external image iran-map.gif061001_iran_flag.jpg

The Positions of Iran's Government: Elected or Appointed?

external image Iranian%20Government%20System%20Structure.jpg

Iran’s self-identity is influenced by:
  • Iranian nationalism
    • Strong influence of Persian culture; even after Arabs invaded Iran, the people continued to speak Persian and many elements of their culture can still be felt today. Persian culture includes art (Persian rugs), architecture, and literary works. This adds to the strong sense of Iranian national identity.
  • Contact with the West
  • Islam, particularly Shi’ism (90-95%)
  • Iran's dominant religion, Shia Islam, which constitutes it as a theocracy, a government in which a religious figure or group of people hold the most power; these people are regarded as divinely guided. In Iran, they strictly follow the rules of Shia Islam.
  • Shi’ites historically have believed in a “hidden imam” that will come, and thus, believe that secular authority is ultimately illegitimate, and refuse to make peace with secular authorities because of the Islamic doctrine that religion and politics are cohesive.
  • Shi’ite clerics have a strong power base and a secure income from voluntary religious taxes and endowments.
  • Shari'ah Law: the canonical law of Islam, based on the Koran. Used often in Iranian politics, and especially upheld by the Guardian Council.

  • 1905-1909: Constitutional revolution. Many were angry with the Qajars over concessions to foreign governments (coined "capitulations"). This revolution introduced many features currently seen in today's Iranian government, like elections, separation of powers, legislative assembly, and popular sovereignty.
  • 1908: Oil is discovered in Persia.
  • 1914: Russian, British, and German troops occupy the country during WWI.
  • 1935: Official name of the country changed from Persia to Iran.
  • 1941: During WWII, Reza Shah is forced by the Allies to grant the throne to his son, Muhammad Reza Shah, due to his alleged pro-German sentiments.
  • 1950s: Prime Minister Muhammad Mosadegh nationalizes Iran’s oil industry
  • 1953: With British and American help, Muhammad Reza Shah returns and starts to modernize with a Western bent; Actually, the return of the Shah was orchestrated by the CIA in Operation Ajax(please note, the neutrality of the link is very questionable). This is a major source of the anti-American sentiment in Iran.
  • 1953-1979: Shah makes Iran a rentier state (economy based on the selling of some commodity) based on oil and import substitution industrialization (focus on capital-intensive industry) which led to the neglect of agriculture and small-scale production.
  • White Revolution: Mohammed Reza Pahlavi Shah's reform initiatives. The most important reforms were land reform that ended up transferring capital and political support to the urban bourgeoisie. Too much reform too quickly for most people to handle, the White Revolution was not popular despite the benefits.

1979 Iranian Revolution
  • Has been called the last of the great modern social revolutions.
  • Ayatollah Khomeini returns from exile, overthrows the Shah, and declares an Islamic Republic.
  • In a student led revolution, anti-western sentiment develops, students and militants take over the United States Embassy in Tehran, and American workers are taken hostage for 444 days.
  • Religious beliefs of Islam were the guide, led by Ayatollah Khomeini.
  • Although the Revolution began with a wide coalition of dissenters of the Shah, eventually the ultra-conservative religious zealots concentrated power in their own hands, leading to The Islamic Republic of Iran to be formed as a theocracy.
  • SIMILAR to other revolutions: long dictatorship was overthrown, lack of pre-revolution democratic institutions, revolutionary leader in exile, utopian ideal (religious fundamentalism vs. communism), there was a follow up 'cultural revolution' in order to get rid of the less zealous and solidify the authority of the revolutionary leader
  • DIFFERENT from other revolutions: the peasantry and rural areas played a marginal role, no military defeat or coup, little guerrilla warfare, no instigating crisis
  • Origins: the Shah operating a neopatrimonial state by making all economic decisions and creating a split between the shah and liberal technocrats versus the lower-class and clergy; a decline in oil prices and rise of cost of living, pressure from Western media to lift restraints on opposition

  • Revolutionaries characterized as:
  • 1) urban poor, especially recent immigrants suspicious of westernization
  • 2) middle classes who wanted political freedom
  • 3) leftist oppositions
  • 4) bazaar merchants with broad networks
  • 5) clergy

