not justify the charges laid against its members by the judiciary.
An international human rights organisation, Human Rights Watch, said the court proceedings fell far short of international standards for fair trials.
It said the only crime of the accused was to have exercised their right of free assembly and expression, adding that they were being used as pawns in a power struggle.
Monday, 31 December, 2001, 20:51 GMT Row deepens over jailed Iranian MP
Iranians are divided over the issue of political immunity
By Roger Hardy BBC Middle East analyst
There is mounting political tension in Iran after a member of parliament was jailed for insulting the country's conservative judiciary.
Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has refused to intervene to stop the prosecution of reformist deputies, an issue which has sharply divided reformists and conservatives alike.
Having already closed down most of the country's reformist newspapers and jailed dozens of liberal writers and intellectuals, Iran's hardline judiciary is now directing its fire at reformists in parliament.
Some 60 deputies are currently being prosecuted for expressing their opinions.
On Sunday, hundreds of people took to the streets in the western town of Hamedan to protest against the imprisonment of their MP, Hossein Loghmanian.
Eleven people were arrested after clashes with police.
Ayatollah Khamenei has called on parliament and the judiciary to treat one another with respect - but he has refused to come down on one side or the other.
To the reformists that suggests he is giving the judiciary a free hand.
However, the head of the judiciary, the Iraqi-born Ayatollah Shahrudi, in a statement Monday suggested the heads of the three branches of government - the judiciary, the legislature and the executive - should get together to try to resolve the issue.
This may represent an olive branch to the reformist deputies.
But whatever the outcome of this latest confrontation, six months after the re-election of the country's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, the mood among the reformists is one of despondency and frustration over the constant erosion of their power.
Sunday, 13 January, 2002, 18:37 GMT Iranian MPs stage walkout
MPs say the judiciary is trying to destroy parliament
By Jim Muir BBC Tehran correspondent
About 60 reformist deputies in the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, have staged a brief walkout from parliament to protest against the recent jailing of one of their colleagues.
They are also protesting against the prosecution of other MPs by the judiciary, which is widely seen as a bastion of right-wing power.
The confrontation between the reformist-dominated parliament and the judiciary is the latest focus for an increasingly heated struggle between the two factions.
The man at the centre of the current row is Hossein Loghmanian, the elected member of parliament for the western city of Hamedan.
He was arrested and jailed over two weeks ago, to the outrage of his colleagues.
He had been sentenced to 10 months imprisonment on charges of insulting the judiciary in remarks he had made on the floor of the house.
At least two other MPs also have prison sentences hanging over them but they have not yet been arrested. And it is believed that as many as 60 others may have cases pending against them.
The reformists, who dominate the Majlis, see all this as a concerted campaign by the hardline judiciary to thwart the will of the people as expressed in all recent elections.
They believe the prosecutions are in clear violation of the constitution, which establishes parliamentary immunity.
That view is supported by reformist President Mohammed Khatami, but the judiciary and its hard-line supporters have argued that Mr Loghmanian and others have broken the law and that there is no immunity for that.
All efforts to reconcile the confrontation between Majlis and judiciary have so far failed.
Some reformist deputies have spoken of staging mass resignations or demanding a referendum. Others have called on the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to intervene, but so far he has been non-committal.
The reformists believe the next step will be the prosecution of numerous reformist deputies on economic corruption charges as part of a right-wing scheme they believe is aimed at bringing the parliament down.
Their conservative critics however, accuse the reformists themselves of attacking the judiciary precisely in order to head off such corruption prosecutions.
As the climate becomes even more embittered, the crisis over Afghanistan is also drawn into the equation.
Reformists are warning the hardliners that by tarnishing the image of Iranian democracy abroad and behaving like the Taleban, they may be preparing the way for eventual western intervention against Iran.
While the right-wingers accuse the liberals themselves of trying to precipitate just such a development as part of a plot to overthrow the Islamic system and to save their own political lives.
Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 11:36 GMT Iranian leader pardons reformist MP
MPs say the judiciary is trying to destroy parliament Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has pardoned a jailed reformist MP after a walkout by members of parliament.
The walkout was led by reformist speaker Mehdi Karroubi, who declared he would not preside over the 290-seat body until the deputy was released.
The MP, Hossein Loghmanian, was jailed last month for allegedly insulting the judiciary in a speech to parliament, which is dominated by hardline conservatives.
Ayatollah Khamenei said in a letter read on state television that he had accepted a request for the pardon from judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi.
The BBC's Jim Muir said the face-saving device temporarily eases the intensifying confrontation between MPs and the conservative dominated judiciary.
The dramatic walkout from parliament brought to a head weeks of protests by MPs, who accuse the courts of ignoring their immunity by prosecuting deputies for statements made inside parliament and at political meetings.
Mr Loghmanian, a veteran of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, made the comments that led to his conviction in a speech to parliament last month.
Mr Karroubi described his 10-month sentence as unprecedented in the country's history and an "unacceptable blow" to parliament's constitutional rights.
More than 200 deputies left the chamber with him, leaving only 48 behind.
The speaker made it clear he was not resigning, but the move represented, in effect, a strike.
"I will sit in my office and will not lead the parliamentary sessions until this problem is resolved," he said.
Our correspondent says the pardon may have eased the present crisis, but underlying issues remain unresolved.
Two other MPs have received prison sentences but have not been jailed, and dozens more face prosecution.
Senior members of the hardline judiciary have also said that immunity for parliamentarians is an un-Islamic concept.
Until the pardon, Ayatollah Khamenei had remained non-committal during the long-running confrontation between the Majlis and the judiciary.
He has said only that the law was clear and that there were existing mechanisms for settling disputes.
The judiciary is accused of pursuing a factional vendetta aimed at paralysing the reformists, who won a landslide victory in the last elections.
The judiciary argues that the deputies have broken the law and must face the consequences.
It has been the main instrument for a right-wing crackdown which has seen dozens of newspapers banned and many liberal figures jailed in the past few years.
Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 15:23 GMT Released Iranian MP demands change
Loghmanian's release is seen as a reformist victory A member of the Iranian parliament has returned to a hero's welcome from other legislators after his release from prison.
The MP, Hossein Loghmanian, was embraced and given wreaths of flowers as he walked into the chamber.
