Citation for Freedom Movement of Iran

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Chehabi, H. E. . "Freedom Movement of Iran." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. May 17, 2022. <>.


Chehabi, H. E. . "Freedom Movement of Iran." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (accessed May 17, 2022).

Freedom Movement of Iran

The Freedom Movement of Iran (formerly called Liberation Movement in English; Nahzat-i Āzādi-yi īrān in Persian) is a political party whose program is based on a modernist and liberal interpretation of Shīʿī Islam. It was founded in May 1961 by leaders of the former National Resistance Movement (NRM). A few days after the ouster of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh (Muḥammad Muṣaddiq) in August 1953, with his close collaborators in the National Front either under arrest or surveillance, some of Mossadegh 's less prominent followers founded the NRM as a secret organization to uphold the nationalist cause. The NRM had two social bases: the bazaar and students. Mossadeghist merchants financed the movement, while students mounted demonstrations. Based in Tehran, the NRM was also present in a few provincial centers, most notably Mashhad, where ʿAlī Sharīʿatī was active.

Internal disagreements—between secular and Islamist activists, and between opponents and proponents of collaboration with the communists—weakened the movement, and after 1954 the state's increasingly efficient security apparatus suppressed NRM activity until the organization was crushed in 1957 when all top activists were arrested and imprisoned for eight months.

When in 1960 Mossadeghists became active again in the course of the shah's political liberalization (carried out in response to President John F. Kennedy 's election), conflict arose between erstwhile NRM leaders and the National Front's old guard of former cabinet members. Two issues were at stake. First, former NRM activists wanted to target the shah personally, whereas most National Front leaders tried to spare him, hoping that he would consent to become a constitutional monarch. Second, the core members of the former NRM, most of whom were also active in Islamic circles, wanted to mobilize Iranians by appealing to their religious values, a policy the National Front 's secular leadership rejected. The dispute came to a head in May 1961 when Mehdi Bazargan, Sayyid Maḥmud Ṭāleqānī, Ḥasan Nazīh, Yadollah (Yad Allāh) Ṣaḥābi, and eight other men formed a separate party, the Freedom Movement of Iran (FMI). The party was defined as Muslim, Iranian, constitutionalist, and Mossadeghist.

During the nineteen months of its activity, the FMI opposed the shah's regime and its policies, calling on the ruler to respect the constitution. In January 1963 the shah had the entire leadership of the FMI and the National Front arrested, after both had sharply criticized his planned referendum on what would become the “White Revolution.” Although the secular politicians were soon released, the FMI leaders were sentenced to several years ’ imprisonment.

After the violent repression of the June 1963 riots, which propelled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini into the political limelight and in which lower-level FMI activists participated, the shah 's rule became increasingly autocratic. This made opposition-party activity impossible. Several young FMI militants concluded that, legal constitutional methods having failed, armed struggle was now called for: they formed the Mujāhidīn-i Khalq (the people's freedom fighters). Others decided to continue the struggle abroad and formed an FMI-in-exile. The chief initiators of this move were ʿAlī Sharīʿatī, Ibrāhīm Yazdī, and Muṣṭafā Chamrān. The first was active in Paris until his return to Iran in 1964. Yazdī 's base was Houston, Texas, but he was also in close contact with Khomeini in Iraq. Chamrān first worked in the United States but then moved to Lebanon, where he was a founder of the Amal movement.

The FMI reconstituted itself in 1977 with Bazargan as chairman. In 1978 the party would have preferred to accept the shah's offer of free elections, but recognizing Khomeini's hold on Iranian public opinion, rejected the idea. In the last weeks of the shah's regime, FMI figures played a major role in negotiating with striking oil workers, military leaders, and U.S. diplomats to smooth the transfer of power to the revolutionaries. In 1979 most FMI leaders held key positions in the provisional government. After the latter's ouster in the wake of the seizure of the U.S. hostages in November, the FMI fielded a few successful candidates in the parliamentary elections of 1980, but with the consolidation of power by hardliners after 1981 it became an opposition force.

Although the FMI has tried to act as a loyal opposition within the institutional framework of the Islamic Republic, it has not been allowed to field candidates in presidential or parliamentary elections since 1981, nor did it endorse any candidates until 2005. The party has, however, maintained a presence on the political scene by issuing periodic declarations that comment critically on major political issues of the day. After 1982, it took the country 's leadership sharply to task for its unwillingness to end the Iran-Iraq War, and in the 1990s it criticized President Hāshimī Rafsanjānī 's economic policies. These declarations have earned its core cadres repeated arrests and prison sentences, and its party headquarters has been seized repeatedly.

The political and social liberalization that followed the election of reformist candidate Muḥammad Khātamī to the presidency in 1997 benefited the FMI, allowing it to widen its activities. The party coalesced with a few other groups to form a loose political movement that came to be called “religious-nationalist.” Although the religious nationalists were few, their ideas were considered so threatening that almost the entire leadership of the Freedom Movement was arrested in the spring of 2001 and imprisoned for several months. The religious nationalists supported the presidential bid of Muṣṭafā Muʿīn in 2005, which was the first time like-minded groups inside and outside the regime came together in an alliance.

Remarkable continuity characterizes the FMI, which is the longest continuously active political party in Iran. When Mehdi Bazargan died in 1995, Ibrāhīm Yazdī was elected secretary-general in a smooth transition from one generation to the next. The party 's program rests on a liberal interpretation of Shīʿī Islam that rejects both royal and clerical dictatorship in favor of political and economic liberalism, which are considered more conducive to the flowering of Islamic values than is coercion. The party 's main weakness has been its inability to generate mass support, especially among the young.


  • Barzin, Saeed. “Constitutionalism and Democracy in the Religious Ideology of Mehdi Bazargan.”British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies21, no. 1 (1994): 85–101.
  • Chehabi, H. E.Iranian Politics and Religious Modernism: The Liberation Movement of Iran Under the Shah and Khomeini. London: Tauris, 1990. In-depth study of the history and ideology of the party.

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