Iranian Reformists

For the historic political party with the same name, see Reformers' Party.
Spiritual leader Mohammad Khatami
Parliamentary leader Mohammad Reza Aref
Headquarters Tehran, Iran
Newspaper Aftab Yazd
Asr-e Maa
Ayande-ye No
Yas-e No
Student wing Strengthening Unity
Islamic Association
Parliamentary wing Hope fraction
Ideology Big tent[1]
Islamic democracy
Islamic liberalism
Religion Shia Islam
International affiliation None
Affiliated parties Mosharekat
Majma Khat Emam
Etemad Melli
Jamiat Zanan
Eradeh Mellat
Ettehad Mellat
Umbrella Council Council for coordinating the Reforms Front
Islamic Consultative Assembly[2]
119 / 290
Assembly of Experts
55 / 88
City Council of Tehran[3]
14 / 31
City Council of Isfahan[3]
3 / 21
City Council of Tabriz[3]
2 / 21
City Council of Bushehr[3]
1 / 11

Iranian Reformists (Persian: اصلاح‌طلبان Eslâh-Talabân) is a political movement by a group of political parties and organizations in Iran who supported President Mohammad Khatami's plans to change the system to include more freedom and democracy. Iran's "reform era" is sometimes said to have lasted from 1997 to 2005: the length of Khatami's two terms in office.[4] Council for coordinating the Reforms Front is the main umbrella organization and coalition within the movement, however there are reformist groups not aligned with the council.



The 2nd of Khordad Movement is a term that usually refers not only to the coalition of 18 groups and political parties of the reforms front[5] but to anyone else who was a supporter of the 1997 reform programs of Khatami. The ideology of Khatami and the movement is based on Islamic democracy.

The reforms front consists of several political parties, some of the most famous including the following

The front is coordinated by the Council for Coordinating the Reforms Front.


Many Iranian intellectuals were involved in establishing a foundation for the movement. Perhaps the most influential figure was Abdolkarim Soroush. For many years, he was the only voice publicly criticizing the regime's policies. His regular lectures at Tehran University used to enjoy the attendance of many of the Iranian students who later generated the 2nd of Khordad movement. Many famous figures of the movement belong to the Soroush circle. However, at the rise of 2nd of Khordad movement, Saeed Hajjarian acted as the main theorist behind the movement and the main strategist in Khatami's camp.

The movement has been described as changing the key terms in public discourse: emperialism (imperialism), mostazafen (poor), jehad (jihad), mojahed mujahideen), shahed (martyrdom), khish (roots), enqelab (revolution) and Gharbzadegi (Western intoxication), demokrasi (democracy), moderniyat (modernity), azadi (liberty), barabari (equality), jam'eh-e madani (civil society), hoquq-e beshar (human rights), mosharekat-e siyasi (political participation), Shahrvandi (citizenship), etc.[9]


The "core" of the reform movement is said to be made up of Islamic leftists disqualified for running for office as they were purged and generally "disempowered" by Islamic conservatives following the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989.[10] Islamic leftists turned reformists include Abdolkarim Soroush, Saeed Hajjarian, Akbar Ganji, Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, Mohsen Mirdamadi, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, and the Anjoman-e-Eslami (Islamic Association) and Office for Strengthening Unity student groups.

Many institution support the movement of reformation those organizations like Organization of the Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution (OMIR) and the Majma’a Rohaneeyoon Mobarez or the forum of the militant clergy, office for fostering unity and freedom movement of Iran. Also there were many media in supporting of the reformation like the Iran-e-farda and kian magazinez.[11]

Khatami's support is said to have cut across regions and class lines with even some revolutionary guards, qom seminarians[9] and Basij members voting for him.[12] The core of his electoral support, however, came from the modern middle class, college students, women, and urban workers.[9] For example, by 1995, about half of Iran's 60.5 million people were too young to be alive at the time of the Islamic Revolution.[13]

Major events

1997 presidential election

The movement began with the May 23, 1997, surprise victory of Mohammad Khatami, "a little known cleric",[14] to the presidency on with almost 70% of the vote. Khatami's win was credited largely to the votes of women and youth who voted for him because he promised to improve the status of women and respond to the demands of the younger generation in Iran. Another reflection of the enthusiasm for reform was that voter turnout was 80%, compared to 50% in the last presidential election in which there had been no reformist candidate.

Khatami is regarded as Iran's first reformist president, since the focus of his campaign was on the rule of law, democracy and the inclusion of all Iranians in the political decision-making process.

