An Outlook On Civil Society in IRAN and the 1979 Revolution
By Omid Memarian
The concept of civil society(1) in Iran has become a widespread trend and acquired a key position in the Iranian political dialect since the reformists era, who sought change in the structures and laws of the country came into power in the latter part of the last decade. Repeated reference to civil society and other political slogans such as “ citizenry rights and demands”, by Mohammad Khatami, the seventh president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, during his presidential campaign declared a new shift in Iran’s nation-state equation.(2)
Given the existing conditions of social and political freedoms at the time, what was presumed by Khatami’s reference to civil society was an affirmation on improving individual, social and political rights. Two groups in particular, were targeted by Khatami for having been previously subjected to exceptional conditions in comparison to other sectors of society. Women primarily, who were buried deep in the obscurity of male discrimination in a society intertwined with male supremacy; Secondly, the youth, who formed the biggest fraction in society following the serious changes in the axis of population in the eighties. Khatami’s attention to these two groups at this juncture, with their multitude of pressures and frustrations accumulated over the years, shaped the notion of civil society from it’s academic implications into a popular term, which could safely be said to have become synonymous with individual, social and political rights in different spheres. Such assumptions enticed the artists and other players in the society, who had also been ostracized as result of implemented policies, to join forces in support of a candidate, with an otherwise slim chance of winning the election.(3)
In the years that followed, civil society became(4) one of the key topics of discourse among social and political scholars and activists, and civil society organizations encountered change. Even though seven years has passed since the verbal approach on civil society amongst government officials and activists in this field, a unanimous consensus had not been reached regarding the particulars, limits and boundaries of civil society. It appears, however, the start of a movement in the Iranian society and its evolvement into a prevalent discourse, at least verbally, has directed the attention towards non governmental institutions in different domains. Although, sections of “civil society” has been subjected to ups and downs, restrictions on print media for example, in other sections such as women and youth NGOs and public organizations catering to modern citizen’s extended interests, such as environment, human rights, peace, sciences etc. anticipate extensive changes. No surprise that analyzing trends that lead to these changes has attracted many.
In analyzing civil society changes some people believe that the first year of Islamic Revolution in 1979, should be the starting point. A Revolution considered by many as product of groups and organizations active in traditional civil society during the years leading to it’s birth.
Although, in numerous existing studies of the Islamic Revolution, the Revolution is considered by some people to be the product of “ Shah’s modernization scheme”, which brought about the formation of deprived and the indigent groups, known in post-revolutionary times as the “Mostazefan”, the underprivileged(5). The convergence of the traditional social institutions such as the shi’a clergy, the baszaaries, schools of theology, religious fellowships and network of charitable organizations with the modern civil groups such as the students, white color workers, and even teachers were the real driving force behind the Revolution of 1979. This formidable social power influenced the changes in civil society in later years to come.
The Revolution will be the starting point in this article. In the study of the changes in civil society going through the major post-revolutionary events, it will be noted that the Iranian society has undergone various transitions under their influence. In this article it will be attempted to study three procedures of change regarding the above study. There will be no mention of political development that occurred from 1979 to 1983 in this section that resulted in opening up of societies and movements by political groups, the print media and opposition movements against the Islamic Republic culminating in armed conflict, as the revolution’s transitional period. (6) The main focus will be on the condition of civil society in Iran pertinent to civil society organizations and owing to the relationship of this sector with other sectors namely the print media, we will briefly glance at the latter too.
In the same manner, it is necessary to view certain realities regarding these three periods to obtain an accurate outlook on the civil society in Iran:
1. The eight year war of Iran-Iraq 1980-1988.
2. Economic Reconstruction Era, during the presidency of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, (1989-1987)
3. The Reform Era. (1987-2005)
THE EIGHT YEAR IRAN IRAQ WAR 1980-1988
The onset of war motivated the emergence of the popular movements in shape of public mobilization and supplying aid to war zones. An examination of the conditions of civil society at this stage indicates that apart from public organizations such as charities, that had their roots in the Bazaar and were at the service of “Basij”(mobilized masses), the traditional civil society (7) and civil based organizations as a whole serviced the war. Hence, the independent social and political presence of citizens on the social arena, due to the events of early eighties, is viewed with pessimism. Apart from the activities of those organizations that have roots in the bazaar or among the clergy such as guilds and charities, other forms of popular societal participation appears as vague and ineffective.
