Controversies surrounding President Mohammad Khatami

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Iranian president Mohammad Khatami's two terms as president were regarded, by some people,[who?] as unsuccessful in achieving their goals of making Iran more free and democratic, and he has been criticized by conservatives, reformers, and opposition groups for various policies and viewpoints.

Iranian republic versus Islamic republic[edit]

Mohammad Khatami is a strong advocate of "Islamic republic". In a speech on 11 October 2009, he warned that oppression of his allies and reformists will lead to emergence of those who are against Islamic republic constitution. He said "unfortunately we are witnessing the emergence of nuclei that negate the very basis of the Islamic republic."[1] Khatami however respects the opinion of people strongly and yet believes that the optimum form of government differ for each nation and cannot be copied from the west.

Respecting and following the supreme leader[edit]

Khatami has been always respectful of Ayatullah Ali Khamenei and has only indirectly criticized his remarks. In many controversial issues such as Iranian parliamentary election in 2004 and Iranian presidential election in 2009, Khatami did not stand strongly against the position of the supreme leader.

Supreme leader of Iran appointed Ahmad Jannati and Mohammad Yazdi, two of the most well known fundamentalists to head the judiciary system and Guardian Council of Iran. Khatami has been always a critic of IRIB, Judiciary system and Guardian Council. The organizations run under the supervision of Iran's supreme leader.

Human rights and democracy[edit]

Some people[who?] have criticized Khatami for being unsuccessful in achieving his goal of making Iran more free and democratic. In a 47-page "letter for the future", Khatami said his government had stood for noble principles, but had made mistakes and faced obstruction by hardline elements in the clerical establishment.

Khatami was criticized for describing a former chief guardian of the infamous Evin Prison, Asadollah Lajevardi, as a "valiant son of Islam and revolution, a servant of the regime and the people". Lajevardi is known for his role in suppression of political prisoners.[2] Khatami also expressed his sadness upon the death of Sadeq Khalkhali, known as the hanging judge.[3] He also praised Mohammad Fazel Lankarani, calling him "an open-minded Muslim", "prominent follower of Khomeini's path" and "valubale figures in seminaries".[4] Lankarani is well known for his death fatwas for Rafiq Tağı and Salman Rushdi as well as his fatwa against the attendance of women in sport stadiums.[citation needed]

Khatami also came under attack from philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush, who accused him of failing to push for reforms since his May, 1997, election. "The peaceful and democratic uprising of the Iranian people against religious dictatorship in May 1997 was a sweet experience," Soroush said in a letter addressed to Khatami. "But your failure to keep the vote and your wasting of opportunities put an end to it and disappointed the nation. Now, failures have turned into unrest." [5]

Khatami's definition of civil society and freedom has been also subject to criticisms. Khatami raised the idea of civil society when he came to power. That encouraged many thinkers and scholars to write about the issue extensively. But suddenly Khatami said in one of his speeches: "what I meant by civil society was the Prophet’s Medina". His statement disappointed many Iranian scholars. Referring to this point Abdolkarim Soroush said:

"That poured cold water on everyone. Either this was the understanding that he had of civil society from the start or he later changed his mind for particular political and theoretical reasons and replaced civil society with the Prophet’s Medina. This was clear vacillation in his thinking. We witnessed this same vacillation when he spoke about freedom."[6]

In a speech on 18 November 1998, Khatami said: "the right to political activity and existence in Iran [is reserved for those] who have faith in Islam and the leadership."[7] [8]

Despite the fact that President Khatami declared himself a supporter of free expression and human rights, he responded to Iranian Shirin Ebadi's Nobel Peace Prize by waiting several days and then tempering his congratulations by saying “The Nobel prize for peace is not that important, as it is usually bestowed on political considerations." [9]

In 2001, some 78 Iranian lawmakers have called on President Mohammad Khatami to allocate an appropriate share to the Sunni minority of the country. However Khatami did not appoint any one from the Sunni minority to cabinet posts in his 8 years of presidency.[10] He did however appoint Shia Kurds to his cabinet, a first in post-Revolutionary Iran. However he has taken measures to support the sunni community in Iran and to reduce the divide between Shias and Sunnis. For the first time in modern Muslim history, two Muslim leaders Mahathir Mohamad and Muhammad Khatami teamed up to reduce tension between Sunnis and Shias and to boost friendship and peace.

The Islamic Republic did not allow a single Sunni mosque to be built in Tehran. Although President Mohammad Khatami promised during election times to build a Sunni mosque in Tehran. After he won the elections, he was reminded of his promise but he claimed that the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had not agreed to the proposal.[11]

Khatami in many occasions praised Basij. President Mohammad Khatami told the cabinet on 22 November 2000 that "the Basij is a progressive force which seeks to play a better role in maintaining religious faith among its allies, and acquiring greater knowledge and skills." [12] Khatami also praised Basij activities during the July 1999 unrest in Iran.

"The Basij forces, standing alongside the Law Enforcement Forces, demonstrated courage, firmness, and initiative. They demonstrated the power and potency of the system, and they also revealed the self-restraint exercised by the system."

" By not resorting to deadly force, Khatami said, the Basij "brought the unrest to an end, and in the process they brought calm and security back to the country."[13]


See also[edit]