Assassination attempt on Saeed Hajjarian

Very soon after the rise of the 2nd of Khordad movement, there was an attempted assassination of Saeed Hajjarian the main strategist of the reformist camp. In March, 2000, he was shot in the face on the doorstep of Tehran's city council by a gunman who fled on a motor-cycle with an accomplice. The bullet entered through his left cheek and lodged in his neck. He was not killed but was "badly paralyzed"[15] for some time. During his coma, groups of young Iranians kept a vigil outside Sina hospital, where he was being treated. Due to this injury, Hajjarian now uses a walking frame, and his voice is distorted.[16][17]

His convicted assailant Saeed Asgar, a young man who was reported to be a member of the Basij militia, served only a small part of his 15-year jail sentence.[15][16]

Ganji and Red Eminence and Grey Eminences

Red Eminence and Grey Eminences (Persian: عالیجناب سرخپوش و عالیجنابان خاکستری "Alijenabe Sorkhpoosh, Alijenabane Khakestari") is name of series of newspaper articles and a book written by Akbar Ganji under the responsibility of Saeed Hajjarian, in which he criticized former President Rafsanjani as the "Red Eminence" and the intelligence officers in his government, such as Ali Fallahian as the "Grey Eminences". His subsequent prosecution and conviction for "anti-Islamic activities" for his role in the publication of the book and articles cost Akbar Ganji six years of imprisonment.[18]

1999 local elections

Reformist candidates did remarkably well in the 1999 local elections and received 75% of the vote.[19]

18th of Tir crisis (1999)

The 18th of Tir (July 9) crisis, refers to a demonstration in Tehran University dormitory in reaction to closing Salam newspaper by the regime. Demonstrations continued for a few days in most cities in Iran and in more than ninety-five countries worldwide. The demonstration ended in violence and the death of a young Iranian citizen along with many casualties. At the time, it was Iran's biggest antigovernment demonstrations since the 1979 Islamic revolution. After attacking of the students of Tehran University by hard line vigilante group, Khatami delivered a speech three month later while defending of his reform programme and at the same time he insisted on the foundations of his government. He referred to the reformation of system from within with holding two elements of Islamic and republic..[20]

18th of Tir national day of protest (2003)

In 2003, Iran's leading prodemocracy student group, the Daftar-e Tahkim-e-Vahdat called for a national day of protest on the 18th of Tir to commemorate the original 1999 protest. At least one observer believes it was the failure of this protest that "delivered a fatal blow to the reform movement."[21]

According to journalist Afshin Molavi, many Iranians hoped the day would lead to an uprising that would "break the back" of the hardliners, but instead the Islamic Republic "employed violence, intimidation, and sophisticated carrot-and-stick approach to suck the wind out of the demonstrations." In addition to a show of force and numerous checkpoints, the state used sophisticated jamming technology to black out satellite all the television feed and allowed the holding of (rare) outdoor pop concerts to draw young people away from the demonstrations. Dartar-e Tahkim-e-Vahdat also hurt its cause by calling for foreigners, the UN,- to assist it against the government.[22]

6th Parliament (2000)

In the Iranian parliamentary elections, 2000 to elect the 6th parliament, reformist enjoyed a majority (69.25%), or 26.8 million, of the 38.7 million voters who cast ballots in the February 18, 2000 first round. Ultimately reformists won 195 of the 290 Majlis seats in that election.[19]

7th Parliament (2004)

In January 2004, shortly before the 2004 Iranian legislative elections (the 7th Parliament), the conservative Council of Guardians ended Iranian voters' continued support for reformists by taking the unprecedented step of banning about 2500 candidates, nearly half of the total, including 80 sitting Parliament deputies. More than 100 MPs resigned in protest and critics complained the move "shattered any pretense of Iranian democracy".[23]

27 Khordad presidential election (2005)

In the 27 Khordad presidential election (June 17, 2005), Mostafa Moin and Mehdi Karroubi were the main candidates of the 2nd of Khordad movement. However, neither made it to the second round of the election (the final runoff): Moin came in fifth and Karroubi third in the first round. As a result, many supporters of the reform movement lost hope and did not participate in the election.

