he mid-2005 election of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad as Iran's new president left those committed to democratic change in the country feeling shocked and disappointed. At first glance, his victory seemed to signal not only the consolidation of Iran's ruling Islamist autocracy, but also the rejection in principle of democracy and the revival of the ideas and goals of the revolutionary Islamic Republic. While few had thought that another "reformist" would replace outgoing two-term president Mohammad Khatami, just as few had forecast that a "conservative" with Ahmedinejad's hard-line credentials would win. True, a reassertion of conservative political and economic power had been rolling forward for several years. Its most recent milestone had been the fraudulent February 2004 parliamentary elections, which had turned a one-time pocket of reformism into another tame preserve run by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his agents.1 More of the same might have been anticipated in the case of the post-Khatami presidency, but Ahmedinejad seemed worse than expectednot merely a Khamenei crony, but a true believer in the antidemocratic and antiliberal dictates of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Fortunately, pronouncements of the death of democracy in Iran are premature.