He had been imprisoned for criticising the judiciary but, after an outcry and a walkout of parliament led by the speaker, he was pardoned and freed yesterday by Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In a defiant speech to mark his return, Mr Loghmanian again called for greater freedoms in Iran and declared that a system which blocks reform would eventually collapse.
"What I had said from this podium was not a crime, it was a pronouncement of the nation's pain and suffering," Mr Loghmanian told the parliament in comments carried live by state radio.
"An establishment that blocks the paths to reform and closes the doors to public criticism and protest will not survive, it will implode.
"Accepting the nation's demands, recognising (opposition) groups, respecting the independence of senior religious leaders...is the only factor that can save the system."
Mr Loghmanian's release is seen as a rare victory for the reformists, supported by President Mohammad Khatami, in their long struggle with the hardliners.
It followed weeks of protests by MPs, who accused the courts of ignoring their immunity by prosecuting deputies for statements made inside parliament and at political meetings.
Mr Loghmanian, who lost a leg in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, had served three weeks of his 10-month sentence.
The release throws into question the fate of two other MPs who were also sentenced to jail.
They are still free, and any move to imprison them could trigger another battle of wills between parliament and the judiciary.
Over the past two years, about 60 reformist MPs have been summoned to appear before the courts facing mainly political charges.
Reformers say the clampdown is politically motivated.
Correspondents say the pardon may have eased the present crisis, but underlying issues remain unresolved.
For a start, the pardon does not signify that Mr Loghmanian is innocent - merely that the man at the top of Iran's political pyramid has chosen to exercise clemency.
Furthermore, the head of the highly conservative Council of Guardians, which vets legislation, has ruled that parliamentary immunity is not an Islamic concept.
Until the pardon, Ayatollah Khamenei had remained non-committal during the long-running confrontation between parliament and the judiciary.
He has said only that the law was clear and that there were existing mechanisms for settling disputes.
Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 11:45 GMT Tackling Aids in Iran Engaged couples have to attend Aids awareness classes By Jim Muir in Zahedan, Iran
Despite its strong attachment to religious values, the Islamic Republic of Iran has thrown its weight behind an extremely enlightened campaign to combat the Aids virus, an affliction normally associated with such un-Islamic practices as intravenous drug abuse and extra-marital sex.
So far, the figures are low by international standards.
Officials say that nationally, something over 3,400 HIV positive cases have been identified, with nearly 400 cases of full-blown Aids, of whom 350 have died.
But officials are far from complacent.
The spread of drug abuse and related patterns of crime and prostitution could create conditions for a much bigger explosion of the deadly virus.
"The numbers are low, but the burden is heavy," said Dr Mohammad Mehdi Goya, of the Iran University of Medical Science, who is helping direct the national campaign.
"It could definitely get much more serious - we're no different from any other country in the world in that respect."
At the cutting edge of this campaign is the province of Sistan Baluchistan, abutting the Pakistani and Afghan borders in the far south-east of the country.
Although it has low HIV positive rates, officials regard it as particularly vulnerable and have launched a vigorous, taboo-busting public awareness campaign that is hard to ignore.
Step off the plane at the airport of the provincial capital, Zahedan, and a huge poster declaring "Aids - the Plague of the Century" confronts you as you wait for your baggage.
Elsewhere in town, enormous placards carry the same message.
The local health department created and sponsored dramatic video advertisements which have been carried on local TV.
They pull no punches.
They show junkies sharing needles as they shoot up in a park, and advise the use of condoms to avoid the spread of the virus through sexual contact.
They explain that the virus can also be transferred through innocent everyday practices such as ear-piercing, shared razor blades, tattooing or even borrowing a toothbrush.
And they try to prevent Aids victims from being demonised.
"Aids sufferers have done nothing wrong. They should not be driven out of society, the workplace, or the family."
National figures show that more than 60% of HIV positive cases involve intravenous drug abusers sharing infected needles, while only about 25% have caught the virus through sexual contact.
But in Sistan Baluchistan, the proportions are reversed - an estimated 64% of the cases are sexually transmitted, while the drug abuse figure is much lower.
Officials attribute this to the region's special location and social conditions.
"There is a lot of labour migration from here across the border to Pakistan and across the Gulf to the Arab countries," said Dr Mohammad Taghi Tabataba'i, who heads the Zahedan Health Department's campaign.
"There is a lot of polygamy in this area, so migrant workers who get infected give it to all their wives," he added.
"That's one reason why we also have a much higher percentage of women sufferers here than nationally.
"On top of that, we are astride a major drug smuggling route from Afghanistan, so drugs are cheap here and addicts come from other areas to indulge their habit."
Special attention is given to screening high-risk groups such as prisoners, a large majority of whom are in jail for drug-related offences, and many of whom inject heroin intravenously to maximise its effect.
Once HIV positive cases are identified, they and their families are registered and given special counselling on what they should and should not do, at a discreet new centre opened recently above an existing clinic which dispenses advice and information to engaged couples.
The clinic is part of an impressive arsenal being deployed at grass-roots level to spread information about Aids.
Young couples are obliged to attend the clinic, where they are given a blood test for thalassaemia (a common inherited disorder here ) and they cannot get married without the requisite certificate of attendance.
But part of the system now is that they are also given classes in Aids awareness, and later fill in a questionnaire to test their knowledge of how the virus is transmitted and how to avoid it.
"It's really useful," said one groom. "I knew nothing at all about Aids until I came here."
Religious elders have also been enlisted to help, and even this most conservative - and influential - sector of society has responded positively, spreading the word among the faithful attending prayers in the city's mosques.
"Aids is there, we can't deny it, and we have to have to help prevent it, because that's the only cure," said Nabil Allah, as he sat among a group of bearded sages being taught about Aids by a Health Department official.
From local health centres serving each district, voluntary health workers, many of them young girls, hold classes in private houses in which even young children are taught the basics of Aids transmission and avoidance.
Spearheading the drive, Dr Mohammad-Reza Miradi from the Zahedan Health Centre does not flinch from unfurling a condom in front of a roomful of chador-clad women, who giggle and hide their faces in embarrassment.
"Don't be shy about it, this is important," he tells them. "Using a condom is the only way to be sure you won't catch the virus from sexual contact."
"The most important part of my job is teaching people to use condoms," he said later.
