Iran's Reform Movement: The Enduring Relevance of an Alternative Discourse

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Given the surprise electoral victory in May 2013 of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, which was attained on a recurrent platform of reform and change, this article seeks to investigate Iran's reform discourse by looking at how it systematically developed under President Mohammad Khatami (1997–2005). Its chief purpose is to delineate the discourse in a retrospective analytical attempt to show why it has proven so resilient and persuasive in theory while briefly explicating the causes of its failure in practice under reformists, which set the stage for the rise to power of populist neo-conservatives marshaled by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005–2013). Divided in two main parts, it thus seeks to tease out the domestic ideology of reform as theorized by Khatami and his men on the one hand, and the foreign policy of détente and dialogue as performed by the reformist administration on the other. In so doing, the article draws primarily on the original Persian sources produced during the respective period and afterward, including Khatami's own writings as well as theoretical formulations and articulations propounded by his political strategists. Finally, it anticipates that Rouhani's “moderation” project can face the same fate as Khatami's “reform” project if the former does not heed the hard-earned historical lessons of the latter, even though it is operating in a different sociopolitical context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)262-278
JournalDigest of Middle East Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Political Science


  • foreign policy
  • discourse
  • Rouhani
  • Khatami
  • politics
  • Iran
  • reform movement
  • domestic politics


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