Clerics still pose barrier to reform

February 25, 2000

The pro-reform parties that now form a majority in Iran's parliament after last week's elections will still face substantial opposition to reform from the conservative clerics who run Iran.

It seems likely that Iran's universities may remain cut off from the rest of the world, maintaining strict rules on dress and political expression until reform reaches deeper into the political system.

Students were prominent in the one-week Iranian election campaign. They organised rallies to gather support for the Iran Islamic Participation Front, the political group supported by Iran's reformist President Khatami and the party of choice for the majority of Iran's students.

President Khatami inspires an awe and enthusiasm on campuses that is unusual in the religiously dominated political scene. "I love him, I love him, he is so great," gushes 18-year-old student Mona. "His candidates will bring us freedom as he promised."

Iran's former President Hashemi Rafsanjani is leading a determined race to win the powerful position of speaker of the house and is set to divide the ranks of Khatami's supporters by gaining support from hardliners and reformers alike.

"We hate Hashemi, the students have woken up," chanted students at a rally for pro-reform candidates. President Khatami has often reached out to Iran's young people, with promises to improve the economy, reduce unemployment and allow more freedom of speech on campuses.

"The realisation of our country's goals cannot be guaranteed without the participation of young people," he said at a recent rally to mark the 21st anniversary of Iran's Islamic revolution.

"I was on the streets as a student during the revolution," said Elaheh Koolaee, director-general of educational affairs at Tehran University and a reformist candidate in the elections. "We have the same aims today, but we want to achieve them by different means.

"Students want greater freedom of speech, freedom of thought and they want to be free to form clubs and societies."

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