Iran in the 1990’s and 2000’s

By | December 16, 2021

Upon Khomeini’s death, Khamanei succeeded him as religious leader of the country. The moderate and pragmatic conservative ‛AA Rafsangiani was elected to the presidency of the Republic. canonical law on the line of rigor (veil to women, prohibition of alcohol etc.) which had belonged to Khomeini. Meanwhile, the Iranian economy, affected by the complex political and military events that had affected the country, after the growth of the previous years suffered a sudden setback; The strong fluctuations in the price of crude oil on international markets and the continuous consequent fluctuations in production volume also weighed negatively. The economic crisis (growth of foreign debt and unemployment, depreciation of the riyal) was particularly felt by the poorest sections of the urban population, whose standard of living was drastically reduced. The fear of losing the support of the traditional basis of the regime led the government, in the spring of 1994, to partially revise the policy of economic liberalization (in particular as regards the reduction of subsidies for basic necessities). Nonetheless, in the summer of the same year there were protests and riots in numerous cities, while a real revolt against the high cost of living broke out on the outskirts of Tehran in April 1995. For Iran 2000, please check

The crisis worsened at the end of that same month, when the US president B. Clinton announced a total freeze on trade and investment against Iran, accused of being the instigator and main organizer of international Islamic terrorism, as well as pursuing a program to acquire nuclear weapons with the help of Russia and China. The Iranian government, for its part, decided to focus on greater diversification of production activities, in order to break the dependence of the national economy on hydrocarbons. In an attempt to overcome the economic emergency, the government launched, with the Second Five-Year Plan (1995-2000), an austerity and reform program, pursuing the economic recovery of the country also through drastic cuts in imports. An economic and financial recovery of the Iran was favored, in the late nineties, the rise in oil prices, which significantly increased oil revenues; however, some fundamental problems remained unsolved, such as inflation, which was still very high, and the prosperity of an underground economy, which deprived the State of considerable tax revenues. On the political level, moreover, the eight years of Rafsangiani’s presidential term disappointed the expectations of those who hoped for the normalization of the regime. Relations with neighboring countries remained difficult: a long dispute over reparations was opened with Iraq, which was added to the tensions caused by the treatment reserved by the Baghdad authorities for the Shiite populations present in the southern Iraqi regions and by the Iranian support for the Kurds stationed in northern Iraq. The Kurdish question also conditioned relations with Turkey, which improved only at the end of 1997. Furthermore, after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the Iran sought to extend its influence also in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, which shared religious, cultural and linguistic affinities (in the case of Tajikistan), while in the Afghan civil war, following the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989, it maintained its support of Shiite formations.

The persistence of a critical situation in Afghanistan, even after the proclamation of the Islamic Republic in Kabul (April 1992), then continued to hinder the return of the nearly three million refugees, mostly Shiites, who had flocked to Iran in the 1980s, with negative repercussions on the economic and social conditions of the country. Meanwhile, the US embargo, although disregarded by Japan and some European countries, it accentuated the isolation of the Iran, preventing him from accessing long-term loans from international credit institutions. The country therefore emerged from the Rafsangiani era as a whole poorer, less free (especially with respect to the needs matured among the new generations) and the victim of an apparently no way out of isolation. The contradiction between the actual modernization started (literacy, connection of electricity and running water in the villages, increase in life expectancy, female participation in social life and high percentage of female students in higher education degrees) and the growing impoverishment of Country. Meanwhile, the participation of women in political and social life had grown significantly compared to the times of the Pahlavi dynasty, giving a glimpse, in a social context however hostile to change, the possibility of overcoming a rigid interpretation of the Koranic texts; and also the intolerance of the young towards the cultural politics of the most obscurantist religious contributed to increasing the political weight of the reformists. Already in the legislative elections of March-April 1996 the conservatives suffered a considerable decline in support for the benefit of the pro-government reformists, tacitly supported by President Rafsangiani, but the most significant turning point in the life of the country was determined by the results of the presidential elections of 23 May 1997.

Surprisingly, SM Khatami,religious leader, was right by the strongest candidate, the president of Parliament, and leader of the conservative wing. Its unexpected success confirmed the vitality of a part of Iranian society, especially women and young people, who after years of silence came out in the open supporting the reformist candidate from the columns of some press organs. Immediately an arm wrestling broke out between the reformist forces and the more obscurantist ones in the country, which traditionally hold all religious, judicial and supervisory positions. Khatami, after a declaration of friendship towards the American people (December 1997) and the taking of a critical stance towards the sentence of death issued against the writer S. Rushdie, found himself in difficulty in the face of the evident dualism of powers that dominated the political life of the country. Between November and December 1998, a mysterious chain of murders struck some dissidents and liberal intellectuals engaged in the battle for the secularization of the regime. In February 1999 the elections of the municipal councils, already foreseen by the Iranian Constitution of 1979 but never entered into function, represented an important step in the process of rooting reforms in the country: the high influx at the polls rewarded the supporters of President Khatami, who Tehran won 13 out of 15 seats.

In July 1999, protest demonstrations by Iranian students in favor of freedom of the press and against the closure of the newspaper Salam, very close to the president, flowed after the violent assault on campus university in Tehran by the police forces and Islamic extremists of Ansar-i Hizbullah, in a real student revolt in the squares and universities of the capital, firmly repressed by the regime. The clash with the conservatives was not hampered by the success of the reformist camp (2000) in Parliament nor by the overwhelming confirmation of Khatami in 2001 (June 9), with about 78% of the votes. In 2002, in the new scenario following the September 11 attacks in the United States, the inclusion by US President GW Bush of the Iran among the countries of the so-called “axis of evil” it triggered a nationalist reaction skillfully exploited by the conservatives, who since 2004 experienced a clear political recovery, winning first the elections in Parliament and then (2005) the presidential elections, pasdaran), the special voluntary assault corps set up by Khomeini to defend the Islamic Republic. With his victory, an authoritarian wave, characterized by pressure on the press and on the reforming movements of civil society, imposed an abrupt halt to the development of the country’s internal dialectic. On the international front, Ahmadinejad’s aggressive strategy has resulted in invectives and threats against Israel, support for the actions of the hizbullahs Lebanese, and great emphasis on the nuclear program, which exposed the country to condemnation by the international community, to UN sanctions (February 2007) and the United States (June 2010), but also allowed Iran to gain prestige in the region. The 2009 elections confirmed Ahmadinejad’s presidency, supported above all by the rural classes; the result was contested by strong demonstrations in the streets of the opposition, hegemon instead of the city bourgeoisie, which denounced heavy fraud, clashing with the Islamic militia of the Basiji. The repercussions and international implications of this internal conflict within Iranian society are noteworthy, and it is no coincidence that numerous positions have been expressed abroad on the controversial matter. Strengthened also by its 195 million tons of oil per year (2006 data) and huge quantities of natural gas (in 2006 a project to market these resources in euros as well as dollars), Iran it is in fact a country of strategic importance in the global scenario.

Iran in the 1990's