Mohammad Khatami, a cleric who previously served as Iran's president from 1997-2005, announced Sunday that he would be running in the country's presidential election in June, thereby giving a boost to the hopes of liberal-minded Iranians.
AFP - Mohammad Khatami, a bookish cleric who on Sunday announced plans to stand in Iran's presidential election, is a charismatic leader popular among the youth but disliked by the country's hardliners.
With his immaculate clerical robes, neatly trimmed beard and learned rhetoric, the 65-year-old mid-ranking cleric presents a stark contrast to the fiery but also populist incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
During his previous presidential term between 1997 and 2005, Khatami earned the tag "reformist" for several liberal initiatives that continue even now under the government of his hardline successor Ahmadinejad.
Born in October 1943 to a religious family from Ardakan in the central province of Yazd, Khatami is known for his knowledge of both Islamic and Western culture.
A student of Islam and philosophy who has attained Islam's third-highest clerical rank -- hojatoleslam -- Khatami has a passion for writers and thinkers such as Descartes, Tolstoy and Goethe.
He is the author of several books, including "From the World of the City to the City of the World," a study of Western philosophical and political thought.
Unlike many other clerics, Khatami served his two-year mandatory military service in the army of the former imperial regime, but nevertheless remained politically active in the anti-shah campaign.
After the 1979 Islamic revolution he was a newspaper editor and MP before becoming head of the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance for around four years until 1992, when he was forced to resign under conservative pressure.
Although many social and political restrictions remain, women and young people even today enjoy a greater presence in Iran's political landscape due to reforms under Khatami's previous presidency.
He had also appointed the first woman to a cabinet post since the 1979 revolution.
The cleric was also the first Iranian head of state to visit western Europe since the revolution, with trips to Italy, Germany and also France, and under his governance Iran also mended fences with its neighbours in the Gulf.
In his previous term newspapers and the media in general flourished, while Iran's relations with the West were less confrontational than they have been under Ahmadinejad.
If he emerges victorious, expectations are that relations between Iran and the West, which have grown frostier in recent years due to Tehran's controversial nuclear programme, could begin to thaw.
Despite Khatami's best efforts, he encountered major setbacks to his reform programme during his previous tenure.
Leading nationalists and liberal writers were assassinated in late 1998 in a series of brutal killings blamed on "rogue" intelligence service agents.
Several critics say Khatami was not firm enough against hardline establishments in the Islamic republic, leaving his mostly youthful supporters disillusioned and disappointed.
Perhaps anticipating he would again challenge for the presidency, in the past two years the cleric has made a number of bold statements targetting not only Ahmadinejad but also the 12-member Guardians Council, one of the pillars of Iran's Islamic system.
Ahmadinejad came under fire for his expansionary economic policies and confrontational international rhetoric while the Guardians Council was criticised for having the power to veto parliamentary bills and stop candidates from standing in elections.
"What right do we have to decide in the place of the electorate and prevent the candidature of people who have the confidence of the people only because six or 12 people do not approve them?" Khatami asked.
Hardliners were enraged last year when he made a speech at a university which was interpreted as accusing Iran's clerical leaders of supporting insurgents in the Middle East.
Khatami referred to the ambition of Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to export the 1979 Islamic revolution around the world, but expressed fear this wish was being distorted.
"What did the imam (Khomeini) mean by exporting the revolution?" he asked in the speech.
"Did he mean that we take up arms, that we blow up places in other nations and we create groups to carry out sabotage in other countries? The imam was vehemently against this and was confronting it," he added.
His words were seen by hardliners as accusing the Iranian authorities of encouraging militants to destabilise the Middle East, in particular Iraq and Lebanon.
Father of three, Khatami has ensured that his wife, Zohreh Sadeqi, and their children -- daughters Leila and Nargess and son Emad -- have largely stayed out of the public spotlight.
Date created : 2009-02-08