Freedom Movement (Nezhat-E Azadi Iran)

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Islamic nationalist party.

The Freedom Movement of Iran, a splinter group of the Second National Front, was formed in 1961 by Ayatollah Mahmud Taleqani, Mehdi Bazargan, and Yadollah Sahabi. The new group's primary appeal was to religious technocrats and modernists, and it had strong ties to the bazaar. The founders had been active in the National Front since the late 1940s, but they sought a plausible Islamic alternative to that movement's secular nationalism. After the June 1963 uprisings in Qom and other cities in response to the arrest of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Freedom Movement leaders were imprisoned by the government of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. However, their cooperation with Khomeini continued even after the shah sent the ayatollah into foreign exile. This history of working together contributed to the effectiveness with which the Freedom Movement and Khomeini's network of former seminary students jointly organized mass anti-shah demonstrations during the Iranian Revolution of 1978 through 1979. Even before the final victory of the revolution, Khomeini used his authority as its leader to designate the Freedom Movement's head, Bazargan, to lead a provisional government, which assumed office when the shah's regime collapsed in February 1979.

The Freedom Movement espoused a philosophy that can be termed Islamic modernism. Members were pious Muslims who felt comfortable with modern education; they disliked political extremism and policies of economic and social engineering. Thus they soon fell out with the radical clerics with whom they had to share power. The November 1979 take-over of the American embassy by Students in the Line of the Imam was the last straw for Bazargan; he resigned with his entire cabinet after Khomeini endorsed the embassy seizure. Thereafter, the Freedom Movement became part of the loyal opposition to the government of the nascent Islamic Republic. However, the party's relations with officials became increasingly tense, and by 1981 its newspaper had been banned; subsequently, its members were disqualified from running in elections for the Majles al-Shura or for the presidency. Although the Freedom Movement continued to act as a conscience for the Islamic government, and throughout the 1980s and 1990s periodically circulated pamphlets and issued press statements critical of government policies, lack of access to the government-controlled media effectively silenced its voice. The greater tolerance for dissenting views that prevailed after Mohammad Khatami was elected president in 1997 provided the Freedom Movement an opportunity to publicize its views. However, its greater visibility proved a liability when the judiciary cracked down on reformers and dissidents beginning in April 2000. Subsequently, most Freedom Movement activists were arrested and charged with attempting to overthrow the government. Trials in 2001 and 2002 resulted in prison sentences for many; the trial for Freedom Movement leader Ibrahim Yazdi (who became head of the party in 1995, after Bazargan's death) continued sporadically throughout 2003.

See also Bazargan, Mehdi; Iranian Revolution (1979); Khatami, Mohammad; Khomeini, Ruhollah; Majles al-Shura; National Front, Iran; Pahlavi, Mohammad Reza; Students in the Line of the Imam; Yazdi, Ibrahim.


Chehabi, Houchang E. Iranian Politics and Religious Modernism: The Liberation Movement of Iran under the Shah and Khomeini. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990.

Neguin Yavari

Updated by Eric Hooglund

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