"If I left that out, it would be a betrayal. Health education must be carried out without censorship.
"As a doctor, I just have to tell them that this little rubber barrier can protect them from this virus that has become so universal."
There are still some areas where campaigners would like to see more advance - such as needle-exchange programmes and drug replacement treatment in jails and rehabilitation centres.
But Iran has led the way in the region in adopting a frank, realistic and humane approach to a problem that is all too often swept under the carpet, but will not go away.
Friday, 8 February, 2002, 04:02 GMT Iran blocks new UK ambassador
Relations had been improving between the countries
By James Robbins BBC diplomatic correspondent
Britain's improving relations with Iran have suffered a major reverse.
The government in Tehran has rejected Britain's choice of a new ambassador.
David Reddaway was denounced by conservative Iranian newspapers, which speak for the country's hardline clerics.
They called him a Jewish MI6 spy. In fact Mr Reddaway is not Jewish and the British Government denies he is in MI6, its foreign intelligence service.
Mr Reddaway has served as a diplomat in Iran twice before, speaks Farsi and has an Iranian wife.
But even Prime Minister Tony Blair's efforts to get him accepted by the Iranians have now been rebuffed.
Mr Blair discussed the issue in a telephone conversation with Iran's modernising President Khatami last month.
After 11 September, Britain's improving relations with Iran moved even closer, recognising that moderates in Iran condemned the attacks on America.
'Axis of evil'
The rejection of Mr Reddaway is being seen as another victory for hardliners in Iran who are determined to destroy the work of reformers in developing closer ties with London.
They may have been spurred on by US President George W Bush, who denounced Iran last week as part of an "axis of evil", bracketing the country with Iraq and North Korea as supporters of terrorism.
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw distanced himself firmly from that position, but many months spent trying to encourage moderates in Iran have come to nothing.
Mr Straw has visited Tehran twice - the first UK foreign secretary to set foot in the country since the fall of the Shah in 1979.
NY18 Feb 2002
LETTER FROM TEHRAN SHADOW LAND
winning the fight for lran's future? BY JOE KLEIN
On the evening of September 11, 2001, about two hundred young people gathered in Madar Square, on the north side of Tehran, in a spontaneous candlelight vigil to express sympathy and support for the United States. A second vigil, the next night, was attacked by the bas@, a volunteer force of religious vigilantes, and then dispersed by the police. The vigils may have been the only pro-American demonstrations in the Islamic world after the terron'st attacks on the United States. "It was what we all were feeling," said a young teacher I met; he had stayed home with his wife, these are not their real names-nervously watching the unimaginable television images from Amer-
ica. "But I was also worried: Would the Americans blame Iran for this? How would our government respond? Would we express sympathy and condemn the attacks, or would it be a Marg bar, "Death to America" reaction? Finally, at ten o'clock, Khatami came on and expressed sympathy. What a relief!" The statement that Mohammad Khatami, Iran's popularly elected President, made was extraordinary to American ears, at least. "My deep sympathy goes out to the American nation, particularly those who have suffered from the attacks and also the families of the victims," he said. "Terrorism is doomed, and the international community should stem it and take effective measures in a bid to eradicate it." Three months later, Ava, who is also a teacher, sat in the comfortable, rose-colored living room of the couple's North Tehran flat, listening to her husband. She is a bright and fiery woman, and this was a rare moment of repose. 'Do you want to know what I was really worried about?" she said, pausing for ironic effect. "Woody Alien. I didn't want him to die. I wanted to know that he was aff right. I love his films." But wasn't she pleased by President Khatami's statement? "Khatami! I don't believe in Khatami. I believe in Superman." She shrugged and raised her eyebrows. "At least in the world of Superman there is a certain logic. There are 91 rules. There is no logic in the world of Khatami. He's just part of an irrational system. At the top of the system is the Supreme Leader." This is actually a constitutional office, occupied by the chef religious figure in the country. Its first and most memorable, occupant was Ar atollah Ruhollah Khomeini; since Khomeini's death, in 1989, the office has been held, less notably, by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "But nobody believes in the Supreme Leader," she went on. "Everybody believes in Khatami. Everybody votes for Khatami, who has none of the power. Nobody votes for the conservatives, but they have all of the power. So I like the fantasy of Supen-nan better than the fantasy of Khatami." Mohammad Khatami is, indeed, a curious public figure. He is fifty-eight years old, and even his opponents concede that he is a gentle, charming, and teamed man. He is a popular, charismatic politician; women consider him sexy, clean-cut, an elegant dresser. ("When he was elected President, I pasted pictures of him all over my car," a young woman who was studying insurance finance at a local business school told me. "I don't know why I did that. I never do things like that.") He has been elected President twice, by large majon'ties; his first election, in 1997, came as a shock to Iran's clerical establishment and launched what seemed a significant political reform movement. But Khatami and his allies have no control over the military, the police, or the courts, and there is a growing sense now that he is only a mirage-a courtly shimmer of intellectuality and moderation masking a brutal, obstinate, and impenetrable system. In fact, the Marg bar Amrika chants returned to Iranian pubec discourse two weeks after the World Trade Center attack, when the Supreme Leader spoke in Tehran. Ali Khamenei is, in his way, every bit as curious a figure as Khatami. Khamenei's position is impossible: his image is twinned everywhere with AyatoRah Khomeini's on giant wall murals and in pubec offices, and he suffers in comparison. Khamenei, who wears thick eyeglasses, seems bland and slightly befuddled next to Khomeini's eternal glower. Khamenei tries to emulate his predecessor's vehemence at times, but his public statements tend to be pedestrian and vituperative, if such a combination is possible, and his reaction to America's call for an anti-Taliban coaefion in Afghanistan was typically obtuse. "You, who have always caused blows to Iran's interests," Khamenei said, referring to the "incompetent" American government and its "disgusting" cam a' "How d e you p ign against terrorism. ar request help [from us] in order to attack the innocent Mushm nation of Afghanistan, which has suffered and which is our neighbor? ... The Islamic Republic of Iran will not participate in any move which is headed by the United States." Khamenei's statement was not definitive, though. Two days later, at the Friday prayers at Tehran University, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who had preceded Khatami as President and remains a prominent political forceannounced yet another modification of Iran's position: "Despite all the differences we have ... and if the United States does not want to impose its ideas, we can become a member of a U.N.