Meditation Focus #104

Enabling Positive Changes in Iran And Around The World


What follows is the 104th Meditation Focus suggested for the 2 weeks beginning Sunday, February 1, 2004.


1. Summary
2. Meditation times
3. More information related to this Meditation Focus


Twenty-five years ago, Ayatollah Khomeini, soon after his return from his exile in France, presided over the Islamic revolution that ignited major political changes across the Islamic world with consequences that last to this day. A theocratic republic was established and is still ruled by a Supreme Leader and a council of mullahs, who control the prisons, courts and security forces. Today an entire generation that has grown under the strict clerical regime has been clamoring for several years for more freedoms and want the mullahs out of power and replaced with a more democratic government. But the Islamic regime has come down hard on political opponents, deploying security forces and packs of Bassijis, Islamic vigilantes, against dissidents. At a time when the international community expresses growing concerns over the possibility that Teheran may harbor dangerous nuclear ambitions, the reformist movement is poised for a major confrontation as its ruling conservative clerics have recently banned, through its Guardian Council, nearly 4,000 candidates for next month's elections, including more than 80 incumbent members of parliament. The council's aim was to prevent a repeat of the 2000 elections, in which democratic reformers won a parliamentary majority. By rigging this election, due to take place on February 20, the mullahs would prepare the way for replacing Iran's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, with a conservative next year. Khatami and his parliamentary allies already have failed to push through reforms of the Iranian political system; most of their legislation has been vetoed by the Guardian Council. The electoral manipulation could demolish what is left of the movement, leaving Iran's government entirely in the hands of hard-liners.

This situation is similar in some respects to the movement that led to the 1989 pro-democracy protests in the Tianamen Square in China and thus could lead to serious clashes similar to what happened in October 2001 when hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets for weeks in Iran, clamoring for democratic freedom and engaging in violent clashes with police. On Friday, the hardline Guardian Council reinstated a third of the 3,600 candidates it disqualified from the election, following a call for a review earlier in January by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. President Mohammad Khatami who has been trying to reach a compromise with the council said his government "will only organise free and competitive elections". There is no telling what will happen if free and fair elections cannot be held and the Islamic regime harshly represses the demand for true democracy and swift political changes, but the potential is there for both a turn for the worst or another "velvet revolution" that would open a new era for Iran and perhaps signal the gradual waning of Muslim fundamentalism and all its extremist and violent manifestations around the world.

Please dedicate your prayers and meditations, as guided by Spirit, in the coming two weeks, and especially in synchronous attunement at the usual time this Sunday and the following one, to contribute in fostering in the hearts and minds of all people concerned around the world a profound desire for a smooth, non-violent transition to a more democratic political process in Iran and in all other countries in the world currently under despotic, non-democratic or pseudo-democratic regimes, so as to gradually create conditions conducive to a better, more peaceful and freer life, leading hundreds of millions of our brothers and sisters away from the repressive clutches of leaders who mostly use the mantle of religion to maintain their power. May the creation of such a movement open a new era of brotherly love, peaceful living and harmonious understanding between and among members of all types of religious denominations, for the Highest Good of All.

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i) Global Meditation Day: Sunday at 16:00 Universal Time (GMT) or at noon local time. Suggested duration: 30 minutes.

ii) Golden Moment of At-Onement: Daily, at the top of any hour, or whenever it better suits you.

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This complement of information may help you to better understand the various aspects pertaining to the summary description of the subject of this Meditation Focus. It is recommended to view this information from a positive perspective, and not allow the details to tinge the positive vision we wish to hold in meditation. Since what we focus on grows, the more positive our mind-set, the more successful we will be in manifesting a vision of peace and healing. This complementary information is provided so that a greater knowledge of what needs healing and peace-nurturing vibrations may assist us to have an in-depth understanding of what is at stake and thus achieve a greater collective effectiveness.



Twenty-five years of Islamic theocracy have left increasing numbers of Iranians starving for change. Ordinary citizens are taking to the streets, demanding democracy and secular government in place of the rule of religious law. The future of Iran now hangs in the balance, as a burgeoning opposition movement confronts the fundamentalist clerical regime.

The Modern Past

The Islamic Republic of Iran was born out of a power struggle over the extent of foreign influence inside Iran. The conflict began in the early 1950s, when Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq, who intended to nationalize the country's oil wealth, momentarily seized control from Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the constitutional monarch representing Anglo-American oil interests. The CIA intervened in 1953, engineering a coup that ousted Mossadeq and reinstated Shah Pahlavi's pro-Western regime. Iranians came to perceive the shah's state, characterized by despotic repression and economic upheaval, as the betrayal of their nation for the benefit of Western powers, particularly the United States.

