Muslim Reformers in Iran and Turkey: The Paradox of Moderation

By Güneş Murat Tezcür | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
A Moment of
Enthusiasm
in the
Islamic Republic

The evolution of Islamic political activism in Iran, since the mid-1970s, has demonstrated the elastic influence of Shiite Islam over political thought and behavior. Shiite beliefs, norms, and rituals supplied the vernacular means through which revolutionaries articulated desire for social justice and freedom and mobilized public support. With the consolidation of Islamist rule in the early 1980s, rulers of the Islamic Republic demanded unconditional political obedience from citizens on the basis of their religious faith. However, clerics and lay intellectuals have increasingly criticized the regime’s monopolization of the “religious truth” and have emphatically argued for political pluralism. The late 1990s saw the emergence of a vibrant Muslim reformist movement in Iran.

Unlike their counterparts elsewhere, Muslim reformers in Iran did not face a “secular” authoritarian regime that effectively blocked the goal of the Islamic state. They were ex-revolutionaries who were disillusioned with the Islamic state. While they remained loyal to the revolutionary heritage, they became vociferous advocates of moderation, rule of law, democratic governance, civil society, and political competition. Former Islamists have matured into seasoned politicians who believe in the essential reformability of the Islamic Republic. They aimed to create a public sphere free from regime control, and they achieved some success. Most importantly, they channeled their energies into winning elections and using the power of elected office to reform the political system. The electoral strategy failed in the face of stiff resistance from the guardians. In fact, it brought political marginalization and public discrediting of the reformers. This chapter narrates the emergence of the RF from the factional politics of the Islamic Republic, as well as its intellectual basis, electoral victories, and ultimate failure by 2004. It attempts to provide a convincing ex-

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