Conference ‘Civil Society in Iran – possibilities & obstacles’

Written by admin in 11 April 98

Civil Society –

the obstacles and possibilities

Saturday 11 April 1998

Haus der Kulturen der Welt. John Fostre Dulles Allee, 10, D-1055 Berlin Germany


Mr. Parviz Dastmalchi, Writer and researcher – Germany

Dr Ahmad Tahmasebi, Researcher political science – Germany

Dr Alireza Nourizadeh, Journalist and writer – England

Mr. Darius Homayoun, The Monarchist Movement – Switzerland

Mr. Houshang Vazirie, Journalist – France

Dr Hossein Ladjevardi, Researcher – France

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Conference report

Following the current political changes in Iran Association of Iranian Researchers dedicated its twenty third gathering to discussions about ‘Civil Society’ – its fifth gathering since 1996 on this particular subject. This was held in Berlin on 11 April 1998.

The conference was opened by a welcome speech by Ms Roya Kashefi, public relations manager for ACI. Dr Ladjevardi in his opening speech talked more about the activities of ACI and its aims and objectives. He also announced the opening of ACI’s fourth international office in Berlin and introduced Dr Mehdi Rosefid.

Panel one – Chair: Dr Mehdi Rosefid.

Speakers: Darius Homayoun, Parviz Dastmalchi, and Ahmad Tahmasebi

Panel two – Chair: Professor Nasser Kanani.

Speakers: Mehdi Khanbaba-Tehrani, Hooshang Vazirie, Hossein Ladjevardi, and Ali Reza Nourizadeh

Darius Homayoun – In his paper Darius Homayoun talked about the history of civil society in Iran. He pointed out the notion of Civil Society is not new to Iran and its history goes back thousands of years since the talk of civil society is no different to the need for social justice which has been on the forefront of all ideologies. He believes constitutionalism to be the same as needing a civil society and referred the movements in Iran during the past 100 years. He believes the call for establishment of a civil society instead of constitutionalism is a result of social pressure and oppression.

Parviz Dastmalchi – His speech began by a comprehensive description of what a civil society and its establishment in Iran means. He then went on to explain the present political structure and demonstrated that under the present regime with its limitations the establishment of civil society is not likely. He emphasised the centralisation of power to the Vali Faghih and principally 4% of the clerics who believe in 12 Imam Shi’ism. He explained that in a system which derives its legitimacy from God and not the people and only sees itself answerable to God, human needs and values which are an essential component of a civil society do not count and are therefore worthless.

Dr Ahmad Tahmasebi – His talk centered on the basis for a civil society in Iran. He believes that the framework for a civil society is already in place in Iran. He pointed out the political progress in Iran since the Constitutional Revolution almost a 100 years ago and how the Qajar King, Mozafaredin Shah, had to submit to the freedom movement and sign the reformed constitution. Dr Tahamsebi recognises this as a peak in our contemporary history but asks why all freedom movements have failed for one reason or other and does not believe revolutions to be the answer to any problem. He believes that a healthy society can progress with reform and continued growth.

Mehdi Khanbaba-Tehrani – His talk was based on the realistic acceptance of the present situation in Iran and the recent moves by the people as demonstrated in May 97’s presidential elections. He believes the election to be a victory for the people of Iran after twenty years in choosing change and saying a definite ‘NO’ to the Velayat Faghih. He believes the people have found their way and are moving in that direction. This must popular movement must be supported by everyone including the opposition groups outside Iran who should co-ordinate their actions with the people of Iran. He believes that in the past oppositions leaders outside Iran have made mistakes that should not be repeated.

Hooshang Vazirie – He started his talk by saying that a civil society cannot be established like a limited company with share ownership. He believes a civil society is one based on a healthy economic-political-social infrastructure which then follows its natural development and progress. He believes that since the constitutional reform of almost 100 years ago to the end of the Pahlavi regime stress was placed on the economy and administration of the society instead of founding a real base for political and ideological growth that. He believes this to have produced negative consequences, the Revolution of 1979 to be one of them. He concluded that the Islamic Revolution did not bring democracy to the people of Iran, but has readied the people of Iran for democracy

Dr Hossein Ladjevardi – Started his speech by pointing out the periods of excitement and agitation in our contemporary history. He added that we Iranians seem to be forgetful and do not seem to remember our own actions. We forget that it was us who saw the image of Reza Shah in the ‘moon’ when he restored order to Iran. It was us who during Mohamad Reza Shah’s visit to Shiraz lifted up and carried his bus over our heads in sheer joy. We seem to forget our actions over Mossadeq and our excitement in Ayatollah Khomeini’s return to Iran in 1979 and now some curse the day. He believes that all these caused by our emotions and not our logic. To be successful we must allow our logic to rule free from hatred bias and prejudice. He then pointed out the duties of each generation in building the future of Iran.

Dr Ali Reza Nourizadeh – Recent changes in Iran and the internal power struggle amongst the ruling groups in Iran was the basis of Dr Nourizadeh’s paper. By explaining the political changes in Iran that are particularly because of the religious identity of the system he pointed out that the need for establishment of civil society in Iran has arisen as a result of the oppressive rule by a small minority of clerics. He stressed the need and the call for a civil society is by everyone including a major part of religious establishment and not exclusive to the thinkers and scholars.