Reformists and conservatives! Even the most senior experts on Iran won’t go beyond these words to describe politics here, and often with little explanation of the radical change and transformation that Iran’s political spectrum has gone through the past few decades.
Many believe that the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, distanced himself from his earlier liberal views after strengthening his grip on power, while others blame his aides during the pre-revolution campaign against the Shah who were well-known liberal anti-Shah figures that highlighted the Ayatollahs’ pro-democracy image.
Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a hardline Friday prayer Imam in Tehran, recently said that, "Imam Khomeini handed over the transitional cabinet to the Freedom Movement, a Muslim liberal political force, in the first few months of the revolution, to calm down Americans and deceive them ... the US would have attacked us otherwise."
The student activists that seized the US embassy after the revolution and took the staff as hostage for 444 days are now mostly members of the reform camp, which is advocating better ties with the West as well as social freedoms.
In a reference to the then interior minister, Mohtashami Pour, Iran’s current foreign minister and former envoy to UN, Javad Zarif has criticized politicians in Tehran who, in those early years, openly expressed their distrust towards Iranian diplomats at the UN HQ in New York when they were in talks with world powers. But things change. Mohtashami Pour, who played a pivotal role in the creation of Hezbollah in Lebanon when serving as Iranian ambassador in Damascus, now has close ties with reformists whose support for President Rouhani during the election in 2013 was regarded as a game-changing factor in the latter's win.
Former president Ayatollah Rafsanjani, one of the closest Khomeini aides, who once founded the Islamic Republic party together with Ayatollah Khamenei, has been shifting from the center right to the center left in the past few decades, just like many others.
In Arman daily. Rafsanjani: Imam Khomeini was in favor of removing "death to US" chants
He lost the support and blessing of most of his conservative partners during the 2009 disputed elections when he quietly joined reformists in their failed bid to defeat Ahmadinejad, a common rival. Rafsanjani later declined to condemn the post-election protests, as requested by hardliners, while his reformist daughter took part in the demonstrations.
Rafsanjani was subsequently blocked by Iran’s Guardian Council, a 12-member election watchdog whose members are appointed by the Supreme Leader Khamenei directly or indirectly, from running for president in 2013. His disqualification pushed him closer to Rouhani, an old friend who had survived the vetting process.
He is now target to pressure and criticism from powerful hardliners on a daily basis as they accuse his sons of corruption and himself of turning a blind eye to his early revolutionary ideology and instead preaching liberal Islam and improvement in relations with US.
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Your Middle East has collected handout pictures that showcase front pages of Iranian papers in the past four decades with remarkable quotes from Iran’s leaders:
In Etelaat daily. Ayatollah Taleghani, a close ally to Ayatollah Khomeini: There is no compulsion with regards to Hijab, the Islamic dress code
In Kayhan daily. Rafsanjani: Again we announce that there is no path for the Muslim World other than strong resistance against US and Israel
In Kayhan daily. President Rouhani: People can't be taken into heaven by force
In Etelaat daily. Imam Khomeini: No! No one has the right to negotiate with the US
In Etemad daily. President Rouhani at Davos meeting: Reopening of US embassy in Tehran not impossible
In Etelaat daily. (Then) Deputy Chairman of Parliament, Hassan Rouhani: The beautiful "death to US" chant is creating unity in our country
In Kayhan daily. Imam Khomeini: Marxists are free to express their views unless they stage plot
In Etelaat daily. Rafsanjani: Our hostility will continue as long as US keeps support for Israel
In Jomhouri Islami daily. Ayatollah Mousavi Khoveiniha, then a senior lawmaker now a reformist politician: As an index and touchstone US is always the enemy