In the wake of revolutionary victory and fervor, 1980-1981, the civil society encountered an unprecedented increase in number and variety of associations. During this period, civil society is under the influence of traditional civil society. Role of traditional groups (8)such as the Bazaaris, charitable organizations and guilds and of course the newly established foundations mobilized by the masses during the war is remarkable. Hence, owing to the outbreak of war and the threat of foreign invasion, the emergence of revolutionary organizations and those aimed at the sustenance of the political order (similar to those in other countries during the war) the civil society in Iran undergoes a most constricted period of its existence. In short it can be said that revolutionary discourse which regards the masses as a decisive factor in the formation of society, dismisses to one side discourse of civil society. Nevertheless, a bill to facilitate formation of political parties and groups and public organizations was passed in the parliament in 1982. Regardless of its contents, this law implies that the theme of political participation in form of associations and parties was the topic of the day of the political sector.
THE RECONSTRUCTION ERA (1989-1987)
Civil society in Iran undergoes extensive changes, during this period they is a remarkable increase in per capita income and development of a newly emerging middle class. Three significant changes can be noticed in this period:
1. Quantitative growth of scientific and expert associations
2. Increase in the number of students groups
3. Quantitative and qualitative increase in social and cultural centers
Expanding the activities of the Azad Islamic University nationally and the establishment of private schools that, partially, took education away from the government control and into the hands of the private sector.
Although, economic re-construction has helped to a certain extent to open up the social and political climate, but since it is not included in the government agenda and other power institutions, civil society will therefore not undergo any significant changes. During this period owing to the obscurity of boundaries between the civil society and political society, major challenges are created between the government officials and the political elite. Student protests of the 90s, pressure on writers and political activists and limitations and inhibitions in universities are among topics that caused numerous conflicts at this stage. (9)
One of the characteristics of civil society during the economic modernization period is the formation of organizations that later gave birth to a pseudo-civil society. Mainly government officials and their families that in appearance seemed non-governmental and in financial resources and direction were entirely governmental founded these organizations. During this period they appeared in international arenas as representatives of civil society whereas, they were very few among them that actually represented the civil society.(11)
During this period the government itself is the active force behind energizing Civil society.
During this period the society experiences innovative conditions. People such as Abdol Karim Soroush or Mojtahed Shabestari have preached non dogmatic doctrines on religious rule and the relative religious experiences and flexibility of the scripture, which enlivened the university environment. Kiayan monthly was shaped as a ring of religious intellectuals. A number of Reformists and Khatami’s cronies were among the editorial staff of this publication.(12) These discussions created many challenges among traditional clergy and their followers and religious and secular intellectuals.(13)
International events at this time influenced internal environment of the society, namely the International Women’s Conference of Peking where in addition to women connected to the regime, a number of social activists participated. The Communication network of Women non-Governmental Organizations of Iran was later established under the influence of this Conference. A large number of social activists from women NGOs are among those who traveled to Peking. The various conditions formed in social and cultural centers assisted in the formation of Community Based Organizations and students groups. These groups formed the main structure of established NGOs subsequent to 2nd Khordad (Period of Reform).
One of the most important events that occurred around these organizations at this stage is the Bushehr Conference in which 50 NGOs participated. In this Seminar for the first time topics such, reform of organizational, NGO, laws, education, management and capacity building, information dissemination and communications and facilitation of public organizations participation in municipal management were brought up and discussed. To implement these recommendations follow groups were formed. (14)
PERIOD OF REFORM, 2nd KHORDAD TO THE PRESENT
Two factors distinguish 2nd of Khordad, period of Reform, firstly, changes in government discourse and views and secondly, the public enthusiasm during the elections which drew out even those groups who had been excluded in the past. (15) Social movements at this period found a common goal with, or at least supported the Reformists at this time, which constituted power establishments. The landslide victory of president Khatami, 78% of eligible voters (20,000,000) with an even distribution across social classes, took the conservatives by surprise was indicative of this claim.(16)
Historically the concept of citizenry in Iran always came under the sway of the state.It is safe to say that Khatami’s strategy of empowering civil society was met favorably by intellectuals and the public alike, and that it was tied to the opposition against the monopoly of the government. (18) In Iran, the oil economy has historically given the state an independence from public accountability It therefore, appears that the strategy of empowering civil society in Khatami’s times which was met with extensive enthusiasm by the public, political elite and intellectuals was in reality a reaction to decreasing government monopoly. If the empowerment of civil society in Eastern Europe in the 60s and 70s meant challenging the Communist party line, and in the west entailed a check on unbridled “individualism”, in Iran it took the form of challenging the accountability of the State towards it’s citizens.
