Khatami, Mohammad

or Muḥammad Khātamī

born Sept. 29, 1943, Ardakān, Iran

President of Iran (from 1997).

After studying at a traditional madrasah in the holy city of Qom, he began political activities while studying philosophy at Eṣfahān University. He headed an Islamic centre in Germany during the Iranian revolution (1979) and returned home to seek election to the Majles (parliament) in 1980. He served in government posts during the Iran-Iraq War (1980–90) and as cultural adviser to Pres. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and as head of the National Library (1992–97) before winning the presidency on a platform of social and economic reform. He was reelected by an overwhelming margin in 2001.

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▪ 1998

      With strong support from the young and from women and intellectuals, the charismatic Mohammad Khatami took nearly 70% of the vote in Iran's presidential elections on May 23, 1997. He was one of only four persons approved by the Council of Guardians to run for the office and of the four decidedly the most moderate, particularly on questions of social policy. His victory, in what was called the first freely contested presidential election under the current Islamic regime, raised questions both within Iran and throughout the world about possible changes in policy in that Islamic republic.

      Khatami was born in 1943 in Ardakan in central Iran and was the son of a well-known religious teacher. He studied theology at schools in Qom and in Esfahan and later took university degrees in philosophy and education. In addition to Farsi, he spoke Arabic, English, and German. During the 1960s and '70s, he wrote pamphlets against the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. In 1978 Khatami was appointed head of the Hamburg Islamic Center in Germany, and in 1979 he was elected to the national assembly and appointed head of a group of pro-government newspapers. For a decade, beginning in 1982, he was Iran's minister of culture and Islamic guidance, but he was forced to resign in 1992 on charges that he was too permissive in allowing books, magazines, and films that some considered subversive. He then became the director of the National Library and a teacher and adviser to the government. Khatami held the title Hojatolislam, signifying his position as a midlevel cleric, and as a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, he wore a black turban.

      Although Khatami had the support of the outgoing moderate, president Hojatolislam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Khatami's principal opponent, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, the speaker of the assembly, had the tacit support of Iran's political and religious leader, Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei. Voters, nonetheless, overwhelmingly chose Khatami, apparently both for his more tolerant social views and for his promise to deal with the country's high inflation and unemployment. He took office on August 3. Among his Cabinet appointments were two controversial nominees—Ataollah Mohajerani, who had advocated talks with the United States, as minister of culture and Islamic guidance (Khatami's former position) and Abdollah Nouri as interior minister, a moderate who would help determine policy on social mores. There also were objections to his choice for foreign minister, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Kamal Kharrazi, who had studied in the U.S., but the conservative assembly approved all nominees. In December Khatami stated that he hoped to achieve "a thoughtful dialogue with the American people." Observers noted, however, that the power of the Iranian president to formulate policy was strictly limited and that foreign policy particularly remained in the hands of spiritual leader Khamenei.

ROBERT RAUCH

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▪ president of Iran
also spelled  Muḥammad Khātamī 
born September 29, 1943, Ardakān, Iran

      Iranian political leader, who was president of Iran (1997–2005).

      The son of a well-known religious teacher, Khatami studied at a traditional madrasah (religious school) in the holy city of Qom, where he later taught. However, he also received degrees in philosophy from Eṣfahān University and the University of Tehrān, both secular institutions, a somewhat unusual accomplishment for a member of Iran's Shīʿite clergy. Khatami held the title hojatoleslām, signifying his position as a cleric, and, as a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, he wore a black turban.

      During the 1960s and '70s Khatami gained a reputation as an opponent of the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. In 1978 he was appointed head of the Islamic Centre Hamburg in Germany, and after the 1979 Islamic revolution he was elected to the Majles, the Iranian national assembly. Khatami held several positions in the Iranian government during the 1980s, including that of minister of culture and Islamic guidance, which he held again in the early 1990s before being forced to resign in 1992 amid allegations that he permitted too much un-Islamic sentiment. He then became the director of the National Library and served as an adviser to President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (Rafsanjani, Hashemi).

      In the 1997 elections Khatami was one of four candidates to run for the presidency and was the most moderate on social issues. With strong support from the country's youth, women, and intellectuals, he was elected by almost 70 percent of the vote. Some of the moderates he appointed to the cabinet were controversial but nonetheless were approved by Iran's conservative Majles. Tension between the president and conservatives grew, however, and, beginning in 1998, a number of key Khatami supporters were prosecuted and harassed as a result. He advocated increased contact with the United States, but his domestic opponents hindered rapprochement between the two countries. Khatami was reelected in 2001 by an overwhelming majority of the vote. Constitutionally barred from a third term as president, he left office in 2005.

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Universalium. 2010.

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