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 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." [2]

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."[3]

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."[4] [5]

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." [6]

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.[7]

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." [8] 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."[9]

Accusations of foreign agency[edit]

Khatami has been accused of being a "foreign agent" multiple times.

In a lengthy 2008 report published by the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), it was claimed that Khatami participated in the meeting because they wanted to “transform Khatami into an Islamic version of Mikhail Gorbachev” and he was executor of the plot to “replace religious rule with secularism.”[10] In 2009, Kayhan claimed that Khatami was invited to attend the meeting in 2006 again.[11]

In the 2009 Iran poll protests trials, Khatami was accused by Kian Tajbakhsh of working with the Open Society Foundations to foment a velvet revolution in Iran.[12] Tajbakhsh told the court that Khatami had met Soros in New York City,[13] where Mohammad Javad Zarif was also present.[14] Later, Kayhan reported that they met twice: first time in the Trump International Hotel, New York on September 14, 2006 and the second time at the 38th session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January, 2007.[11] Hossein Shariatmadari has also written in the editorial on December 29, 2010 that Khatami was executing the plans prescribed by Gene Sharp and Richard Rorty.[15]

Khatami has denied the claims, calling them "lies"[13] and stating he "neither knows this person (Soros) nor has he met him in person in Davos or in any other place".[16] Soros has also strongly denied the allegations.[14][17]


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 October 2009. Retrieved 11 October 2009. 
  2. ^ "Abdolkarim Soroush :: عبدالکريم سروش". Retrieved 16 July 2017. 
  3. ^ "Dr. Soroush". Retrieved 16 July 2017. 
  4. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 March 2009. Retrieved 4 April 2009. 
  5. ^ "Iran, under Khatami, The Myth of Moderation", published in September 1998
  7. ^ "Asia Times". Retrieved 16 July 2017. 
  8. ^ Pike, John. "Niruyeh Moghavemat Basij - Mobilisation Resistance Force". Retrieved 16 July 2017. 
  9. ^ Pike, John. "RFE/RL Iran Report". Retrieved 16 July 2017. 
  10. ^ Amir Taheri (19 December 2008), "Why Ahmadinejad Fears Khatami", Asharq Al Awsat, retrieved 15 December 2015 
  11. ^ a b Akbar Torbat (2 July 2013), "The Unexpected Results of Presidential Elections in Iran",, retrieved 15 December 2015 
  12. ^ Al-Marashi, Ibrahim. "17, Televising the "Velvet Revolution": Show Trials in the Aftermath of Iran's Tenth Presidential Election". In Kamalipour, Yahya R. Media, Power, and Politics in the Digital Age: The 2009 Presidential Election Uprising in Iran. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 183-186. ISBN 978-1-4422-0417-1. 
  13. ^ a b Zahra Hosseinian (26 August 2009), "Iran's Khamenei says protests planned before vote", Reuters, retrieved 15 December 2015 
  14. ^ a b "Khatami slams trial confessions", The Himalayan Times, 26 August 2009, retrieved 15 December 2015 
  15. ^ Ali Afshari (11 January 2011), "Khatami at a Dead End", Rooz Online, retrieved 15 December 2015 
  16. ^ "Khatami denies meeting George Soros", Press TV, 22 September 2009, retrieved 15 December 2015 
  17. ^ "A Daily Roundup of News from Iran", Aswat, 30 September 2009, retrieved 15 December 2015 

See also[edit]