A short period of social and political freedoms was witnessed after Khatami’s success at the poles, which would last till the termination of the conservatives’ period of shock. During this period the print media, as an effective force in civil society started to criticize the government and social and political corruption. Closing down of independent media, imprisonment of journalist, disappearance or death of writers and the barbaric attack on the students’ dormitory in 1999, are all indicative of a reality that empowering civil society and development of democratic foundations of the political order was the most significant conflict between the active political forces and the conservatives in the society. (19) The conservatives went as far as labeling this civic demand as a foreign plot to overthrow the system. (20) Conflicts regarding the meaning of civil society in Iran still continue to exist. Pressures from the conservatives increased to such an extent that Khatami was forced to announce that his interpretation of the civil society is non other than the “Madinat al Nabi” a Mohammadan society, in order to diminish the pressure from the conservative clergy.
Relative opening up of political climate activated the gaps between varying political interest groups. It is at this exact period that pressure groups as a hidden axis of government institutions strive to limit freedom of speech and ideology. Although, pressure groups announced their presence in the society during the previous period of economic modernization, by burning bookstores, and disrupting university lecturers’ speeches, their activity increased during the period of 2nd Khordad, Reform.
Nor did the political parties come across any significant changes in the distribution of political power during these years. As in the past, political parties like political pressure groups who, were only active during political campaigns, and by applying non-transparent mechanisms claim their share of political power, failed to engage in any other form of effective activity. Nevertheless, over one hundred political parties were given license for political activity.
Although, the print media, as the forerunner in the changes effecting in civil society, by exposing behind the curtain relationships and serial killings of intellectuals created a stage full of extensive conflicts it nevertheless, created an open horizon for future activity. As an example, a by-law was issued for the first time to facilitate registration of non-governmental organizations. Subsequently, in the Third national Development Plan ten out of 198 items on the program was dedicated to registration, facilitation and support of CSOs (21). In a period of less than three years NGOs saw a tremendous increase in number(22). In addition to youth NGOs student groups saw a remarkable growth in number. The increase in students’ publications during this period was also unprecedented. The students gave up their political activities, however, following several incidents with the authorities that resulted in their arrest and imprisonment, such as the closing down of Moj students’ publication(23), attacking the students’ dormitory in 1999 and interrogation and arrest of a number of students.
Concurrent to these events, laying out a plan for civil society attracted the attention of social activists in whose view empowering civil society was synonymous with legal reform, modification of social structures and increased participation by the public at decision- making levels. All of which was dependent on the government’s willingness to act. The most important step in this direction was the local council elections, which allocated 40,000 positions to the public. Whereas, the election of the public to the city councils could have affected the institutional configuration in the country, in practice the power structures resisted the presence of local councils. (24)
In 2001, 33 civil society activists gathered to draw up a draft proposal of a law for NGOs, which was finalized in 30 sessions. The mentioned draft proposal, however, which was intended to facilitate registration, issuing of licenses, systems of monitoring and applicable laws and rules was met with an unhappy ending owing to government interference. (25)
The internal connections of NGOs grew rapidly. In 2000, a seminar was organized under the title of the role of NGOs in the national and international arenas. In 2002, another national seminar was organized in Mashhad in which 150 organizations participated(26), in the same year an international seminar was organized by the Tehran city council in which for the first time NGOs issued a statement petitioning the government to meet their demands.