Timeline after the Revolution
  • 1980: The shah dies in exile.
  • 1980-88: War with Iraq.
  • 1989: death of Khomeini who is succeeded by Ayatollah Khamenei
  • 1997 - 2005: Muhammad Khatami's presidency; lean toward political reform and economic liberalization.
  • 2005 - present: Ahmadinejad's presidency; more conservative.
  • 2009: critical election and ensuing violence

2009 Election

The election of 2009 showed how undemocratic Iran can be. Ahmadinejad won the election over the reform candidate Mousavi. Mousavi had the support of the youth, women, and urban voters, yet he did not come close to winning the election. Ahmadinejad won the election by a landslide. Beforehand, the government had allowed foreign broadcast media (BBC, CNN, etc) to cover the Iranian election and the candidates held televised debates, creating the image of a legitimate political process. However, the election was believed to be fraudulent since the results were practically instantaneous and that many rural districts had voter turnouts over 100 percent. The youth and women of Iran would no longer tolerate this type of blatant fraud and held protests throughout the summer of 2009. The Iranian government took action to stop these protests. The government arrested an estimated 500 protesters since the election. In addition, the government began censoring social networking sites (used by the youth). To show the protesters that the election was indeed legitimate, the government ordered a partial recount (10%). The results showed that the Ahmadinejad did win the election. However, whether the votes themselves were valid is a completely different story. After the recount, the government stopped all investigation on the legitimacy of the election.


Iran features a dual executive system composed of both the president and the Supreme Leader of Iran.

President (Currently Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) - elected by a direct vote; must receive an absolute majority with universal suffrage for four years, with a limit of two consecutive terms; powers are inhibited by those of the Supreme Leader
  • The president chooses cabinet members, writes legislation for the parliament, and coordinates government and upholds the constitution.

Supreme Leader (Currently Ayatollah Khamenei) - Iran’s most powerful political figure; ensures the government’s laws conform with Islamic law; must be a cleric, but not necessarily the highest ranking Shi’ite cleric (thus charisma is necessary)
  • Must be a direct descendant of Muhammad
  • Can overrule and dismiss the president, appoint the head of the judiciary and half of the Guardian Council, and appoint the top positions in the military. The Supreme Leader also supervises politics to ensure conformity with Islamic law. Although the Constitution grants executive power to the President, the Supreme Leader can be considered the "brains behind the operations"
  • Can be removed by the Assembly of Religious Experts if deemed unfit for duty

The office of Prime Minister was removed in 1989 after the Constitution was amended.


Council of Guardians (or Guardian Council): approves laws; 12 member council that has joint veto power with the supreme leader over legislation passed by parliament; acts like the upper house of parliament
  • Six of the members are lawyers nominated by the chief judge and confirmed by the Majles who rule on the constitutionality of laws.
  • Six of the members are clerics appointed by the Supreme Leader who ensure that bills passed by the Majles conform to shari'a law.
  • One of the Guardian Council's most powerful abilities is its ability to decide who can compete in elections. In 2004 and 2005, they disqualified thousands of candidates for both the Majles and the presidential elections, especially reform-minded candidates.

Assembly of Religious Experts (or Majiles-e Khebregan): evaluates the Supreme Leader; 86 member all-male assembly populated with mostly clerics and directly elected. This assembly drafted the 1979 constitution and is charged with evaluating the performance of the Supreme Leader, who they have the ability to dismiss.

A comparison can be made to the Electoral College in the United States. Both institutions are directly elected and indirectly choose their respective country's leaders.

Parliament (Majles, officially the Islamic Consultative Assembly): 290 members elected by direct and secret ballot for four-year terms.

  • Is not a rubber-stamp institution; the government often has to lobby strongly to pass laws
  • Undergoing a trend of anticlericalism, with fewer clerics being elected to the Majles (37% decrease since 1980)
  • Females and other members of non-Islamic religions are allowed in the Majles, with the exception of the Baha'i group. Five seats are reserved in the Majles for recognized non-Islamic religions (again, excluding the Baha'i).

