- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 11, 2001

Today marks the 22nd anniversary of the mullahs' takeover in Iran. But protesters that number in the thousands have spoiled the party. On Friday, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets, demanding the democracy the mullahs had promised to deliver in 1979.

The clerics' two-decade grip on power is showing sign of distress. The regime's violent efforts to repress religious, economic and political freedom are generating a virulent opposition that is growing steadily stronger, especially among the younger generations.

And in conversations with editors of The Washington Times, Iran's two strongest forces of opposition maintain that President Khatami's inability to generate democratic reform is convincing many Iranians that change from within the existing system won't be feasible. Although Iran proved its overwhelming desire for democratic opening during the 1997 presidential election and more recently in February's legislative election, the clerical regime is countering the efforts of reformists at every turn. But the mullah's repressive zeal appears to be strategically counterproductive, since it is consolidating the will of the opposition.

In his first interview in the past three months, Mohammad Mohaddessin, who is the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, said "the experience with Khatami has proved that in order to have a government ruled by the people this regime must be overthrown." In the past year, he said there have been 660 demonstrations, uprisings and acts against the government, some of which have led to major confrontations with the Revolutionary Guard.

In Friday's demonstration, protesters, many of them young people, were injured by intelligence agents, Revolutionary Guards and paramilitary thugs. The lives of the 12 protesters arrested, all under the age of 27, are in danger, since the regime could well decide to execute them.

The late shah's son, Reza Pahlavi, who is also supporting a democratic transition in Iran, echoed some of Mr. Mohadessin concerns, and said that with the cleric's iron grip on power, it is difficult for even reformist to effect any type of meaningful change. "Even today if you are Mother Teresa rather than Khatami, with the noblest of intentions, you would be incapable of operating," he said. He added that, "were it not for the corrupt management of the economy, Iran could turn around very quickly," following in the footsteps of Taiwan and South Korea.

Both believe change could come to Iran soon. Hopefully, for the sake of the Iranian people and the long-term stability of the Middle East, 2001 will be remembered in Iran as the year democracy trumped despotism.

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