- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2000

In Iran, the forces of despotism are roundly defeating the people's desire for democracy. President Mohammad Khatami, who is pursuing moderate reforms in Iran, is being thwarted at every turn by the all-powerful clerical regime.

After months of pressure, Mr. Khatami on Dec. 15 accepted the resignation of his Minister of Culture, Ayatollah Mohajerani, who has been the architect of cultural reforms in Iran. The exit of Mr. Mohajerani clears the way for the clerical regime to tighten its already firm grip on the country's media. Many in Iran see the move as a final indication of the powerlessness of Mr. Khatami's reform movement.

Mr. Khatami had previously acknowledged that he lacked the authority to honor his campaign pledge to maintain the rule of law. Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, has effective control of the army, judiciary, intelligence agencies and, of course, the theological establishment. The ayatollah and his allies have used a series of political, legal and brutal tactics to crush the reform movement. In his resignation letter, the outgoing minister highlighted how little reformers have been able to change. "We have not achieved any success worthy of our nation, artists and writers," he said.

About 30 independent publications have been banned by the courts, often without even a trial. And most of the newspaper editors, activists and dissident clerics key to the reform movement are in jail. Vigilante groups violently break up reformist rallies and have even assassinated dissident leaders that could threaten the clerical regime.

But the ayatollah's power is in direct conflict with the will of the people. In February's parliamentary elections, Iranians proved overwhelmingly they want to usher in democratic reform. This budding reform movement is crucial to U.S. interests, since its success would help consolidate America's geopolitical stature in a critical area of the world and break up a dictatorship openly hostile to America.

Unfortunately, there is little the United States can do to help reformers. Any U.S. involvement could create a backlash against the dissident movement. America can only shore up its prestige and leadership in the region and warily watch Iran as events unfold. One hopes, perhaps without much basis, that the ayatollah has overplayed his hand this time.

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