Expediency Council (officially the Council for the Expediency of the State): resolves policy disputes between the Guardian Council and the parliament in a way that best serves the country and advises national leaders; consists of currently 32 members appointed for three-year terms from the heads of the three branches of government, the six clerics of the Guardian Council, and those appointed by the supreme leader

-courts operate under Shari’ah (Islamic) law, and comprise of a Supreme Court and a four-member High Council of the Judiciary that together supervise the enforcement of laws and establish judicial and legal policies
-Jurist Guardianship gives senior clerics authority over the entire community(elements of Shari'a law)
--> lower courts include a special clerical court, a revolutionary court, and a special administrative court
-controversial branch of government: accusations of partiality and unbendingly conservative
--> judiciary supposed to be independent but in practice is ruled by conservative judges suspicious of reform: crackdown on newspapers and magazines
-Shari’ah law has regional disparities though
-Head of Judiciary: a cleric appointed by the supreme leader
-Hezbollahis serve as unofficial watchdog vigilantes who assault dissidents and harass women not dressed conservatively enough, and are rarely prosecuted
--> on the other hand, moderates are prosecuted much more often and treated much more harshly.

Political Parties
-very weak political parties: forming political parties had been illegal until 1998, and current day political parties are usually more like professional groupings
-armed political parties are severely dealt with
-2008 Majiles Election -
United Front (neo-conservatives used to be allied with Ahmadinejad) 30% of seats
Broad Front (hard liners allied with Supreme Leader) 27% of seats
independents (moderate hard liners and moderate reformers) 16% of seats
reformers (independent and National Trust Party) 14% of seats

-elections are institutionalized and ingrained in Iranian political life because of their yearly regularity
-elections are competitive with candidate-to-seat ratios of 10:1
-all candidates must be approved by the Guardian Council and so many reformist and all non-Muslim candidates are rejected in order to make up a conservative Majles
-the Guardian Council is similar to the Communist Party in China and USSR
-suffrage: anyone 16 and older can vote in cantonal and local elections, 18 or older in national elections, and high voter turnout is common. They changed the voting age from 15 to 18 because of the realization that younger voters were voting for reform candidates.
-President must win an absolutely majority (has to be well known and a shiite)
-political parties were legalized in 1998; they are very weak which leads to question about who can participate in politics
-Turnout - 1997 = 80% (Khatami = 70% majority)
2005 = 60% (Ahmadinejad = 60% majority)

Elite Factions
Combatant Clerics: shop keepers; economic protectionists; support Khatami
Militant Clerics: socialists; opposed to President Rasfanjani
Servants of Construction: technocrats (technical expertise and beauracrats, pragmatic economics); relatively free market; support President Rasfanjani (1989-1997)

-1979 constitution codified Shari’ah (Islamic) law as the state law
--> the president has to be a Shi’ite (disenfranchising all other religions) and a “well-known political personality” (currently interpreted to apply only to men)
--> Shari’ah law implies inequities to women
--> 5 Majles seats must be reserved for recognized religious minorities (Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians), but cannot go to Baha’is

-Iranian bureaucracy formed from culturally conservative lay technocrats mostly from humble origins
--> bureaucracy characterized by patronage, corruption, and mismanagement
-Iranian military has so far not played an interventionist role in politics, and it’s leaders are appointed by and loyal to the supreme leader
appointed by and loyal to the supreme leader
-Clergy empower family and patrons with government jobs
Supreme National Security Council
The Iranian constiution mandates the existences of a Supreme National Security Council chaired by the president, althought the Supreme leader has ultimate authority over military and foreign policy matters.
  • Decisions of the council must be approved by the Supreme Leader Functions of the National Security Council include:
- Determining the defense and national security polices for Iran within the framework of general policies established by the Supreme leader
- Coordinating political, soical, culutral, economic, and intellgence activities that concern general defense and security policies
- Administering the use of material and intellectual resources countering internal and external effects