2009 Iranian presidential election

The two leading reformist candidates in the 2009 presidential election were Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Mousavi supporters disbelieved the election results and initiated a series of protests that lasted several days. After many days of protesting against the election results, the protests eventually turned violent as the Basij (loyal police to the Islamic Republic) started attacking the protesters and vice versa. Some protesters turned their anger to the government itself and tried to overthrow the Islamic Republic. The protests in general lasted up to several months.[7]


The ultimate lack of success of the movement is described by The Economist magazine:

Dozens of newspapers opened during the Khatami period, only for many to be shut down on one pretext or another by the judiciary. Clerics who took advantage of the new atmosphere to question the doctrine of velayat-e faqih [Islamic government] were imprisoned or otherwise cowed. Even as political debate blossomed, Iran's security services cracked down on religious and ethnic minorities. A number of the regime's critics fell victim to murders traced later to the interior ministry. In 1999 police reacted to a peaceful demonstration for freer speech by invading Tehran University, beating and arresting hundreds of students and killing at least one. In the majlis (parliament) much of the president's reforming legislation was vetoed by the Council of Guardians, a committee of clerics appointed by the supreme leader to ensure that laws conform with Islamic precepts.[24]

Saeed Hajjarian, the main theorist behind the movement, declared in 2003 that "the reform movement is dead. Long live the reform movement".[25]

The victory of conservatives in the 2005 presidential election and the 2004 Majlis election can be explained "not so much" by an expansion of "their limited core base as by [their] dividing of the reformers and [their] discouraging them from voting," according to political historian Ervand Abrahamian.

The conservatives won in part because they retained their 25% base; in part because they recruited war veterans to run as their candidates; in part because they wooed independents on the issue of national security; but in most part because large numbers of women, college students, and other members of the salaried middle class stayed home. Turnout in the Majles elections fell below 51% - one of the worst since the revolution. In Tehran, it fell to 28%.[26]


The reform movement has been criticized as "too divided to establish its own political authority, too naïve about the tenacity of the authoritarian elite around Khamenei, and too inflexible to circumvent the ban on political parties in Iran by creating and sustaining alternative forms of mobilisation."[27] In addition, leaders of the reform movement lacked a clear and coherent strategy of establishing durable and extensive linkages with the public.

Ironically, they became a victim of their electoral successes. The reform movement's "control of both the presidency and parliament from 2000 to 2004 made it look inept and a part of the corrupt system in the eyes of many Iranians."[28]


BBC journalist Jonathan Beale reports that since secularism is banned in Iran, it is an ideology that is mostly followed by political organizations among the Iranian diaspora or by many of the anti-sharia political parties in exile that are secular. These parties promote regime change, most often with foreign aid and military intervention (particularity from the United States). He quotes a former leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Mohsen Sazegara (also one of its founders), as saying, "Don't interfere. Leave these affairs to the Iranian people". Sazegara believes the US should call for democracy and freedom, and let Iranian opposition groups inside Iran, which are Reformists, take the lead, instead of attempting to create an opposition in exile.[29]

Referendum movement

The Referendum movement calls in effect for a rerun of the 1979 referendum that established the Islamic Republic in Iran: "a 'yes or no' vote on whether today's Iranians still want the authoritarian Islamic Republic that another generation's revolution brought them." It is said to have been born out of "the ashes of the failures of Khatami's Islamic democracy movement" and reflected in one-word graffiti on walls in Tehran saying "no".[30] It has been criticized as calling for complete system change without "building the political and organisational network to back it up" and inviting a brutal crackdown, with "no means on the ground to resist it".[31]

Election results


President of Iran
Date Candidate Supported % Votes Rank Notes
1997 Mohammad Khatami 69.6% 20,078,187 1st Supported by Combatant Clerics and Executives
2001 77.1% 21,659,053 1st Supported by Participation Front, Mojahedin, Combatant Clerics and Executives
2005/1 Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani 21.13% 6,211,937 1st Supported by Executives
Mehdi Karroubi 17.24% 5,070,114 3rd Supported by Combatant Clerics
Mostafa Moeen 13.89% 4,083,951 5th Supported by Participation Front and Mojahedin
Mohsen Mehralizadeh 4.38% 1,288,640 7th No major party support
2005/2 Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani 35.93% 10,046,701 2nd Tactical voting
2009 Mir-Hossein Mousavi 33.75% 13,338,121 2nd Supported by Participation Front, Mojahedin, Executives and Combatant Clerics
Mehdi Karroubi 0.85% 333,635 4th National Trust Party Candidate
2013 Hassan Rouhani 50.88% 18,692,500 1st Tactical voting
endrosed by Council for coordinating the Reforms Front

Islamic Consultative Assembly

Islamic Consultative Assembly
Date Seats
# % ± pp
195 / 290
67.24% -
39 / 290
13.44% Decrease53.8
47 / 290
16.2% Increase3.06
9 / 290
3.1% Decrease13.1
121 / 290
41.72% Increase38.62

