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Iran has a long and rebellious history

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 29th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Long a thorn in the side of the West, the nation of Iran has a long, proud and calamitous history of defiance. Having toppled the autocratic Shah in 1979, who was nonetheless friendly with the United States, the former revolutionaries themselves are now being challenged by groups thirsting for change.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Opposition to them began shortly after the revolution that ended the Shah's reign. Iran fought a long and costly war with Iraq, and splits emerged among the once united revolutionary front. The Iranian government began a crackdown on dissent in an attempt to consolidate power and bring stability to the nascent Islamic Republic.

The most famous of the early opposition groups was the People's Mujahedeen of Iran, or MEK. In spite of being closely allied to Ayatollah Khomeini and his supporters throughout the 1970s, the group split from the Supreme Leader shortly after the revolution.

In 1981, the conflict between the government and MEK fighters descended into street battles. Outlawed shortly afterwards, Iraq's Saddam Hussein exploited the group, giving it a base in Iraq and support to wage attacks inside Iran and provide intelligence. 

Also among the opposition groups was the Tudeh party, or the "party of the masses." Many of this group's members were arrested and executed during the 1980s.

Faced with mounting opposition on all sides, the Islamic Republic banned all political parties save the Islamic Republic Party in 1981. Khomeini later broke up the party in 1985 over internal conflicts. Only parties that adhered to the Islamic character of the state could operate legally.

Those who held different views paid a heavy price, like Abulhassan Babnisdar, the Islamic Republic's first president. He went into exile after being impeached a year after taking office.

Another high-profile figure fell foul of the Supreme Leader in 1989. Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, Khomeini's heir apparent, was fired after he had called for more openness and criticized the crackdown on dissent.

Montazeri was replaced by the more conservative Ayatollah Ali Khameinei, who succeeded Khomeini upon his death in June 1989. He remains Iran's Supreme Leader today.

Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was elected as president for the first of two terms. Critics accuse Rafsanjani of widespread corruption. He oversaw the period of reconstruction after nearly a decade of the devastating war with Iran.

In 1997, the election of the reformist Mohammad Khatami arrived in a surprising landslide victory indicating the country was ready for change. While Khatami encouraged more openness in Iran, his reformist agenda was limited by the judiciary, which remained controlled by conservatives.

Khatami had tried to increase the president's powers and limit the power of the Guardian Council, a 12-member council half appointed by the Supreme Leader and half selected by parliament, but was blocked by the powerful body that is able to veto parliament and interpret the constitution.

And then, the "Green Movement." Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a conservative who, ironically, doesn't come from a clerical background like most of his predecessors, was elected to his first term as president in 2005. Ahmadinejad's first term was characterized by defiance to western-imposed sanctions and threats against Iran. 

Ahmadinejad stood for re-election against his main challenger, Mir-Hussein Mousavi in 2009. Mousavi, who served as the Islamic Republic's first and only prime minister from 1979 until the office was abolished in 1989, was a close ally of former president Khatami and ran as the main reform candidate.

In the lead up to the elections Mousavi held a number of popular rallies. Mousavi's supporters dressed themselves in green scarves, wristbands and other items as they paraded in the streets of Iranian cities to show support for the reform candidate.

Despite the visible display of support for Mosuavi, Ahmadinejad emerged from the June elections as the nationwide winner with over 64 percent of the vote; Mousavi finished second with just under 34 percent.

When Iranians go to the polls to elect fresh members of parliament on March 2, they will do so without the major reform candidates on the ballots. Most pro-reform groups are calling for boycott, but some individuals will run as independents.

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