-Located in Southwest Asia with hard to navigate geological features. Iran is bordered by Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf, and Caspian Sea. Its mountains have also shaped the country economically and politically. The mountains, though now have more means of transportation, still isolate the country. Iran has border disputes with nearby countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
-18th largest country in world which has caused over population problems


Social Cleavages
-peasantry and urban lower-middle class: strongly religious orthodox, have benefited from the patronage of the government but still discontent because of the poor economy
-middle class: hang onto their “cultural capital” (general background of knowledge, disposition, and skills passed through generations)
--> strongest opponents to the regime: culturally westernized, more secular, hostile to clergy
-women: gender complementarity, or “equality-with-difference”
--> pre-1979 westernization, such as divorce and custody laws, restriction of women’s clothing and women’s freedom to leave the country, have been changed to follow Islamic law and are much more restrictive --> women now are in schools at the same rate as men, and women are now 1/3 of the medical students, 4% of the national legislature, and have joined the clergy with a few female clerics

-"Equity with Difference" similar to America's "separate but equal"
-revolution "restored" traditions form conservative lower and middle classes (divorce; child custoy; leaving Iran without husband's permission)
-stonings banned (similar to banning of foot binding in China)
-women = 25% of the workforce
-50/50 school enrollment (1/3 medical students = women), parallel health system
-4% of Majles
-Ahmandinejad's leadership has brought back stricter Islamic dress restrictions (chador)
-Ahmandinejad's new rules are enforced by security patrols (non official; but tolerated and encouraged by gov't)

(Population entering the work force)

Ethnic Minorities
-ethnic minorities: live on the geographic and political power periphery, and violent uprisings in the 1980s by Arabs, Balochis, Kurds, and Turks were put down and now don’t threaten political stability
-ethnic minorities such as the Jews and Azeris are given very limited powers, such as a minuscule number of seats in the Iranian Parliament, or Majles. This is one method of maintaining the facade of a Democracy, making it difficult for outsiders to criticize the absence of opposition in a theocracy.
-language: Persian is the language of the political and literary elite, but has never replaced local languages with their local grammar and speech; campaigns to use Persian as part of a national identity have alienated ethnic minorities.
-the most persecuted minority is people belonging to the Baha'i Faith, unlike other minorities, people belonging to this faith cannot hold office; they are considered heretics or defectors from Islam by mainstream Shi'ites
People of the book = a term used related to Iran to describe non-Muslim believers who are led by a scripture. The THREE peoples of the book mentioned in the Qur'an are Jews, Zoroastrians, and Christians.
These religious groups are granted recognition and protection in Iran and even have reserved seats in Iranian parliament, contributing to political legitimacy.

Civil Society
-because the demographics of Iran have favored the young, urbanized, and educated, Iranian youths have become more liberal than Iran as a whole, and have embraced western culture
-press freedom: there can be no criticism of Ayatollah Khomeini or Islamic doctrines or matters of “national security”; however, there is a strong print media business which deals with sports, economics, etc, as well as exposing social ills or foreign policy blunders
-In past visits, Tribune correspondents have found that Iranians generally like Americans. After chanting "Death to America" at Friday prayers, a group of Iranian women asked a Tribune correspondent where was from from. When told America, one woman said, "oh, we didn't mean you. It's just something we say." Another woman gave our correspondent an apple.

Miscellaneous Issues
-Ethnic unrest: Kurds and recent bombings / riots (accusations of US meddling / support of Kurdish terrorism)
-Refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq
-Emigration of progessionals and middle class in 1980s
-Health care: 93 / 155 by WHO
-AIDS infection and drug use: heroin addiction growing due to poverty and location of drug routes, clean syringe program for heroic addicts, condoms to prostitutes, clinics offer free HIV testing, counseling and treatment
-Huge population growth of 1990s followed by population control (reduction of maternity leave after 3rd child; religious leaders now encourage smaller families; women and men must go through education on birth control before marriage certificate
-Possession of 30 grams or more of heroin is punishable by death in Iran. Still, the country has one of the highest heroin addiction rates in the world. An estimated 2 million Iranians, in a population of 70 million, use heroin or opium. (It is next door to the world's leading opium producer, Afghanistan.)
-Many Iranian citizens are still weary of U.S. intentions of replacing the current establishment with a system similar to the Shah. This mistrust was also part of the 1979 hostage crisis.

