Khatami, Mohammad

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Khatami, Mohammad

Mohammad Khatami (khät´ämē), 1943–, Iranian religious and political leader. From a prominent clerical family, Khatami opposed the regime of Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlevi in the 1960s and 70s, and in 1978 he headed the Islamic Center in Hamburg, Germany. After the shah's fall (1979), he returned to Iran and was elected to the national assembly, becoming minister of culture and Islamic guidance (1982–92). Considered a moderate, he eased restrictions on publications, films, art, and music and was ultimately forced to resign after being charged with permissiveness. Khatami subsequently served as director of the National Library and a presidential adviser.

Pledging to deal with runaway inflation and high unemployment, he was overwhelmingly elected Iran's president in 1997 with strong support from political moderates, intellectuals, students, and women. As president, he appointed a relatively liberal cabinet and called for political democratization and the advancement of women. He also advocated rapprochement between Iran and Arab states as well as improved relations with the West, including the United States. Many of his reform efforts were opposed by hard-line conservatives in the clergy, judiciary, and military, and his first administration was unable to produce significant economic improvement. Nonetheless, he reluctantly ran and was reelected with more than three fourths of the vote in 2001, as Iranians continued to support greater democracy and social freedom. His second term was little different from the first, as he generally avoided confrontation with the hard-liners and the unelected Guardian Council, even when the latter disqualified many legitimate reformist candidates for the 2004 parliamentary elections.

In 2009 Khatami briefly was a presidential candidate again but withdrew in favor of Mir Hossein Mousavi, and after the election supported Mousavi's charges of fraud and himself accused the government of a coup against the people. In the 2013 election he supported Hassan Rowhani, who won the presidency in the first round. He is the author of Fear of the Wave (1993), an essay collection, and From the World of the City to the City of the World (1994), a study of Western philosophical and political thought.

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