Iranian Civil Society Structures

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By Middle East standards, Iranian civil society is highly developed, the Council on Foreign Relations wrote in 2007. But it has experienced a decline since the rise of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency in 2005,[1] especially since 2009, during which the Iranian government has increasingly campaigned against civil society, with hundreds of journalists, human rights defenders, religious minorities, and women's rights activists having been arrested, imprisoned, or otherwise forbidden from engaging in their work in that period.[2]

The peak of activity in Iran's civil society sector was in the late 1990s and early 2000s under the reformist president Mohammed Khatami, in office from 1999 to 2005. Khatami's government provided subsidies to help develop an NGO sector, and academic and cultural exchanges with Western NGOs and research organisations became more common under his watch.[1]

Khatami's government did not, however, put in place safeguards to prevent the civil society sector's dismantlement. The election of the more conservative Ahmadinejad in 2005 led to increased suppression of Iran's civil society sector. Ahmadinejad refused to renew many organisations' licenses and his intelligence ministry had several NGOs shut down. His government especially targeted bloggers and civil society groups, and sought to prevent Iranian NGOs from corresponding excessively with foreigners.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Iranian Civil Society and the Role of U.S. Foreign Policy" Council on Foreign Relations, 16 July 2007.
  2. "Fear and Iran's Civil Society" Voice of America, 12 April 2011.