-led antiterror coalition." There were fiirther shadings by other public officials over the next few weeks, none of which quite acknowledged the reality of the situation: Iran and the United States were momentary allies. The Iranians had always opposed the Taliban; they were longtime supporters of the Northern Alliance rebels, especially the warlord Ismail Khan, whose territory, around the city of Herat, is close to Iran's eastern border. When the war began in Afghanistan, Iran joined the so-called six-plus-two talks (the six neighboring countries to Afghanistan plus the United States and Russia) aimed at establishing a post-Taliban government; at one of the meetings at the U.N., Colin Powell shook hands with Kamal Kharrazi, the Iranian Foreign Ministev-the first official contact between the two nations since 1979, when the Shah was overthrown. The Iranians quietly agreed to rescue American fliers downed in their territory, and allowed American food rehef to be unloaded in a Persian Gulf port. But the rapprochement was temporary; now Iran has been included, along with North Korea and Iraq, in President BusHs "axis of [email protected] designation that the Supreme Leader responded to by saying, "The Islamic Republic is proud to be the target of the rage and hatred of the world's greatest Satan." Iran seems to have increased its support of radical Islamic groups like Hezbollah and Hamas since September llth; in early January, the IsraeEs intercepted a ship, the Karine A, carrying fifty tons of arms apparently donated by Iran's Revolutionary Guards-an 61ite militia controlled by the clerics-to the Palestinian Authority. (Iran has denied the connection.) This was a puzzling escalation, according to American security experts. Ship traffic in the Persian Gulf is closely monitored; the Iranians had to know that the scheme would be found out. Indeed, it almost seemed an intentional effort to infuriate the United States and burnish Iran's radical credentials in the Islamic world. But,just as the Iranian government had taken at least three different pubhc positions on the September llth attacks, so it stood on rapprochement with the United States, support for the Palestinian rejectionists, and almost every other public issue: there are shadings and subtleties, conflicting statements and occasional outrages. A purposeful opacity seems the only rule. "Iran is a kaleidoscope," says Kenneth Pollack, who is the deputy director of national-security studies for the Council on Foreign Relations and who was a director for Persian Gulf @rs at the National Security Council during the Clinton Administration. "There are fourteen dozen different positions on each issue, and it is very difficult to say with any certainty which of the insiders support which position. Khatami indicated a willingness to accommodate the United States on the three basic areas important to America: weapons of mass destruction, the Palestinian question, and Iran's covert-intelligence activities. But he couldn't get anywhere with Khamenei and the hard-liners. It's not impossible that some of them were sending a message to Khatami as well as to us with the Karine A."
Khatami, Khamenei, Khomeini, Rafsanjani: the names are easily confused by inattentive Westerners, who tend to have only two indelible images of post-revolutionary Iran-the fiirious visage of Ayatollah Khomeini and, in 1979, the blindfolded, stumbling Americans held hostage in the Tehran Embassy compound by radical students. Iran's upheaval was the first successfiil religious revolution in the Islamic world, threatening not only to the West but also to the sectaar dictators and royal families who controlled every other nafion in the region. The new Islamic Republic of Iran went through an early messianic phase, in which the country's Shiites attempted to export Islamic radicalism-a difficult sale in a world where eighty-five per cent of Muslims are Sunni. Iran was particularly active in Lebanon, where American hostages were seized in the nineteen-eighties, and the United States Embassy and Marine barracks were bombed in 1983. Two years ofjacobin terror N"'thin Iran ended ordy when Iraqs Saddam Hussein invaded and an unspeakably brutal eightyear war ensued, in which at least three hundred thousand Iranians were killed. Khomeini died in 1989,just after a sullen truce took hold. The second decade of the Islamic RepubEc was a fretfid attempt to recover from war and mayhem. A glacial power struggle has followed. Indeed, in Iran it is practically impossible to get a clear answer to the simplest of questions: Who is running this country? Quite often, the response is nervous laughter. Academics, when asked, will draw inconclusive flow charts of the govemment's structure: there are shadow institutions everywhere-regular courts and clerical courts, a regular army and a revolutionary army, an elected pareament and a clerical Council of Guardians. At the top of these charts sits the Supreme Leadei-but Ayatollah Khamenei is widely regarded as a mediocrity, and no one seems entirely convinced that he is actually in charge. The most vehement, and surprisingly frequent, answer to the question tends to be the most melodramatic. "There is a small group, a dark group, that really runs the country," a prominent Tehran businessman told me. "They dedde who is assassinated and who is arrested, they threaten and blackmail the leaders. They never speak publicly." But, then, Iranians are inveterate conspiracy theorists; there are always international cabals directed against their nation, inevitably orchestrated by either the British, who held the country as a semicolony after the discovery of oil, or the Americans. There is sufficient evidence of Anglo-American misbehavior to make this theory credible: there was the C.I.A.-sponsored coup that toppled the popular, nationalist Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, and restored the Shah to power, in 1953; there was the continuing American support for the ShWs vicious secret service, the SAVAK; there was the covert but obvious support for Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War (including, the conspiracy theorists insist, the provision of chemical and biological weaponry); there was the accidental shooting down of an Iran Air jumbojet over the Persian Gulf, in 1988, which nobody believes was an accident. "Is it not possible that Bush himself orchestrated the September llth attacks?" a college professor in Isfahan asked me after an hour of careful, sophisticated political analysis. "He did not really win the election, and this was a way to unite the nation behind him." And so [email protected] comic-book metaphor carries with it a fiindamental truth: Iran, at times, can seem like Bizarre World, the shattered, doppelgdnger planet from the Superman comic books. Western visitors note the difference between the austerity of public life and the normality of private life: for years, the most popular ournalistic image has been of Iranian women wearing designer dresses beneath their chadors. A pirated version of Victoria's Secret recently opened in Tehran7----no lingen'e is visible from the street, of course. Cosmetic surgery is all the rage. "We are the world capital of nosejobs,"an lranian woman writer told "Think about it-when the mullahs took away our bodies, all we had left were our faces. Look at the noses on the street. You'll see." But the most striking thing about the street is how relaxed it is. There isn't an oppressive police or military presence, and not much of a religious presence, either: few muflahs wander about (except in Qom, the religious center, and a few other holy sites). Indeed, there is little sense of the political fervor common to "the street" in other Islanu'c countries. Iranians are still recuperating from their radical moment. "We want a refolution, not a revolution," Hamid Reza Jalaipour, a newspaper publisher who wasjaAed briefly, said. He was referring to the radical reforms many Iranians are seeking. "We've had enough violence." Most Westerners who visit Iran are surprised by how unexceptionauy modern it is: it has little of the seething poverty or primitive clannishness common in neighboring Central and South Asian countries. The economy is said to be stagnant, and unemployment is relatively high, but oil revenues subsidize food and housing for the poor and gasoline for the middle class (which costs five cents per litre). Tehran, a city of putty-colored buildings tucked against the Alborz Mountains, wreathed in smog and overwhelmed by a perpetual traffic jam, resembles no place so much as it does Los Angeles. On the north side of town, creeping up between the knuckles of the Alborz foothills, there are affluent neighborhoods with highrise apartment buildings and fancy shops. Satellite dishes, although illegal, are becoming popular anyway; and Intemet use is apparently resistant to intermittent attempts by the government to regulate it. Near Tehran University, there is a row of bookstores (roughly eighty per cent of Iran's population is literate and seventy per cent is under the age of thirty) that sell practically everythingexcept, perhaps, the works of Salman Rushdie. Most of the anti-American murals around town have been removed, e,xcept on the walls surrounding the old United States Embassy compound, and those seem anachronistic and pitiful: "On the day the U.S. will praise us," one reads, "we will mourn."