Should Iran get the nuclear bomb?
Key argument for: will give Iran equal leveraging power in the middle east; helps our diplomatic relations with them.
Key argument against: creates instability and Iranian government is not legitimate enough to be responsible for such power.

-Velayat-e faqih: Khomeini's theory about theocracy in the importance of clergy's supervision of the state
-Government thugs: religious NGOs like Hezbollah are allowed to put down dissent
-1999: pro-democracy student rallies
-2003: unemployment and tuition protests
-2006-07: civic unrest regarding gasoline prices and subsidies
-Students: have factored into every Iranian revolution, and students who have studied in the West tend to bring to Iran western culture; the youth are to be reckoned with because of the voting age being at 16 years old; 1999 pro-democracy student rallies
-Women: women have demanded more educational and job opportunities as the average family size decreases, which is likely to turn into more political participation
-Status of Efficacy: Elections are present but civil liberties are limited which lowers efficacy. Also, reformists are under-represented in politics because the Guardian Council (appointed by religious Supreme Leader) has final say over candidates allowed to run in elections, and has been disqualifying reformist candidates. This gives reformists a lower sense of political efficacy in Iran, and many have boycotted elections. This is an example of a more illiberal democracy,
-Role of Interest Groups: Iran cannot be classified as either corporatist or pluralist. It does not possess a sophisticated enough system to support either interest group structure. The main form of political participation remains to be rallies and petitions.
-Religion: the president must be a Shi'ite Muslim. While the overwhelming majority of the seats of the Majiles are Shi'ite Muslim, they do reserve 5 seats for "recognized religions" consisting of many of the major religions including Judaism and Christianity, but not of the Baha'i faith. The Baha'i are considered to be heretics according to the Shi'ite population. By allowing these five seats for People of the Book, it improves Iranian legitimacy, and to give the democratic fascade appearance that anyone can hold a seat in the Majiles.

Where does Sovereignty rest: Supreme Leader
Impact of Supranational groups: Iran does not subscribe to any of the major trade organizations. However it is a major player in OPEC.
Impact of Globalization: The attention focused on the Middle East and Iran in particular has allowed Iran to slide into place as the most powerful of the Islamic nations, and has gained much respect for their willingness to stand up to Western, more established powers. There has been serious counter attacks to the impact of globalization partially seen in the eruption of the '79 election, and the pursuit of a nuclear program.
Examples of Fragmentation: Non-tolerance of the Baha'i faith, Kurdish minority in northwest.
Trends toward Federal or Unitary: Definitely trend towards a unitary system. There are provinces and provincial governments, but the power is mainly consolidated in the hands of the national government.
Rule of Law: Shari’ah law enforced by government, however, neighborhood groups often are checking to see it being followed out.

Democratization: There is full suffrage for those 18 and over. Originally, those 15 and older could vote, but the age has increased with success of reform candidates, and there are many elected officials (i.e. President, Majles)
Role of government in economy: total control of economy by political clerics. Extraordinary subsidization keeping gas prices low but also avoiding investment in future commerce. Recently, though, is now beginning to ration gasoline per year by card that is associated with one's vehicle.
Status of Civil Liberties: people are relatively free, particularly compared to the Central Asian countries to the east, but the government exerts press controls against criticism of Islamic doctrine and leaders and some governmental policies.

Iran has tried to remain legitimate since the 1979 Revolution and the fall of the Shah by using mechanisms like representation, elections, and religion. With representation, Iran always has spaces for Jewish leaders and other minorities within the Majles. Iran also has a female Vice President. A female Vice President may seem powerful because of how females have normally been represented in several countries across the globe; however, the Iranian female Vice President has little to no power. She is merely there to make Iran seem like a legitimate representation of all its people. Elections have also seemed to have employed a great deal of legitimacy. Voter turnout is always at or near 100%, sometimes going higher than 100% as seen in the 2009 election. Election results are instantaneous, but as a result of the 2009 election many of the students and women easily see the corruption. Religion also helps Iran stay legitimate because the President and Majles always follow the word of Sharia law and the teachings of Islam. By having the Council of Experts watch over all legislation, Iran is able to be perceived as Allah's government.
From a comparative stance, looking at the relative instability of Iran can be seen in the short term. When comparing Iran's Corruption Perception Index (CPI) with the other 5 Comparative nations, Iran is the only nation whose CPI increased from 2008 to 2009 which indicates less corruption in such a short period of time. Compared to the others, Iran's movement upward along this scale is significantly greater even though their Democracy Score went significantly down, especially compared to the other nations.


