Are NGOs Returning to Iran?

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) began to thrive in Iran under the presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005). A plethora of organizations sprung up to work on a variety of issues, from the environment, to women's issues, to poverty, to protecting child labourers. However, with the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, and the subsequent rise of the Green Movement in 2009, NGOs took a big hit in Iran. Any kind of civic engagement, particularly after 2009, was not tolerated by the state, and most NGOs had already been forced to close down by that time. For those activists who stayed in Iran during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency, and continued to work on social issues, many shifted their focus either to the environment, or to creating charities that support the sick (mainly those afflicted with cancer, liver and kidney diseases, etc).

Although civic leaders were buoyed by the election of president Hassan Rohani,, the pragmatic cleric, in June 2013, no significant changes have taken place in Iran in regards to safeguarding NGOs and those who work with them. As such, some former NGO leaders who were pushed out during the Ahmadinejad presidency, have held informal meetings to discuss the possibility of opening their doors again. However, they remain hesitant until there are concrete changes made on the domestic front by the Rohani administration. The most active NGOs in Iran today remain those who consciously label themselves as charities and not necessarily NGOs. The label "NGO" took on a political connotation during the latter half of Khatami's presidency, and into Ahmadinejad's two terms in office.