Considering the aforementioned issues, the government seems to have undertaken to strengthen its own stance vis-à-vis the civil society as opposed to striving to develop the civil society. Despite election speeches and slogans promoting public participation, implemented projects in civil society continue to implicate a patriarchal view by the government towards civil society. As an example in 2000, the government hastily set up a network of non-governmental organizations throughout 28 provinces in the country. This measure taken from the top did not resemble any other of it’s kind anywhere else in the world. This network was greatly opposed to in Tehran, as neither had the ministry of interior conducted any feasibility studies on it prior to its implementation, nor had any of the relevant organizations been consulted (27). The opposition in Tehran was to such an extent that in a three month period over 20 articles, interviews and reports were printed in the media to denounce the network. Regardless of all the opposition, the ministry of interior proceeded to instruct Tehran’s governor’s office to establish the network of NGOs although only 5% of NGOs participated in the elections. Consequently civil society activists declared this action as a pseudo- empowerment of civil society as in a way, government resources were allocated to this “government established network” and those who did not participate in the elections were deprived of these resources. (28)
This trend was repeated regarding the proposal to reform organizational laws for NGOs , the draft of which had been drawn up by these same organizations, which after being sent to the ministry of interior, underwent such drastic changes that the very organizations which had requested it took measure to have it stopped. Regardless the reviewed draft proposal was sent to the government commission and accepted. The enactment of the law on NGO activities is an indication of how the government regards the public and the NGOs. Laborious and ineffective bureaucracy in registration and a top down, pessimistic attitude towards the rights and maximum monitoring are among the specifics of the regulations ,which delay and are disadvantageous to NGO activities and registration. This sort of attitude by the government not only encourages underground activities and non-transparent stance by this sector towards the government, but it also promotes moral leniency and is detrimental to a participatory spirit. Subsequently, the implementation of the above mentioned law, not only fails to facilitate registration and activities of the NGOs , but it continues to create obstacles for that sector. (29) This outlook on the NGOs in other domains can follow the same pattern. NGOs are still bewildered at this law and are campaigning to review or abolish this law although, government at decision-making level appears to pay little attention to this fact. (30) The major issues discussed by the government and NGOs are, implementation of the law, government’s tendency to establish networks, selective assistance and putting to use government resources to create international opportunities for selective NGOs and relatives.
It has been evident in Iran since 1997, the 2nd Khordad reform period, that government officials have been constantly trying to establish their stance vis-à-vis the civil society. Focusing on reforming party law, election law, media law and finally NGO law are among their effort to establish this relationship. It appears that by determining this relationship the government officials are striving to strengthen their position. Clearly such an approach cannot be transparent. One of the dangers facing NGOs is that conservatives think that NGOs threaten the national security of the country and some government officials tend to think on the same lines. The conservatives believe that what is occurring around the civil society in Iran is similar to what occurred around civil society in USSR prior to its disintegration and such trend should be prevented in Iran. (31)
This pessimism prevalent among the conservatives on the one hand and creating stumbling blocks on the other hand has prevented the civil society to support the government when they needed it most. As an example, during US Afghan invasion when Mohammad Khatami endeavored hard to mobilize a coalition for peace the civil society did not stand behind him. Another example is during the city and rural council election in March 2003, when there was very little participation by the people.
A study of CSOs in Iran indicates that they have experienced a lot of ups and downs side by side government’s erratic performance. The turn these irregularities may take is dependent on the country’s political development . Unless political development the conditions of individual freedoms, freedom of speech, social and economic freedoms can be clearly defined, it would be premature to expect effective functions from these organizations. It may be due to this fact that present obstacles in society can deeply affect on the future of these organizations, particularly modern NGOs whose aims may be in conflict with the government, i.e., human rights, environment, women’s NGOs, transparency and anti corruption NGOs.
According to studies conducted by NGO empowerment organizations (31)they are faced with the following challenges and their future is dependent on how they tackle these obstacles.
1. Neo-paternalism: The government wants to be at the focal point of NGO activity.
2. Clientalism: Making NGOs dependent on institutions formed by the government.
3. Subordination: The government views NGOs as competitors, proteges or rogue formations.
4. Lack of Social Investment: The insufficient private investment and/or the private sectors’s inability to support NGO activities.