Iran's economy is mainly based off oil which means that it is relatively unstable.
Also, the economy is dominated by oil and gas exports which constituted 70% of government revenue and 80% of export earnings as of 2008. It has a large public sector, with an estimated 60% of the economy directly controlled and centrally planned by the state. A unique feature of Iran's economy is the large size of the religious foundations (Bonyads), whose combined budgets are said to make up as much as half that of the central government.
Combination of price controls and subsidies, particularly on food and energy, continue to weigh down the economy, and contraband, administrative controls, widespread corruption, and other rigidities undermine the potential for private-sector-led growth.
-Under the Pahlavis, Iran was transformed into a rentier state, a type of state whose economy is heavily supported by state expenditures funded by rent paid by foreign countries. This reliance on oil as a source of income has caused a disconnect between the government and the citizens because the Iranian government does not need to internally tax its citizens due to the massive profits from oil. As a result, citizens have less of an interest in government participation (Iran = 50% of government revenue from oil)
-1980s = nationalization of oil (this caused alarm in the US, as we didn't want Iran and its vast oil supplies to go Communist and side with the USSR in the Cold War -- led to the US-sponsored military coup) ; emigration of professionals; low oil prices; decline of freign investment; influence by shopkeepers to affirm private property
-1990s = more economic pragmatism; reduced central control but still very influential, high inflation, unemployment, attempt to engage in more global trade and reduce foreign debt
-2000s = discussion of joining WTO, Ahmadinejad supports anti-poverty programs
-One of the founding members of OPEC. United States does not trade with Iran but worldwide there is still dependence of Iran’s oil.

-oil accounts for 85% of Iran’s exports and more than 50% of the government's revenue; oil exports earn Iran about $50 billion a year
-Ironically, Iran imports a lot of gasoline due to its lack of refineries. The government subsides the oil industry to keep transportation costs down.
This keeps the citizens less caring of the government's actions.
-the government has cut spending and raised taxes to make up for a poor economy; 44% decline of real oil revenue since 1980
-economic problems: inflation (at about 16%), and unemployment (at about 16%) because of the large youth population; also, almost 40% of Iran's national budget is spent on gasoline subsidies
-1980s - nationalization of oil; emigration of professionals; low oil prices; decline of foreign investment; influence by shopkeepers to affirm private property
-1990s - more economic pragmatism; reduced central control; high inflation (16%); high unemployment (16%); more technocrats in bureaucracy; attempts to capture more global trade; attempts to reduce large foreign debt
-2000s - discussion of joining WTO; paradox of Iran + globalization; Ahmadinejad support of anti-poverty programs

-Bazaar merchants: allied themselves with the 1979 revolution, but have declined in political power because of more modern trade patterns and a larger middle class
-Bonyads (religious endowments): large state-affiliated foundations charged with aiding the poor through the rent on large tracts of property; the clerics in charge of these foundations exert control over large percentages of the economy