For several years-especially after Khatami was first elected Presidentthat day seemed imminent. But the public and private faces of Iran have reversed themselves in the Islamic revolution's second generation. Khatami provides a public image of moderation. Privately, however, the government is, in some ways, as intemperate as ever; it is certainly more desperate now, facing a public that, for the first time since the overffirow of the Shah, is obviously hostile. The conservative counterattack has largely succeeded in neutralizing the reform movement. Those close to Khatami-and, apparently, Khatami himself-fear that the moment for reform may have come and gone. "He did not want to be a candidate for re-election in 2001," said Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a mullah who has been one of Khatami's closest associates for twenty years. "He thought that there was no way to make progress on reform. But his friends convinced him to run. We said even if there is slow movement toward reform it is better than nothing."
Khatami didn't particularly want to be a candidate for President in 1997, either. His political career, which had been a tastefid, aristocratic amble toward prominence, had taken a detour. He had been ousted as Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance in 1992, apparently for entertaining the possibility that Islamic guidance did not need to be dogmatic. He was shuffled off to become head of the National Library, a position that seems to have delighted him. He spent five years there, reading, communing with intellectuals, and waiting. After the revolution, Presidential elections in Iran had been fairly inconsequential: the Presidential candidate, usually selected without much fiiss by the Supreme Leader, was meant to be a managerial sort. He could serve for two consecutive terms and-since there [email protected] much in the way of democracy on offer-he inevitably did. Rafsanjani, Iran's ultimate and seemingly eternal pragmatist, ended his second term as President in 1997. Ali Akbar NateqNouri, the Speaker of the parliament, was expected to float into power simply because he had been designated. However, there was a small group of reformers who believed that it was time to test the democracy promised in the Islamic constitution. They wanted to propose their own candidate for President, a long shot-a thoughtful, unthreatening protest candidate, the Persian equivalent of Eugene McCarthy. "Khatami was in Lebanon, visiting libraries or some such thing," Karim Arghandehpour, an editor at Nowrooz, the leading reform newspaper, recalls. "I was working at another paper, Salam, then' Salam has since been closed by the mullahs 'and several of our editors and other reformists decided to propose Khatami for President. We printed a front-page color photo of him. He was very upset. 'I haven't been consulted about this,'he said." Salam's initiative evoked a surprising response. Suddenly, afl sorts of people were asking Khatami to run. "I was among those pushing for the idea of Khatami as President," Hadi Semati, a political-science professor at Tehran University, said. "He said,'You haven't found anyone stupider than me to do this?'But he was perfect! He wasn't a typical politician. He wasn't a politician at all. He was a thinker. At the National Library, he had been exploring the most important question in Iranian politics: How do you reconcile freedom and reegion?" The campaign lasted rwo weeks.
"There had never been anything like this before," Semati said. "I had studled American politics, and had some insights. I proposed that Khatami take a bus tour through northern Iran. The crowds were enormous. Everyone was surprised. The conservatives were stin expecting to win on Election Day." Khatami got nearly seventy per cent of the vote. He won everywhere, in every demographic group; he even carried Qom, the religious citadel. The very size of the victory appeared to change Iran's political calculus, and the librarian began to act as if he had actually won a mandate to lead the nation. His demeanor itself was a political statement; his constant smile conveyed kindliness and confidence, and something else as well-the promise of freedom. He spoke of the rule of law. He said that he didn't want photographs of himself plastered about, lest there be a cult of personality. He said it was unseemly to chant things fike "Death to Americ@'at public rallies. He was interviewed by Christiane Amanpour for CNN, and the footage later became part of a documentary that seemed to presume Iran's imminent transformation into a moderate, democratic society. He addressed the United Nations, calling for a "dialogue among civilizations," and SecretaryGeneral Kofi Annan was so impressed that he designated 2001 as the year when the dialogue would take place. Indeed, Khatami seemed embarked on a path that would put him in the same pantheon as Nelson Mandela and Vddav Havel. His annual visits to the United Nations became significant events; in 2000, a handshake with Bill Clinton was choreographed, and then cancelled at the last minute by the Iranians. "We were prepared to consider normalizing relations," then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, "but there was a question of whether praising him would be good or bad for him domestically. We caged it the 'kiss of death' factor." When he visited the United Nations last November, Khatami held a breakfast with several journalists; I sat across from him, and he seemed a civilized and immaculate presence, arrayed in a brown cloak over a taupe tunic, topped by the black turban that is worn only by descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. He had long, carefully manicured fingers, a turquoise ring on his left hand and an onyx ring on his right. He was cautious when asked about the resumption of diplomatic relations with the United States, less so when asked about the anti-American sentiments commonly heard on the street in Islamic countries. "There is a version of Islam that says, 'Whoever disagrees with me is a disbeliever and must be killed,"' he said. "But there are other versions of Islam. We believe in a version that favors a dialogue of civilizations.... We believe that when religion and freedom are put at odds both suffer. Without democracy, religion becomes extreme. With religion, democracy becomes more spiritual." Khatami's rhetorical elegance had made an immediate impact in Iran after his election. Religious thuggery diminished-in the past, it had not been unusual for the bas@ to hassle women on the street for improper dress, or even to burst into private parties where music was playing. Bolder women now began wearing their head scarves fiirther back, off the brow, to reveal provocative swirls of hair. A new generation of newspapers began to report freely and irreverently about the government; satirists and cartoonists thrived. The conser-vatives seemed stunned by afl this. Khatami was even able to push some reforms through the pareament, which was still dominated by the clerics. A conservative reaction began late in 1998: the Judiciary, which is controlled by the Supreme Leader, started closing reform newspapers (many of which promptly reopened using different names), and then jailing the journalists causing the trouble. At the end of 1998, five noted intellectuals and political dissidents were killed-Iranians called these the "serial murders." Khatami demanded an investigation, which was generally assumed to be an empty gesture. But, in what remains his greatest triumph as President, there really was an investigation, and in January of 1999 the Ministry of Intelligence and Security announced that "irresponsible, misguided and unruly members of this ministry ... have committed these criminal acts." "This was an astonishing moment," said Bijan Khajehpour, who is the managing director of a consulting firm in Tehran. "But it was not decisive. It was an early blow in what has become a fifteen-round championship boxing match. The reformers had some success in the early rounds, but then the conservatives gathered themselves and came back. In 2000, the reformers won a great victory in the parliamentary elections but the conservafives came back againfar more forcefidly, in part because ffie reformers bec=e overconfident."
