The rise of the Iranian moderates

Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former spokesman for Iran’s nuclear negotiators, writes: Political infighting and factionalism has become a cynical characteristic of Iranian politics since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, specifically in the last 16 years. This phenomenon escalated with the sweeping victory of the traditional left wing of the revolution relabeled as Islahtalaban, or “Reformists,” in the presidential election of 1997. During the eight years of President Mohammad Khatami’s administration from 1997 to 2005, the right wing of the revolution — relabeled as Usulgarayan, or “Principalists” or “Conservatives” — was progressively sidelined and replaced by Reformists. Khatami, while disapproving of factionalism, could not withstand the tide of change toward a Reformist-dominated administration. This left many Principalists alienated and bitter from the experience they faced at the hands of the Reformists.

The surprise win for the Principalist candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in the 2005 presidential election turned the tide against the Reformists. This time around, the purge of Reformists from the administration was swift and almost total, ushering in a period of dominance in the administration by one faction for the next eight years.

During both periods of extreme political polarization and dominance by one faction, there existed moderates within Islahtalaban and Usulgarayan. Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani — early on in Khatami’s presidency — voiced his concern over the growing trend toward factionalism. As one of the key founders of the Islamic Republic, he cautioned that such political infighting would ultimately endanger the whole establishment. Rafsanjani instead called for like-minded politicians in both camps to create a new political movement in Iran, under the banner of moderation or centrist. Subsequently, then-Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmoud Vaezi, MP Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, Deputy Cultural Minister Ali Jannati and I met with Rafsanjani to realize the initiative. In that meeting, Rafsanjani told us, “Ruling the country with one faction would be a disaster for the country, and instead all moderates within both major factions should unite and advance economic-political development to strengthen the pillars of the Islamic Republic.” In the same meeting, we decided to establish a party, the Hezbe Etedal va Tosehe, or “Moderate and Development Party.” The best candidate to lead the party, according to Rafsanjani’s advice, was Hassan Rouhani. In 1999, the party and its central committee was established and led by Rouhani. [Continue reading…]

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