Assembly of Experts - Directly elected institution that evaluates the Supreme Leader. There are 86 members with no females, populated with mostly clerics and all members are popularly elected.
Ayatollah- the highest ranking cleric in the Islamic Shi'ite hierarchy. The supreme leader must be an Ayatollah.
Basij Militia- militia established by Ayatollah Khomeini, that acts as an internal security force. They also help to dissolve dissident among the population.
Bazaaris- Small business owners in the bazaars (a marketplace/ merchandising area in which good and services are bought and sold). A key faction of any revolution or movement, they are primarily concerned with economic matters (i.e. sanctions, currency disputes)
Expediency Council - resolves policy disputes between the Guardian Council and the parliament in a way that best serves the country and advises national leaders; it consists of 24 members appointed for three-year terms from the heads of the three branches of government, the six clerics of the Guardian Council, and those appointed by the supreme leader.
Velayat-e faqih- Khomeini's theory about theocracy in the importance of clergy's supervision of the state
Guardian Council- 12-member board made up of six clerics chosen by the Supreme Leader and six jurists selected by the Majles from a list of candidates recommended by the judiciary (which in turn is controlled by the Supreme Leader) for six-year terms. Determines whether proposed legislation is both constitutional and faithful to Islamic law, vets candidates for suitability, and supervises national elections.
Hezbollahis- They are religious zealots who are recruited mainly from the ranks of the urban poor. (members of the Party of God)
Koran (Qur’an)- the Holy Book of Islam. Literally means the “recitation.” It is the central religious text of Islam.
Majles (Parliament)- the law-making body, with 290 members elected by direct and secret ballot for four-year terms; is not a rubber-stamp institution and the government often has to lobby strongly to pass laws Jihad- holy war, often associated with radicalism. (5 represent non-Muslim religious minorities and are popularly elected for four-year terms). They can force the dismissal of cabinet ministers by no-confidence votes and can impeach the president for misconduct in office. Although the executive proposes most new laws, individual deputies of the Majlis also may introduce legislation. Deputies also may propose amendments to bills being debated. Finally, the Majiles drafts legislation, ratifies international treaties, and approves the national budget.
President- elected by an absolute majority with universal suffrage for four years, with a limit of two terms, his powers are inhibited by the supreme leader. The president chooses cabinet members, writes legislation for the parliament, and coordinates government and upholds the constitution
Religious endowment- Much of the economy was given into the control of clerics after the Revolution, and while much of this goes to charity, the clerics tend to benefit materially from this arrangement.
Rentier state- a state whose main income derives from the export of a commodity; Iran’s commodity is oil
Revolution- an all-encompassing change in social structure and political order leading to the overthrow of a government and its replacement. The Iranian Revolution occurred in 1979
Supreme Leader- In Farsi, Velayat-e Faghee, is the ultimate leader of Iran, having autocratic-like power. He ensures the government’s laws conform with Islamic law; must be a cleric but doesn’t have to be the highest ranking Shi’ite cleric (thus charisma is necessary). He can overrule and dismiss the president, appoint the head of the judiciary and half of the Guardian council, and appoint the top positions in the military
Shah- literally, "king" in Farsi, and were the autocratic rulers of Iran prior to the Islamic Revolution. The last one was Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who was installed by a coup engineered by American and British intelligence services.
Shari’ah: Islamic law. Iran, parts of Africa, and formerly Afghanistan are ruled by it. It is taken to be God's Law as explained through Prophet Muhammad. This vast conglomeration of cultural traditions range from forcing women to wear the chador to allowing lapidation in certain parts to punish adulterers.
Shi'ite- a sect of Islam that believes in a hierarchy and that Prophet Ali was the true successor of Prophet Mohammed. Iran is mostly Shi'ite, but it is a smaller sect than Sunni. In the world stage, Sunni Muslims vastly outweigh Shi'ite Muslims, which are concentrated in Iran and parts of Iraq.
Sunni- Sect of Islam that believes that the Arab Caliphate was the true successor of Prophet Mohammed, and comprises a majority in the Muslim world. The word Sunni comes from the word Sunnah (Arabic), which means the words and actions or example of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
Theocracy- A government in which the religous leaders are simultaneously the political leaders (e.g. Supreme Leader). A state governed by the rules of a religion (Iran has a Muslim theocracy).


Khatami, Mohammad- the former President of Iran. He was elected for two terms based on a platform to improve the lives of women and young people. He was valued for his movement to liberalize Iran's conservative Islamic roots. He is pursuing political reform and liberalization, and is supported by broad sectors of society. He has also tried to normalize relations with the west and reduce tensions in the region. His efforts for democracy have been difficult due to the veto power of the supreme council, which can bar any measure it pleases.

