Iran: Bumpy road to reform

In April, Iran entered a particularly bumpy phase in the evolution of its Islamic democracy and we happened to be in Tehran to witness it. We were there along with speakers from Japan for a seminar about comparative economic and cultural responses to globalisation. It was a joint endeavour between Chatham House and the Institute of Political and International Studies in Tehran.

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All of us could not help but be caught up in the atmosphere of tense excitement that overtook the city as a series of events signalled the unfolding of a conservative backlash against the progress of the reformist trend. Court orders for the closure of over a dozen pro-reform newspapers, along with arrests of associated journalists and others, smacked of a deliberate attempt to provoke the reformist camp, which had won a big majority in February’s first round of elections to the parliament or Majlis.

As it turned out, the reformists made another strong showing in the second round of run-off elections in May, but these might have been jeopardised had they not exercised restraint in the face of provocation. Our exposure to this volatile political interlude, with the fortunes of different factions shifting daily, taught us the need for caution in leaping to conclusions about the ultimate direction that the Islamic Republic will take.

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