Leaders of Iran

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

TIME Europe | Saeed Hajjarian Interview | 6/10/2000

TIME Europe | Iran: The Roots of Reform | 6/10/2000: "The Roots of Reform
In an exclusive interview with TIME, Iranian Presidential Adviser Saeed Hajjarian--recovering from an assassination attempt--explains why he still has hopes for reforming Iran's Islamic system
By SCOTT MACLEOD Tehran


Since President Mohammed Khatami's election in 1997, Saeed Hajjarian has been one of the reform movement's top strategists. As publisher of the popular Tehran newspaper "Sobh-e Emrouz," he pushed the country's restrictions on free speech to their limits. As a campaign strategist, he helped engineer the reform movement's victory in parliamentary elections in February. So when a gunman pumped a bullet into Hajjarian's head one morning in March, it seemed to many Iranians that the nation's entire reform movement had suffered a fatal blow. When I visited Hajjarian--for his first interview since the attack--he was smiling, mentally alert and up to date on the latest political developments. Still partially paralyzed, he slurred his words and had little stamina. As he himself agreed, not a bad metaphor for the state of reform in Iran.

The shooting of Hajjarian signaled the start of a backlash by hard-liners against reformers in the Iranian press and government. I met Hajjarian at a private apartment outfitted with imported medical equipment just days after five men had been convicted and given light sentences for the assassination attempt. As a physical therapist massaged his limbs, he displayed no bitterness. In fact, Hajjarian seemed as optimistic--and determined--as ever.

TIME: What is the outlook for the reform movement?
Hajjarian: Reform takes shape in different ways: in fields like politics, culture, law, the economy. Reform is undermined in various ways: by people who do not believe in democracy, by people who are accustomed to patronage, and by those who are not true reformists. But I think the new parliament will be new fuel for the locomotive of the reform movement. To some extent, I think the path will be a bit smoother.

TIME: What explains the attempt on your life?
Hajjarian: In the tapes of the trial, the suspects said I have cheated the system. They acted within an ideologically charged space that was created for them. They were convinced that I was against the system, that I was going to destroy them.

TIME: Did the attack harm the reform movement, as the conspirators hoped?
Hajjarian: The movement is not based on a person. I made some efforts for reform, to the best of my capacity. But the movement has a social foundation, so I don't think the attack will have serious implications for the movement.

TIME: What effect did the attack have on President Khatami?
Hajjarian: When he returned from the trip he was on at the time, he came directly to the hospital. He came to see me another time as well, checking to see how I was. Since I was his political adviser, it is important for him. But he is also worried about the continuing activity of these power Mafia groups. In his letter to the judiciary immediately after the attack, he expressed his concern about the social roots of this type of terror, which in the era after the Revolution is without precedent.

TIME: Do you still play a political role?
Hajjarian: The doctor must say when I can return to the political scene. I believe I cannot be very active for another four or five months.

TIME: Do you have any advice for the President and the reform movement?
Hajjarian: Recently I took part in a meeting of the [pro-Khatami] Participation Front. I shared my opinions with those who were elected to parliament. Mainly, I believe that the movement's caution should not be sacrificed for speed. We make serious gains. Wisdom is inevitably cautious. Now that we have a parliament, with the gains we have made we can institutionalize these reforms. Young supporters of reform want greater speed. But we need to institutionalize our accomplishments before we can move forward. The important thing is not the speed but the direction. Because speed terrifies some [hard-line] people, this creates more obstacles. We need to attract more forces to the side of reform, even some conservatives.

TIME: Do you believe the people who shot you were acting alone, or was it a conspiracy from higher up?
Hajjarian: These kids were too immature to act alone. They only committed the act. That is why I did not sue them in court for damages. In a letter I wrote to Iran's National Security Council, I suggested they must definitely search for the deeper roots.
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