Growing opposition to the shah found a leader in the influential cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. His calls for a new religious government, to be based on the strict fundamentalist principles of Shi'iah Islam, represented a complete rejection of Western influence and values. Khomeini's message, readily accepted by a population angry at foreign intervention, ignited the Islamic Revolution that toppled the shah in 1979.

Khomeini declared the country to be an Islamic republic, and over the next two decades, the Islamic Republic of Iran became a tyrannical state itself. Khomeini's theocratic political system, rooted in Islamic law, granted absolute command to one ruling cleric, the Supreme Leader, a position Khomeini held until his death in 1989. A popularly elected president gave the republic a semblance of participatory politics, but this office was largely subject to the command of the Supreme Leader. Lower-level clerics controlled the everyday political operations of the regime.

Religious austerity and stifling social constraints became the hallmarks of the fundamentalist Islamic Republic. Opposition members could expect imprisonment and torture, often even execution. Untold numbers of political prisoners languished in jails throughout the country. Women were forced to endure the harsh constraints of religiously sanctioned discrimination. The ruling clerics and their families personally controlled most of the country's wealth while ordinary citizens suffered from high unemployment and a rising cost of living. Young people, who made up nearly three-quarters of the population, were forbidden to listen to Western music, openly criticize their rulers or mingle with the opposite sex.

By 1997 the children of the Islamic Revolution, raised under oppressive social and economic conditions, were ready for a revolution of their own.

Khatami: The Harbinger of Change - A new president carries the reform banner

The first inklings of change inside the Islamic Republic appeared in May 1997, when Mohammad Khatami, a reform-minded candidate, was elected president in a surprising landslide victory. Khatami was a new kind of politician, a moderate cleric representing the popular demand for greater democratic freedom. His campaign became a voice for women, university students and young people. The 20 million votes he received, representing 70 percent of the electorate, signaled that Iranians were ready for change.

The aftermath of Khatami's election was an era of social and political liberalization. Reform-minded politicians became more outspoken in their demands for social freedom, denouncing the constrictive nature of Islamic politics and law. Dozens of reformist newspapers emerged, exposing the oppression and corruption of the clerical establishment. Khatami, for his part, appointed a woman to be one of his vice presidents. These changes represented a marked break from the conservative agenda of the ruling clerics.

Most important, Khatami's presidency laid the groundwork for the emerging opposition movement. University students and other young people, many of them women, began appearing by the thousands on the streets of Tehran to call for more open reforms. These dissidents were fiercely loyal to Khatami. They viewed themselves as the projection of his voice on the street while relying on him to bring about democratic change from within the government.

Khatami's presidency bitterly divided reformists from the conservative forces -- among them, clerics, the police, academics and politicians -- that controlled most of the instruments of government. These conservatives unleashed a campaign to halt the advance of reform. One of their first strikes was directed at the emerging vanguard of reform politics: the university students.

The Student Uprising - The clerics crack down and student protest explodes

July 9, 1999, marked a turning point in the evolution of Iran's opposition movement. That evening the clerical regime dispatched its police forces to attack the dormitories of Tehran University, which was becoming the center of agitation for reform. By morning three students were dead, and many more had been beaten and arrested.

The regime's attack, far from stifling dissent, pushed seething resentment to a breaking point. Students leapt into action by the thousands, overtaking streets, destroying public property and staging sit-ins in major cities throughout Iran for several consecutive days. The upheaval was quickly put down by the regime, but it announced the birth of a nationwide opposition movement.

Opposition groups and student unions emerged in great numbers in the wake of July 1999. They lacked leadership and differed in their degrees of religiosity and political liberalism, but agreed on a general consensus for the future of the Iranian nation: a separation of mosque and state, and basic civil liberties such as freedom of the press and comingling of the sexes. United by these goals, they began demanding for the first time the complete removal of the Islamic theocracy.

The students were careful to emphasize their commitment to peaceful change and continued to believe in the possibility of democratic change from within the government. For this reason, they remained loyal to Khatami and elected a string of reformists to parliament in 2000. For a time, it seemed as if their revolution from within was working.

But, in fact, the atmosphere inside Iran grew more stifling. The ruling clerics, maneuvering to protect their conservative way of life, closed reformist newspapers, arrested and tortured opposition leaders, and dispatched their young religious vigilantes, known as Bassijis, to break up student demonstrations. The reforms Khatami seemed to represent had all but disappeared.

The Third Force - The opposition movement sweeps Iran

President Khatami was re-elected in another landslide victory in June 2001, but disillusionment with government "reform" was widespread, and young voters insisted that their support for the president was conditional on substantial change. Their expectations were now higher, and the situation more volatile.

