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Brumberg: Iran Reform Will Come From Within

(Washington, DC--July 9, 2003) An expert on Iran told an RFE/RL audience this week that the reformers in Iran have not yet built the necessary networks and social infrastructure to bring about fundamental political reform in Iran, and that the Islamic Republic is not on the verge of collapse. "I don't think the prospects for reform as a result of recent student protests are very high," said Daniel Brumberg, an Associate Professor at Georgetown University

Brumberg, who is also a visiting scholar in the Carnegie Endowments' Democracy and Rule of Law Project, is the author of "Reinventing Khomeini: The Struggle for Reform in Iran" (University of Chicago Press, 2001), as well as many articles on the Middle East and the Islamic world. He said that the "students are isolated and divided" without ties to other sectors of Iranian society. A real political change in Iran will "only come over time," said Brumberg, and not as a direct result of the ten days of student protests last month in Tehran and other Iranian cities.

Brumberg spoke on the eve of the fourth anniversary of a bloody raid on a student dorm in Tehran by police and vigilantes. The 1999 raid triggered several days of street riots at the time. Brumberg noted that Iranian authorities were "very, very nervous" about the anniversary, having banned any public rallies or meetings on July 9.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami is a leader caught between two groups, according to Brumberg -- those who favor reform, and religious conservatives who remain faithful to Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei. Many students and young people in Iran have "lost faith" in Khatami, who they believe has failed to deliver on election promises to redefine the relationship between mosque and state and allow for reform and Western ideas, while still maintaining a distinctly Iranian identity. Brumberg says Khatami is now "greatly weakened, his authority has been challenged, [and] the students have denounced him." For new progress, Brumberg says, the [Iranian] reformist leadership needs to "revive," and learn to "leverage" the inevitable "cycles of protest."

In the face of a systemic crisis, such as a collapse in the price of oil, Brumberg said, the student protesters and reformists might achieve their goals, if they "raise the cost of repression beyond what the regime can bear."

Brumberg said he felt any change in Iran would have to ultimately come "from within the system rather than by toppling the system." According to Brumberg, Khatami and the rest of the reform movement are now focusing their sights on long-term reform, which may take as long as twenty or thirty years.