A quarter of a century ago, MERIP Reports, the forerunner of this magazine, received wide acclaim for its incisive and politically accurate reporting on Iran in the years leading up to the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Two decades after the culmination of the tumultuous events that redefined Iranian society and politics, and indeed, regional geostrategic and ideological realities, we are pleased to present this special issue of Middle East Report assessing Iran’s Islamic Revolution at 20 from an on-the-ground perspective.
This issue appears at a critical moment in Iran’s contemporary history. A large, multifaceted and energetic — though unfocused — reform movement is questioning some of the most basic philosophical and political underpinnings of the post-revolutionary system, while Iranian youth (comprising nearly two thirds of the country’s population), vexed by a sluggish economy and frustrated with everyday life and its limitations, are directly and indirectly challenging the raison d’etre of the Islamic Republic. Although these dramatic cross-currents of change have engendered apprehension, uncertainty and occasionally fear, recent developments in Iran have also inspired hope, curiosity and fruitful discussions within and beyond the country’s borders. Given the impact of the 1979 revolution on neighboring states and societies, many wonder whether the lively debates now unfolding in Iran’s daring press on topics such as democratization, the rule of law, religion versus secularism in politics, women’s rights and the political role and responsibility of the intellectual might also influence scholars, journalists and human rights activists in the Arab world. In the coming months, we hope to translate materials from this issue into Arabic in order to share these perspectives on Iran’s current political effervescence with a wider audience.
This issue of Middle East Report was conceptualized and shaped by a guest editor in Tehran, Kaveh Ehsani, and benefited from the advice and assistance of Asef Bayat, Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, Joe Stork, Alev Çinar and many scholars, journalists and activists in Iran, some of whom prefer to remain anonymous. We are grateful for their efforts, as well as for the generosity of the many individuals who have enabled us to publish this timely special issue of Middle East Report.
Elsewhere in the region there have been other, more subtle, signs of sociopolitical ferment. Echoing some of the themes expressed by Iranian commentators in these pages, the Casablanca Declaration of the Arab Human Rights Movement, adopted at the conclusion of the First International Conference of the Arab Human Rights Movement in April, called for closer regional coordination between Arab human rights organizations in the absence of formal regional bodies capable of responding to the dire human rights situation in the Middle East. The Casablanca Declaration decried the hypocritical and partial application of international law as well as the cynical political use of human rights discourses, and called upon “academics, researchers and religious scholars to shed light on the roots of human rights in the Arab world.” The first issue of Middle East Report in the year 2000 will critically assess the role, aims and contexts of NGOs and human rights organizations in the region.
Signs of change are also evident at MERIP. We have embarked on a new endeavor and recently added a new staff person to oversee it. Ghassan Bishara, a seasoned journalist fluent in English, Arabic and Hebrew, has been appointed our new media outreach director and will be responsible for MERIP’s invigorated contacts with national and international media, policy analysts and policymakers. We are happy to welcome Ghassan aboard.