Boxing is a popular metaphor among political observers in Tehran. Hadi Semati, the Tehran University political scientist, calls Khatami's current, passive strategy "rope-a-dope." But the power struggle is too complicated to be reduced to a sporting analogy. The common designations "reformers" and "conservatives" are crude approximations. There are dozens of factions. There are also obscure, quiedy powerfid forces that escape public [email protected] just the securit.y apparatus but enormous charitable trusts caged bonyads, which were created from the private holdings of the Shah and his supporters after the revolution and now constitute a significant portion of the Iranian economy. The "charity' of the bonyads encompasses everything from subsidies to the widows and orphans of the Iran-Iraq War to the suspected financial aggrandizement of the clerical estabeshment and the fiinding of terrorism. The charitable trusts exist in the semi-official netherworld that provides conspiracists with much of their grist. The Supreme Leader has authority over the bonyads and the Revolutionary Guards. Khamenei, however, has a few dusty reform credentials as well: he was one of the Qom clerics who had ties to secular intellectuals before the revolution. "It is possible that the Supreme Leader is not a boxer at all," Bijan Khajehpour said. "It is possible that he is trying to be the referee. After the reformers trounced the conservatives in the parliamentary elections of 2000, and there was a movement to overturn the results, he was the one who said the results should stand." But Khamenei also undoubtedly gave final approval to the attacks on the reformers that began almost immediately after those elections. The moderates now held the Presidency and the Iranian parliament, which is called the Majlis; they began to speak of amending the Islamic constitution to give elected officials more power. Much of this talk was idle posturing: the Is lamic constitution is clogged with checks and balances. There are all sorts of de lightfilfly named committees with the power to block parliamentary initiatives, such as the twelve-member Council of Guardians, a stunted upper house that has direct veto power over the Majlis, and the Expediency Council, which mediates disputes between the Maj lis and the Guardians. Given the array of contending forces, inertia seemed a cinch. But the refon-ners had been elected vath overwhelming majorities; the pub lic was clearly tired of the muhahs, and the situation threatened to get out of hand. In April of 2000, a second wave of attacks on the reformers was launched. Nearly twenty publications were shut down, and there was another round of arrests-a campaign that later broadened to include the interrogation of members of parliament who had criticized the government. The violence began again, too: less than a month after the elections, Saeed Hajjarian-who was among Khatami's closest political advisers-was shot in the head by two men on motorcycles; Hajjarian survived, but the personal impact on Khatami apparently was enormous. He cried at Hajjarian's bedside and despaired as other supporters were taken off to jail. He told friends he was helpless to prevent those arrests; according to several close associates, Khatami's chronic back pain intensified, he became depressed, and said he didn't want to run for reflection in 2001. "There are times when I'm afraid that he'll have a stroke," his lonl,time aide Mohammad Abtahi told me. "He suffers so much."
There was a second, less obvious consequence of the reformers'overconfidence: They had attacked Rafsanjani-perhaps the cleverest politician in the count during an attempt to retain his seat in the Majlis. (The joumalist who led the campaign, Akbar Ganji, was jailed.) Infuriated, Rafsanjani drifted from the reform camp toward the conservatives, perhaps carrying the balance of power with him. Akbar Karbassian, an economist, told me, "lt is said that power in Iran resides wherever Hashemi Rafsanjani happens to be sitting." Rafsanjani is an instantly recognizable figure. He's the mullah with the round, boyish, beardless face and a benign tuft of hair peeking out from beneath his turban. He is a living monument to the absurdity of the relations between the United States and Iran since the revolution, and has always played the same role: the moderate who promises rationality but never quite succeeds in delivering it. "He was the speaker o parliament trying to broker a deal during the hostage crisis," says Jim Steinberg, the director of the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, who worked for both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Rafsanjani's sensib ' ility is, essentially, that of a Chinese mandarin: he is from a wealthy pistachio-growing family, a believer in a free market in everything but ideas. As President, he began the privatization of the economy, and he also attempted a rapprochement with the United States on terms that he assumed wotdd be most attractive: in 1995, he selected Conoco's offer of a billion dollars to develop Iran's offshore oil fields. The reaction from the Clinton Administration-which was not attentive to the nuances of Iranian politics and had embarked on a counterproductive, if symmetrical, policy of "dual containment" toward Iran and Iraq-was outrage. Conoco was ordered to void the deal; a new and even more punitive set of economic sanctions was hustled through Congress. Rafsanjani was left to ruminate on the perds of moderation.