5. Lack of Societal Initiative: decrease in citizen participation.
6. Pseudo-Civil Society: The continued presence of government-backed organizations in the guise of NGOs.
7. Paranoia: The government views NGOs as security threats.
8. Lack of Theoretical Literature: NGOs are still proceeding by trial and error.
9. Politicization: Looking at NGO activities as politically motivated and politicizing their field of activity.
The civil society organizations are faced with difficulties which can aggravate threats from authorities. Among weaknesses and vulnerabilities we can point to bad governance, lack of strategy for action, lack of trust among the organizations, weak ethical values, in-consistence communication with the private sector, the government and international organizations, in-efficiency of communication network organizations and turning into financial and political agencies.
Considering the development of general environment of the society however, the governments tendency to reduce its forces, increase in access to information, empowerment of NGOs at an international level and United Nation’s particular attention to them, globalization as well as the natural qualities of CSOs including, being innovative, having expert members and grassroots origins, the NGOs are faced with a bright future. Activists in civil society in Iran have studied short and long term strategies that can make civil society organizations succeed in achieving their goals, they have found effective means to reduce challenges and obstacles and improve their efficiency.
1. Reform of organizational structures and relationships keeping with democratic strategies.
2. Institutionalizing non-governmental organizations.
3.Relying on financial resources other than governmental .
4.Exchange of experience between national and international NGOs.
5.Structuring and making active networks.
6.Strengthening information dissemination mechanisms and training NGOs using existing international resources.
7. Formulating a strategy for action.
8. Avoiding political activity.
In this section, it is necessary to explain that resolving civil society issues in Iran is closely connected to political development and as long as the limits of freedom of press, organizational freedom and freedom of thought has not been determined in Iran, NGO s active in this field which criticize government policies, such as human rights NGOs, will be endangered. The faith of print media and intellectuals in Iran based on NGO activists has been extremely educational. Civil society organizations, bearing in mind that they have a social structure, do not have the same financial means for political confrontation as the media. Consequently, they take a conservative approach. It appears that, ultimately existing social challenges will determine conditions of social and political freedom determining the position of civil society.
Even though political society is presently using, in various forms, effective forces formed in civil society. The weakness of political society in systemization and organizational training of existing forces has placed them in a beneficial position within civil society in Iran. Nevertheless, owing to aforementioned issues civil society has striven to separate itself from the political society. Owing to this fact since Civil society in Iran and in particular NGOs, are today in the process of structural development, absorbing members and strengthening their human resources by avoiding promotional activities and opposition movements against the government, enjoy a fairly secure position. Even though occasionally they are subjected to pessimism like other civil society groups. Nevertheless, NGOs have initiated instituting a culture of democracy which can revolutionize human resources in society in years to come. Maybe it is owing to this fact that involvement in civil society in Iran by those who regard with joy, democratization as implementation of a project in which progress can be achieved step by step.
1- Among many existing descriptions of civil society, in this article civil society is referred to a domain of social interactions, which is void of political interference and consists of a collection of foundations, institutions, associations and civic societies.
2– Discussion on civil society in Iran was initiated by secular intellectuals such as Morad Saghafi, Zarir Merat and Kaveh Bayati, who launched the Goftegoo (Dialogue) Quarterly in 1992. The first issue of the quarterly was almost entirely devoted to civil society. Followed by the Jame’ Salem monthly published by Houshang Amirahamadi in 1993, which also examined the subject of civil society. Farzaneh quarterly was published in the same year dealing with women’s issues. In 1982, during Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s 1st presidential term, Presidental Center for Strategic Studies was established, where individuals such as Sayd Hajjarian, Abbas Abdi, Hossien Ghazian and Sohrab Razzaghi studied political development. Following Khatami’s success in his first presidential term, Hadi Khaniki one of his advisors, devoted his post graduate thesis to the subject of “civil society, power and media”.