Assembly of Experts

Assembly of Experts
Date Seats
# % ± pp
8 / 86
9% -
29 / 86
34% Increase25
46 / 88
52% Increase18

City Council of Tehran

City Council of Tehran
Date Seats
# % ± pp
15 / 15
100% -
0 / 15
0% Decrease100
4 / 15
26.66% Increase26.66
14 / 31
45.16% Increase18.5

Notable Iranian Reformist Figures

See also


  1. Scott Peterson (9 February 2009), "On eve of Iran anniversary, talk of compromise", MinnPost, retrieved 30 April 2016
  2. 1 2 "مجلس نهم "فراکسیون اصلاح‌طلبان" ندارد". Deutche Welle. 04.06.2012. Retrieved 2015-03-17. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 "سهم گروه‌های سیاسی از چهارمین انتخابات شورای شهر در تهران و ۸ شهر بزرگ". Khabar Online. July 2013. Retrieved March 10, 2015.
  4. Ebadi, Shirin, Iran Awakening, by Shirin Ebadi with Azadeh Moaveni, Random House New York, 2006, p.180
  5. "BBC NEWS - Middle East - Poll test for Iran reformists". Retrieved 28 May 2016.
  6. "2nd Khordad Front must ponder over every aspect of their actions: daily". Retrieved 28 May 2016.
  7. 1 2 3 4 "Too late for a reformist momentum?". Retrieved 28 May 2016.
  8. "BBC NEWS - Middle East - Poll test for Iran reformists". Retrieved 28 May 2016.
  9. 1 2 3 Abrahamian, History of Modern Iran, (2008), p.186
  10. Molavi, Afshin, The Soul of Iran, Norton, (2005), p.98
  11. Anoushiravan Enteshami & Mahjoob Zweiri (2007). Iran and the rise of Neoconsevatives,the politics of Tehran's silent Revolution. I.B.Tauris. p. 10.
  12. Molavi, Afshin, The Soul of Iran, Norton, (2005), p.149
  13. Brumberg, Daniel, Reinventing Khomeini : The Struggle for Reform in Iran, University of Chicago Press, 2001, p.188
  14. "BBC News - MIDDLE EAST - Profile: Mohammad Khatami". Retrieved 28 May 2016.
  15. 1 2 BBC: Iran jails Hajjarian gunman (17 May 2000)
  16. 1 2 BBC: Iran's reformists warn of dictatorship (17 July 2002)
  17.,8543,-11205218336,00.html Hajjarian casting his ballot in the 2005 election
  18. عالیجنابان سرخپوش و عالیجنابان خاکستری، آسیب شناسی گذار به دولت دمکراتیک توسعه گرا ISBN 978-964-7134-01-9
  19. 1 2 3 Abrahamian, Ervand, History of Modern Iran, Columbia University Press, 2008, p.188
  20. Anoushiravan Enteshami & Mahjoob Zweiri (2007). Iran and the rise of Neoconsevatives,the politics of Tehran's silent Revolution. I.B.Tauris. p. 10.
  21. Molavi, The Soul of Iran, (2005), p.313
  22. Molavi, The Soul of Iran, (2005), p.315-9
  23. Iran: an afternoon with a hostage-taker, Afshin Molavi 10-11-2005
  24. "Men of principle", The Economist. London: Jul 21, 2007. Vol. 384, Iss. 8538; pg. 5
  25. اصلاحات مرد زنده باد اصلاحات
  26. Abrahamian, Ervand, A History of Modern Iran, Cambridge University Press, 2008, p.194, 3
  27. "Iran's revolutionary spasm". openDemocracy. Retrieved 28 May 2016.
  28. Gunes Murat Tezcur, ''Muslim Reformers in Iran and Turkey: The Paradox of Moderation, University of Texas Press, 2010, p. 140.
  29. Beale, Jonathan, Iran exiles struggle for US influence
  30. Molavi, Afshin, The Soul of Iran, (2005), p.311
  31. Iran's referendum movement| Kaveh Ehsani| 13 April 2005
  32. Farhi, Farideh. "Iran's 2008 Majlis Elections" (PDF). University of Brendies. Retrieved 2015-03-17.
  33. Rasouli, Habib. "آرايش سياسي مجلس نهم". Mardomsalari. Retrieved 2015-03-17.
  34. Afshari, Ali. "تحليلي از نتايج انتخابات خبرگان". Rooz Online. Retrieved 2015-03-17.
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