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Iran: A Reformist Comes to Power
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Government and Politics > Political Dynamics > A Reformist Comes to Power


In the presidential election of 1997, trends such as the formation of a centrist association of lawmakers called the Executives of Construction and the coalescing of progressive and democratic politicians around a reform agenda converged to catalyze the landslide victory of prominent reformist Mohammad Khatami. Khatami’s unexpected election energized his supporters and led to the formation of two main political blocs, the reformists and the conservatives. Initially, there was a period of optimism and rapid change that some observers likened to the “Prague Spring” of 1968 in Czechoslovakia. Khatami named a reformist-dominated cabinet that soon was approved by the conservative-controlled parliament, demonstrating the powerful impact of his electoral victory. During his first few months in office, Khatami indicated that he intended to seek far-reaching political liberalization. The most important manifestation of this liberalization was a loosening of restrictions on the news media, which resulted in the emergence of a series of newspapers that strongly criticized the conservatives and even challenged the concept of velayat-e faqih (guardianship of the religious jurisprudence expert; see Glossary), the governing principle of the Islamic Republic of Iran (see Khatami and the Reform Movement, ch. 1). Khatami also broke an important taboo by calling for improved relations with the United States (see The United States and Iran, this ch.). Some Iranians responded to this looser atmosphere by challenging political and even cultural restrictions that had existed since 1979—speaking more openly about politics, interpreting Islamic dress codes less strictly, and stretching or ignoring gender roles.

Data as of 2008

Last Updated: January 2008

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Iran was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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