I saw Rafsanjani speak in Tehran on Friday, December 14th, on the occasion of Jerusalem Day, the Islamic world's annual ann-Zionist festival. He spoke at the Friday prayers at Tehran University, which has been the most important platform for Iran's religious leadership since the revolution. In the old days, it [email protected] hard to raise a crowd from the Islamic radicals on campus; but most of the radicals are secular humanists now, and so the crowd has to be bused in from mosques around town. The mullahs often have difficulty ruing the vast open-air pavilion. On jerusalem Day, the space was crowded, however: perhaps five thousand of the faithful, all men-the women were shunted off to an adjacent area-shoeless, kneeling or sitting cross-legged on prayer rugs. It was a peculiar crowd, rebels subdued by age and weary in their chanted responses. On both sides of the stage, electric signs with multicolored lights linked the names of the Prophet and two Shiite heroes, Husayn and Zahra. I hadjoined marchers from a mosque in Jihad Square-twenty-six of them, by my count-as they made their way through town chanting "God is great," "Death to Israel," "Death to America," and, no doubt in homage to great Satans past, "Death to England." The women were in full chadors; the men were dressed shabbily, with stubbly beards, fingering worry beads-it seemed a procession of nuns and aging clerical custodians. Similar marches had been launched throughout Tehran; busloads of pilgrims were imported from surrounding communities. It was a mild, sunny day, and when au the rivulets converged on Enghelab Avenue, in front of the university, I feu in behind two veterans of the Iran-Iraq War, dressed in camouflage fatigues, who were atop a slow-moving minivan. One of the men was brandishing a Kalashnikov and wearing a kaffiyeh in solidarity with the Palestinians; the other was waving a green Islamic flag and trying to lead the usual chants. The minivan halted for a moment, and the man with the Kalashnikov began to speak. "My friend here was chemically disabled in the Iraq war," he said, nodding at his thin, haggard comrade, who was on his knees and sweating profilsely. "Please support the disabled. Don't consider us beggars. We fought for our country-" He began to sob, and, I noticed, several of the men in my immediate vicinity had tears streaming down their cheeks. "We're Shiites! Don't abandon us.... Marg bar 4mrika! Marg bar Amrika!"
A bedsheet with a crudely drawn American flag was produced and set aflame; television cameras converged. It was the scene we've watched a thousand times, but not at all threatening somehow: a theatrical moment rather than a political one. I noticed that we were standing in front of a cinema where "Tle Green Mile" was playing. The Friday prayer sermons cling to several atavistic rituals from the revolutionary days. As the main speaker takes the stage, he is handed an assault riflea prop that seemed particularly ridiculous in the hands of Hashemi Rafsanjani, who spoke softly and leaned the rifle beneath the lectern throughout his speech. "The arrogant United States provided weapons of mass destruction to the Zionists," he said, inaccurately (it was France that helped the Israeli nuclear program). "If the day comes when the Islamic countries have those same weapons, the strategy of arrogance will be at an end." These inflammatory words were delivered quietly, almost perfiinctorily. The entire Jerusalem Day spectacle seemed an attempt by the conservatives to identify a common enemy in order to shift the nation's attention from the intramural political struggles. "But many of the hard-liners really do believe that Palestine is critical to Iran's nationalsecurity interests," Kenneth Pollack, of the Council on Foreign Relations, said. t is seen as a way to fight the United States, which, they believe, is an implacable enemy, intent on overturning the Islamic Republic. And they obviously have the power to act on their beliefs."
A few days later, I was granted an interview with Mohammad Hashemi, Rafsanjani's younger brother and shadowy force emeritus-former VicePresident and former chairman of the state-run radio and television organization. We met in a palace built by the Shah for his sister, part of a campus of palaces in a lovely grove of birch and pine north of Tehran. He received me in a room off the garden; pale-green silk wallpaper framed crystal chandeliers and the requisite grand Persian carpet. Tea, sweets, and bowls of almonds and pistachios were provided. Hashemi, who had silver hair and a dark mustache and the soft, knowing manner of a born fixer, immediately announced the end of the reform movement. "They entered the stage with nothing but slogans. This attracted the attention of the public, particularly the young people. But they paid little attention to the most important issues of economic construction and development. They have not delivered on anything. They have alienated many of the country's leaders, and so reform is now at a dead end." After a discussion about the stagnating economy, I asked Hashemi about his brother. He sighed. "He was attacked from both sides. The conservatives said that natami was his fruit , he said, noting that Rafsanjani's supporters in the Construction Party had backed Khatami for President. "And the reformers attacked him in the press, as you know. Today, that situation has changed. Both sides realize that Rafsanjani is a man for the country, not for any particular faction. Both sides are trying to impress him again." This last appears to be quite true, even though Rafsanjani's reputation remains tarnished. The more moderate reformers freely admit that alienating Rafsanjani was a big mistake. "The Rafsanjani-reformist coalition would have been in a better position to move the reform agenda forward," Bijan Khajehpour, the business consultant, said. Indeed, toward the end of the year, many reformers had grown introspective-trying to figure out where they'd gone wrong, what to do next. There were disputes about strategy. The Khatami forces had proposed an oxymoron: "active calm." More recently, some reform factions had proposed "active resistance." By then, more than fifty members of the parliament had been summoned before the judiciary and the sentencing of several seemed imminent. Khatami was out of sight, said to be ill but most likely suffering through another period of low spirits. "He's come to the conclusion that reform simply isn't possible right now," one of the President's associates said. "The power points are not at his disposal, and the practical power of the non-elected element is increasing." Then, in late December, it was announced that Khatami would go to Tehran University and speak to the students. In anticipation of the meeting, the President had said that if the views of students weren't heeded there would be an "explosion." Some of his fouowers hoped this was an indication that he finally intended to provide the spark. Those closest to Khatami, however, were not only dubious but quite candid about their disappointment in him. Several days before the speech, I visited Zahra Eshraqi, an official at the Ministry of the Interior, who is married to Khatami's brother Mohammad Reza, the Deputy Speaker of the Majlis; she is also the granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini and has inherited some of the old man's fire, if not his politics. "The President has a very strong character. He is very calm," Mrs. Eshraqi, who is in her late thirties and was wearing what looked like a Burberry scarf, said. "Sometimes I want him to get angry, to speak out against the opposition. I say the same to my husband. The Judiciary are like the Saudis!" she said, meaning that they were extremely conservative. "They are going to throw members of parliament in jail! React to
them!" She continued, with a pleasant smile and a shrug, "What happens now depends on Mr. Khatami. But, no matter what he does, this country is not going back to the past. We'll see if the future is more clear when he speaks on Saturday."