Heightened tensions exploded in October 2001 when hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets for weeks, clamoring for democratic freedom and engaging in violent clashes with police. The demonstrations were significant not only for their size but also for the participation of ordinary citizens, whose presence signaled the broadening of the opposition. Strikes by teachers, workers and nurses, attended by thousands, throughout 2001 and 2002, further reflected that resentment toward the regime was no longer confined to the students.

Even more significant was the movement's break from Khatami. Public criticism of the president intensified throughout late 2001, culminating in calls for his resignation in November 2002 during several weeks of protests when the regime sentenced a pro-reform professor to death. With its rejection of Khatami, the opposition became known as the Third Force, an independent movement outside of the official political camps of the reformists and the conservatives.

The growing political crisis in Iran garnered worldwide attention in 2003. Iranian activists inside the country spread word through the Internet of anti-regime sentiment, and exiles and Iranians abroad used radio and the Web to organize against the clerics. Then the harsh reprisals faced by opposition activists were highlighted by the case of Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian photographer of Iranian descent who was tortured to death in July 2003 for taking pictures of the notorious Evin prison, where political prisoners are held. And in October 2003, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to lawyer Shirin Ebadi, for her efforts in fighting government repression and advocating for human rights inside Iran.

Meanwhile, Iran has once again become the subject of increasing scrutiny from the United States. Washington would like to see the anti-American ruling clerics ousted from power and has dismissed Khatami as ineffectual. President Bush has issued statements endorsing the democratic aspirations of ordinary citizens protesting against the ruling regime. Student and opposition activists said that they do not want a U.S. invasion or U.S. troops occupying their country. But some hawkish officials and analysts are pushing the White House to help foment democratic revolution in Iran, in the hopes of achieving a change in the regime.

The Bush administration is facing considerable pressure to adopt a strategy for dealing with the Islamic Republic of Iran as suspicions surface about its possible nuclear weapons development, with possible implications for the stability of the entire Middle Eastern region. As the internal political crisis threatens to explode, Washington will need to decide how to engage with the Third Force.

The opposition movement in Iran has proven that it is capable of loud and violent outbursts. It has shown its commitment to defiance of the Islamic regime. But it continues to lack organization and a coherent political vision, in part because the clerical regime has arrested many of its leaders, but also because the movement is still growing. It remains uncertain where the future of the Third Force lies, what its relationship to outside powers will be and whether it will become a truly revolutionary movement that succeeds in reshaping Iran's government.



Watching Iran's Coup

January 28, 2004

EUROPEAN GOVERNMENTS lately have been congratulating themselves for what they see as a turn toward moderation by the Iranian government, which has agreed to more stringent international inspections of its nuclear program. There is talk of a renewed political dialogue between Washington and Tehran, too: After an earthquake devastated the city of Bam late last month the administration considered dispatching a relief delegation headed by Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.). Such steps are hardly unprecedented -- Iran and Western governments have been flirting with rapprochement sporadically for years. What's remarkable is that the latest effort is developing at a moment when Iran's conservative clergy is engaged in an aggressive campaign to destroy, once and for all, the country's democratic reform movement. Before proceeding, the United States and Europe ought to draw the right conclusions from that political struggle.

The crisis began earlier this month when a clerical body, the Guardian Council, banned nearly 4,000 candidates for next month's elections, including more than 80 incumbent members of parliament. The council's aim was to prevent a repeat of the 2000 elections, in which democratic reformers won a parliamentary majority. By rigging this election, the mullahs would prepare the way for replacing Iran's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, with a conservative next year. Khatami and his parliamentary allies already have failed to push through reforms of the Iranian political system; most of their legislation has been vetoed by the Guardian Council. The electoral manipulation could demolish what is left of the movement, leaving Iran's government entirely in the hands of hard-liners.

Although they cultivated Mr. Khatami for years, European governments appear ready to accept this development. Hassan Rowhani, the hard-liner who has begun speaking for Iran on subjects such as nuclear inspections, was received in Paris last week by French President Jacques Chirac, even while the reformist parliamentarians were engaged in a sit-in to protest their banishment. The Bush administration, too, may be tempted to overlook the eclipse of Mr. Khatami. The White House has tended to discount his party in favor of the more radical youth movement that, it is hoped, might eventually bring revolutionary regime change to Iran. Some officials argue that Iran's hard-liners are at least as interested as Mr. Khatami in striking a deal with the West -- and more able to deliver on their promises.

It would be a mistake, however, to ignore a conservative coup. Iran's mullahs, authors of its continuing sponsorship of terrorism, should not be the beneficiaries of Western political approval, much less favors in trade and technology. It's not only that their pledges of a nuclear freeze would lack credibility. The larger problem is that Iran's ruling clergy is now so deeply unpopular among its own people that its ability to monopolize power for long is doubtful. Perhaps in recognition of this weakness, the clergy have recently reversed the ban on some parliamentary candidates and hinted at further compromise. Whatever the outcome of the crisis, however, the West's interest lies in standing with Iran's pro-democracy majority -- even if that means an end to the latest diplomatic thaw.



