Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Iran: Analysts Say Democratic Changes In Iraq May Inspire Similar Trends In Its Neighbor RADIO FREE EUROPE/ RADIO LIBERTY


"Iran: Analysts Say Democratic Changes In Iraq May Inspire Similar Trends In Its Neighbor
By Golnaz Esfandiari

Iraq held its first multiparty elections in 50 years on 30 January. The elections are considered a first step toward the establishment of a democratic government in the country after decades of rule by Saddam Hussein. While observers agree that many hurdles remain before Iraq's transition toward democracy can be considered a success, some say even the small changes so far may inspire the beginning of similar trends in neighboring Iran.

Prague, 11 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003 sparked many concerns about neighboring Iran -- in particular about Iranian interference in Iraqi internal affairs.

But some Iranians pushing for more freedom and openness in their country hope that democratic changes in Iraq will gradually flow across the border.

Mohsen Sazgara is an Iranian activist and researcher who in August 2003 received a three-month jail sentence for criticizing the regime. Speaking from London, where he is currently receiving medical treatment, he told RFE/RL that he is watching events in Iraq carefully.

'I personally hope that Iraq's [transition to democracy] will be completed successfully so that it can also help our nation,' he says. 'For sure, neighbors with democratic governments are much better for us than dictators such as Saddam Hussein or backward groups such as the Taliban.'

Sazgara -- who faces an additional year in jail when he returns home -- says the recent events in Iraq have the power to encourage many young Iranians to push even harder for democratic change in their country.

'Our young generation in particular has shown -- especially over the past eight years and during the reform movement -- that it has a strong desire for democracy, human rights and civil society, and a strong desire to join the international [community],' Sazgara says. 'And when democratic changes take place in our neighboring and brother country Iraq, with its many ties to us, it encourages our youth, and emboldens our young people to ask for change in our current constitution.'
'If the Iraqis have a good government with an Islamic democracy, without any special rights for clerics, the Iranian government will not be able to justify its situation to Iranian citizens.' -- Mohsen Kadivar, Iranian cleric

Sazgara says the establishment of an elected government in Iraq will raise critical questions about Iran's current system of government, where a senior cleric is given near-absolute power over all matters related to the Islamic Republic.

Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, a prominent journalist and editor in chief of several dailies in Tehran that have been banned by the authorities, also believes Iran cannot remain immune to the changes in Iraq.

'The Shi'as in Iraq have accepted the notion of having a secular government, and they are slowly moving toward the democratization of their country -- free elections, democratic institutions, a free press,' Shamsolvaezin says. 'All of this in and of itself will have an impact on the situation in Iran.'

Scrutiny from the United States and Europe may add to the pressure for change in Iran. But whether the motivation comes from within the country or abroad, Shamsolvaezin -- who is also the spokesman for Iran's Society for the Defense of Political Prisoners -- says change in Iranian society is inevitable. "

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