The hall at Tehran University was already filled when I arrived at m'ne in the morning on Saturday, December 22nd. It was a relatively smau room, with seats for about a thousand; the walls were lined with photos of university students who had been martyred in the Iraq war. Women and men were segregated in the room, but both were equally vehement. "In Kabul, in Tehran, down with the Taliban!" they chanted, and, in a reference to the head of the Judiciary, Mahmoud Shahroudi,'Shahroudi, Iraqi, resign, resign!" Soon it was clear that a scuffle was taking place outside the doors. There were screams and fierce pounding-and then, at about nine-ffteen, the rear door gave and hundreds more students crashed into the room, fileng the aisles. One small group went after the Iran TV cameras, overturning them, causing the cameramen to flee. Security seemed remarkably lax, and I wondered if this chaos was precisely the image that the conservatives wanted the country to see. Khatami arrived a half hour later, precipitating another explosion. The students chanted, "Khatami, Khatami, honesty, honesty," and a second scuffle broke out. This time, the door on the women's side of the auditorium was breached; there was frantic screaming as verses from the Koran, the standard introduction to public meetings, were read. The mayhem seemed to intensify as Khatami took the stage, but the President remained unperturbed. He looked as elegant as ever, in a black cloak and charcoal-gray tunic, his black turban tilted high on his brow. "I have a cold," he told the students. "So please be quiet. Calm dovrn, calm down." He began what seemed a rambeng introduction; he spoke of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "Change this place first!" a heckler shouted, referring to the crowded room. Many of the students laughed. "O.K., O.K.," the President said. "Tolerance! Tolerance!" "For the sake of Khatami," the women's section began to chant, "we will be tolerant!" That seemed to quiet everybody down, and the President proceeded. He was sweating and dabbed his brow with a crumpled white handkerchief; his cloak slipped off one shoulder. "You shouldn't be expecting a champion," he said. "In a democracy, the people are the champions. If we are defeated, my defeat, or my victory, is not yours. It's not the public's defeat." That didn't sound very encouraging. Later, he spoke of Socrates. "He was a philosopher, accused of seducing the youth of Athens," the President said. "He was tried and convicted, and he drank poison in order to maintain the respect for law and order in society." The overpowering impression was of a defeated man, a tragic figure begging for sympathy. Afterward, the students were more disappointed than compassionate. "That was very weak," Ah Reza, a twenty-year-old philosophy major, said, expressing the unanimous opinion of those milling outside the hall after the speech. "These were aff things he'd said before. We need a President more radical than him."
One rainy December evening in Tehran, I went to a coffeehouse with four young women, three of them university students and one a recent graduate. AU four spoke excellent English, which they had teamed in school. Tley appeared to be supremely indifferent to politics. We talked about movies (they had just seen pirated DVDs of "Harry Potter"), poetry-the Sufi poets are a national obsession fashion. All four wore their head scarves at the very crown of their heads, showing lots of dark, gleaming hair; the scarves were set so far back that they were continually slipping off and the women seemed in constant motion, tying and relying them. "Can't you just pin them in place?" I asked. The women giggled and shot conspiratorial glances at each other. "I have a friend," Zahra, a chemical engineer, said, "a boy. He says that boys find it sensual." "Everyone has her own style of scarf adjustment," Hasti, a business student, said. I 'asked for a demonstration, but the women refused, saying that it had to be done unconsciously. (I did pay attention thereafter and noticed that several of them had fairly brazen styles, winging out their scarves before relying them, so that their heads were almost bare for a moment.) It occurred to me that these women were emblematic of a basic, underappredated human truth: the ability of average people to blithely confound the intentions of ideologues. The purpose of hejah, the Islamic dress code, was to impose a near-anonymous sexual modesty upon women. But the compulsory imposition of the law had created a an unintended consequence: in Iran, women's dress was now more revealing than men's. In fact, Iranian men seemed universally unexceptional. The flashier guys had a seghdy retro, "Saturday Night Fever "pompadour-and-leather look, most wore the casual uniform of young mtn everywhere-jackets with atWetic logos, jeans, sneakers. But every Iranian woman made a political or social statement simply by where she placed her scarf on her head and how long her cloak was (some now wear waist-length coats, jeans, and high-heeled boots). There were simply too many women, in all parts of the country, making political fashion statements for the mullahs to have any hope of reimposing conformity. "Three of us went to Turkey last summer with our parents," Azra, an architecture student, said. "We didn't have to wear our scarves, but I just couldn't take mine off at first. It felt uncomfortable." "But you did take it off," Hasti reminded her. "And it was very thrilling." Azra nodded and smiled. "And when we returned home," she said,'it was hard to put it on again." The women agreed that it was difficult to imagine a day when they'd be able to walk scarfless through the streets of Tehran; they couldn't provide a scenario for the political changes that would need to take place-and they were not alone. No one in Iran seemed able to describe a credible path from Islamic Republic to Islamic democracy. What distinguished these young women, however-and the young people I'd spoken with at the university and on the poor side of town-was a serene confidence that the conservative position was absurd and untenable, that reform would come, that Iran would eventually rejoin the world. At the end of our time together, they insisted on publicly shaking my hand-an unthinkable heresy, an act that could have meant jail if the wrong people had been watching. But no one was watching, and these handshakes-halting, delicate, nervouswere an exhilarating moment of political rebellion. A few weeks later, the conservative onslaught seemed to reach its apogee: one of the members of the Majlis who was accused of inflammatory rhetoric was convicted and sentenced, and was about to be carted off tojail.'Me Speaker, Mehdi Karroubi, staged a walkout and took most of the Majjis with him. AyatoUah Khamenei, acting as a referee once more, pardoned the parliamentarians perfectly Persian solution, conveying the message that, even if members of parliament didn't quite enjoy freedom of speech, they couldn't be jailed for speaking freely. Iran's Emited democracy had withstood a serious challenge and continued to limp along, in the general direction of freedom.