31 January, 2004

Iran leader falls ill amid crisis

Khatami is said to have fallen ill because of stress

Iran's president Mohammad Khatami has reportedly fallen ill with back pain, forcing him to cancel his engagements.

It comes amid a worsening political crisis over the barring of thousands of candidates from February's elections.

Mr Khatami is said to have fallen ill after a ceremony at the shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini - to mark the 25th anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

He has been forced to postpone a key meeting of his reformist cabinet to discuss the ban on 2,500 candidates.

On Friday, the hardline Guardian Council reinstated a third of the 3,600 candidates it disqualified from the election.

The official number of candidates now stands at around 5,450.

But it falls far short of the full reinstatement demanded by protesting reformist MPs, 80 of whom are themselves on the blacklist.

Interior Minister Abdolvahed Moussavi Lari warned it would be "out of the question" to hold elections. "The possibility of organising a free and competitive election does not exist", he said.


The political row continued as Iran prepared to commemorating the 1979 revolution that toppled the pro-US leadership and brought to power anti-American hardline clerics.

Poll polarises press

According to reports, the president fell ill shortly after he attended a ceremony, along with his entire cabinet, at the shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini, father of the revolution.

The BBC's Miranda Eeles said sources close to the 60-year-old president blamed stress and pressure on his nerves for the illness.

The disqualifications by the Guardian Council - an unelected 12-member body that vets candidates for office and all laws - have drawn daily protests from the reformists.

MPs began circulating and signing letters of resignation on Saturday, the AFP news agency reported.

President Mohammad Khatami has been trying to reach a compromise with the council but correspondents say the deal appears very one-sided.

Before he was taken ill, he reportedly said his government "will only organise free and competitive elections".

Mr Lari had earlier requested the postponement of the poll - scheduled for 20 February - but the Guardian Council said it saw no reason to do so.

Guardian Council member Reza Zavarei said the law required the interior ministry to hold the elections "on the legally appointed date", the Iranian student news agency ISNA reported.

Earlier in January, the Guardian Council reinstated several hundred candidates following a call for a review by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

It originally disqualified about 3,600 of 7,900 candidates.


Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: Appointed for life, overrides all other authorities

Guardians Council: Half chosen by Khamenei, responsible for vetting election candidates and laws

President Mohammad Khatami: Elected for four years, power can be circumscribed by clerics

Parliament: 290 members introduce and pass laws, subject to approval
Who holds the power?

Iran's complex and unusual political system combines elements of a modern Islamic theocracy with democracy. The whole system operates under a Supreme Leader who, although appointed by an elected body, is in effect answerable to no-one. The constitution, however, also recognises the popular will, creating a system where the elected president and parliament struggle against the more powerful, but unelected, Supreme Leader and the institutions he influences. Consequently, although reformists dominate the parliament, the political system has seen little change.


See also:

Forbidden Iran
Undercover look at the student dissident movement. Includes a reform movement timeline, and an interview with Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi.

Synopsis of "Forbidden Iran"
In July 2003, Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi was tortured and murdered by Iranian security agents after she attempted to report on the growing opposition movement in Iran. FRONTLINE/World correspondent Jane Kokan risks her personal safety to follow in Kazemi's footsteps, traveling undercover to Iran to investigate the clerical regime's latest crackdown on students, journalists and dissidents. "I want to find out what happened to [Kazemi]," says Kokan, "and the story she died trying to tell."

Government, People, the Press

1979: Exiled Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran
Religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini has made a triumphant return to Iran after 14 years in exile. Up to five million people lined the streets of the nation's capital, Tehran, to witness the homecoming of the Shia Muslim imam.

UN issues Iran nuclear reminder (Jan 22)
Iran's burgeoning nuclear industry is based on Russian technology - The head of the UN's nuclear agency has warned Iran to continue to co-operate over inspections of its nuclear industry or face serious consequences. Mohammad ElBaradei said Iran must prove its plans were not weapons-related. "It will have serious implications if they do not continue to co-operate fully," he told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Iran has hit back at the EU after suggestions that it was not honouring a recent promise to admit inspectors. UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said after talks with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in Davos on Wednesday that the country had still to deliver on its promises to allow outside inspectors to examine its nuclear sites.

Timeline: Iran nuclear crisis

Iran's Reformers Facing Stark Choices
President Postpones Cabinet Meeting Intended to Deal With Electoral Crisis

History of Iran: Islamic Revolution of 1979

All Amnesty International articles on Iran

Full Coverage Iran

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