Khomeini, Ayatollah Seyyed Ruhollah: (ruled 1979-1989) was the first Supreme Leader and also the leader of the Iranian Revolution. He used the revolution as a rebellion against western influences. He developed a massive cult of personality through his leadership in the 80s.

Khamenei, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Hossein- the current Supreme Leader. There is controversy surrounding his appointment. He is very conservative. He has continued Khomeini's policy of "balancing one group against another, making sure that no single side gains too much power. In his speeches he consistently dwells on familiar themes of the 1979 revolution: the importance of justice, independence, self-sufficiency, and Islam; the need for resolute opposition to Israel and United States.


Mossadegh, Mohammed- the former Prime Minister of Iran. He chose to nationalize the oil companies within Iran. His actions were perceived to be socialistic by the United States, so they reinstalled the Shah, ending, perhaps, what could have become a viable democracy.

Rafsanjani, Akbar Hashemee- the President of Iran from 1989 to 1997. Known for his economic pragmatism. He ran again in 2005 and came in second, losing in the runoff to Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad- Current president of Iran elected in 2005. Very hard-line conservative. Former Mayor of Tehran.He became president on August 6, 2005. According to the Constitution of Iran, he is not the most powerful official in Iran. Ahmadinejad was governor general of Iran’s Ardabil Province. He backs strengthening relations with Russia, Venezuela, Syria and the Persian Gulf States. Despite the United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an end to its nuclear enrichment, Iran refused. Much of his support in Iran comes from poorer, rural areas that have more of a history with conservative Islam. Tehran itself, inhabited my many middle-class families, tends to oppose Ahmadinejad's conservative ways.


Mir-Hossein Mousavi Khameneh - Opposition reform candidate that ran against Ahmadinejad in 2009 and lost what appeared to be a highly fraudulent election (instantaneous election results, >100% voter turnout in poor rural regions, other characteristics that are shared by Chicago governmental elections). His supporters consisted mostly of women, students, and young urban voters. It is interesting to note that he is currently the figurehead of the nebulous "Green Movement" which held mass protests after the elections. These protests were abnormal because they were about the legitimacy of the Supreme Leader and the government system as a whole.
external image mousavi_01.jpg


external image D06430_2.gif

external image IranianDemocracy-E.gif

Iran Demographics and Religion

- Iran is a diverse country consisting of people of many religions and ethnic backgrounds cemented by the Persian culture. The majority of the population speaks the Persian language, which is also the official language of the country, as well as other Iranian languages or dialects. Turkic languages and dialects, most importantly Azeri language, are spoken in different areas in Iran. Additionally, Arabic is spoken in the southwestern parts of the country.

- Iran's population increased dramatically during the latter half of the 20th century, reaching about 75 million by 2009. According to the 1956 census the population of Iran was about 19 million. In recent years, however, Iran's birth rate has dropped significantly. Studies project that Iran's rate of population growth will continue to slow until it stabilizes above 105 million by 2050. More than two-thirds of the population is under the age of 30, and the literacy rate is 83%. Women today compose more than half of the incoming classes for universities around the country and increasingly continue to play pivotal roles in society.

- Religion in Iran is dominated by the Twelve Shi'a branches of Islam, which is the official state religion and to which about 90% to 95% of Iranians belong. About 4% to 8% of Iranians belong to the Sunni branch of Islam, mainly Kurds and Iran's Balochi Sunni. The remaining 2% are non-Muslim religious minorities, including Bahá'ís, Mandeans, Hindus, Yezidis, Yarsanis, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians. The people of the book are tolerated in Iran, and accepted without retaliation in the public domain; however, a Muslim who is known to convert from the Islamic faith to another is persecuted and considered to be no longer an Iranian citizen.
The latter three minority religions are officially recognized and protected, and have reserved seats in the Majlis (Parliament). However the Bahá'í Faith, Iran's largest religious minority, is not officially recognized, and has been persecuted during its existence in Iran. Since the 1979 revolution the persecution of Bahá'ís has increased with executions, the denial of civil rights and liberties, and the denial of access to higher education and employment.