3- “Reformists understanding of civil society is a society based on law that any citizen who believes in Islamic Republic’s Constitution is aware of his boundaries and duties and respects this boundary. Reformists, with the help of this understanding attempt to re-define the slogan of the Isalmic Republic of Iran, and although they do not do this through criticism of the existing slogan (Islamic Jurisdiction) they have provoked the opposition of other centers of power in the country. A new slogan has been considered to be a review of the accepted slogan.” From “Violence, human rights and civil society” written by M.R.Nikfar, Tarhe No Publications, pp121.
4-“Although civil society during the Shah’s modernization period underwent changes, it established a strong foundation for the Revolution through a new force created by the clergy, the deprived, students, intellectuals and small trade. The result of this change had a deep negative effect but, it didn’t diminish the revolutionary identity of civil society.” “ Jame’ Madani, Dolat va Noshazi” [Civil Society, State, and Reconstruction], written by Dr. Nasser Kamali.
5- “Mostazefan” refers to a classless people in society who were not absorbed in the services or industry and became the engine of the Revolution in form of the masses. The importance of this group became known after the Revolution by the establishment of “Bonyad Mostazefan” (foundation of the underprevilidged) by Imam Khomeini . The majority of those who headed towards newly established revolutionary foundations were from this group.
6- During the first years of the Revolution when the opposition armed itself against the Islamic Republic, civil society became limited in its actions and was destroyed. Civil society remained under the influence of this movement until the end of Iran Iraq war. This point was indicative of the fact that a non-democratic opposition is capable of contracting the civil society.
7– There two kinds of civil society organizations in Iran, one is traditional charitable organizations and the other modern NGOs . These two organizations differ from one another in their administration and methods of securing financial resources, relationship with the government and their stance among the public.
8- During the modernization era municipalities became extremely powerful by creating new sources of income such as selling constructions rights to land owners. This increase in income was accompanied by the transformation in structures of towns and public cultural centers. Tehran municipality broke down the monopoly of the traditional Bazaar by starting a chain of superstores to provide for the public needs. Striving to break down the Bazaar’s monopoly resulted in weakening the traditional civil society. Pressure from the Bazaaries, mainly by those who gained high positions in the revolutionary establishment, resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of several mayors, including Tehran’s mayor, for embezzlement of public funds.
9- Civil society activists in Iran believe that the presence of government officials, who cannot be rivaled because of their access to financial resources, information and international arena in CSOs, creates double standards in CSOs.Ther are many NGOs at present in Tehran, who because of having government officials as members, are commissioned all sorts of projects by the government and even be active in very sensitive areas such as human rights. All of the above is of course carried out under the guise of a NGO. Whenever NGOs are in conflict with the government, these shadow organizations blatantly take the side of the government.
10- The editor of Kian monthly was Mashallh Shams al Vaezin who published, Tus, Neshatm Jame’, Assre Azedegan after Khatami came into power. He spent over one year in prison because of his involvement in the print media. Other members of Kyan’s editorial staff were Dr.Abdol Karim Soroush, Dr.HassanYoussefi Eshkevari, Dr.hossein Bashirieh, Dr.Ramin Jahanbeglou, Akbar Ganji, Majid Mohammadi, Alireza Alavitabar, Mortez Mardiha, Ahamad Naraghi, Emad ed Din Baghi, Mohsen Kadivar.
11- During hashemi Rafanjani’s modernization era 2500 students were sent abroad (England, Australia, France and Canada) for continuing education.
12- Hamid Reza Jalaipour, the reformist sociologist, believes that cooperation of social movements with reformists is because of their common goal in political freedom.
13- During 2ndKhordad elections various small and large movements participated: Women, youth, omitted secular groups, Iranians abroad, green movement, ethnic groups.
14- “ If one day this Revolution demanded oppression, we will make it happen, but today there is no need” Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani forerunner of modernization’s view about the society, Namaze Jom’a Tehran, 1984.
15- This challenge was to such an extent that strengthening civil society was viewed by some as means of toppling the regime, and thus opposed vigorously. 24 commanders of the Sepah armed forces state in a closed letter to the president in 1999, “ practicing democracy at the cost of toppling the regime.”
16- “ Every action is calculated…Freedom of press so that they can whatever they like, this is a small portion of a conspiracy…. They create a creeping coup d’etat…Don’t think that giving them this chance id to their advantage….. they are destroying Islamic values……One day they will be taken care of.” Ayattollah Mesbah Yazdi, Fath newspaper 2000. It should be mentioned that over 80 publications were closed down following these statements and a number of journalists were sent to prison and tried.
17- By the end of 2002, 800 youth NGOs were given license to work, which if added non- licensed NGOs would reach 2000. 320 women NGOs, 480 environmental NGOs, 114 scientific NGOs, 1400 cultural societies and 4500 Gharzol hassane funds.
18- Moj student publication had only a circulation of 200. In one of its issues a fictitious story was printed about the Messiah Mahdi, in the course of a few days, conservative institutions such as the Radio and television, Imam Jome’s and fundamentalist newspapers organized a nation wide demonstrations. Many classes in Hozeh Elmieh were cnacelled, and a story that had only been published in 200 copies was as a form of protest printed and distributed across the country. Students involved in this incident were arrested and were served a prison sentence, but were pardoned by the Supreme Leader after a few months.
19- Although, students were one of the groups used by reformists they were nevertheless,later discarded by them. The incident of attacking the students’ dormitory in 1997,was a slap in the face.Particularly since after their sentence was announced they were all pardoned. The judgement provoked the anger of the students and caused them to become inactive in university.
20- Although the government took measures to establish urban and rural councils in 1997,it failed to establish functional relationship with this new entity. The councils have so far only served as a center to elect a mayor. Adjournment of Tehran local council jus t a few months before the end of it’s first term, is unmistakably an example of governments’ intolerance towards popular institutions even-though a reformist, Mossavi Lari, a member of the “Rohanyan Mobarez” militant clergy, was minister of interior at the time.
21- Measures to establish parallel institutions to independent civil society institutions such as the Network of non-Governmental Organizations for Women, Youth, Environment, Charities etc. state the regime’s fear of popular alliances. This attitude is clearly evident in the governments’ decision-makings process pre and post 2nd Khordad period. Similar measures that resulted in tainting genuine popular movements prior to governments’ measures to establish networks, were forming students organizations parallel the Union of Student Societies, Solidarity Union, and establishing a governmental association parallel to the bar association. The former weakened the Islamic Students Union and the latter attempted to weaken the Bar Association a long established institution.
22- In the following year 2002, equivalent of $500,000 out of the estimated budget for civil society organizations, was allocated to Co-ordination Councils without them being representative of civil society or discussing it with other non- governmental organizations. What causes alarm among independent NGOs is that in the event of discord between civil society institutions the government, this new-sprung government dependent institution will confront NGOs and weaken popular grass-roots movements.
23- Other weakening factors in this direction are: While civil society organizations were trying to raise funds for sponsorship of qualified candidates to attend the International Conference on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, a number of government officials Ashraf Boroujerdi, vice minister of interior, Elahe Koulai, M.P., Zahra Nejad Bahram, Financial assistance to Tehran governor among others formed “Committee for the Empowerment of NGOs” to raise funds to sponsor candidates to South Africa. Clearly, a fund raising committee formed of cabinet members could not be equaled in strength by civil organizations indication of lack of confidence by the government in measures taken by civil society organizations and an authoritarian approach to civil society .
24- At the same time an NGO committee is formed in Tehran to assess the three issues of lobbying procedures with the government, creating public awareness on the items of the regulations and legal assessment while in process of ratification.
25- Though not all conservative reformists admit their concern, a conspiratorial view of conservative print media is quite evident. After the non elected conservatives created the grounds through scandalous rabble rousing close down some publications in March 2001, they turned their attention to some NGOs. In October 2001 for example, Abbas Kakkavand wrote in Resalat, “the NGOs substitute the serial media?” Serial media is what is remembered by some as “enemy base”. There are certain parts of this article that define the policies of a section of government to the NGOs.”….. Civil institutions in Iran state their goal from the start to be one of extremist opposition to the system and it’s destruction….In many instances these institutions go outside their field of activity and appear as political parties, media, dissident groups (students movements).
26- Some of the activists from NGOs, during a meeting at Iranian Civil Society Organizations Resource Center took measures to draw a table for the evaluation and strategies of NGOs in Iran. Social activists were consulted during the preparation of this table.