The Islamic Republic of Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran
Jomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Iran
Descriptive Background
• Geography
Area: 1.6 million sq. km. (636,294 sq. mi.);
slightly larger than Alaska.
Cities: Capital--Tehran. Others: Isfahan,
Tabriz, Mashhad, Shiraz.
Terrain: Desert and mountains.
Climate: Semiarid; subtropical -Caspian
• Resources: oil, natural gas, coal, copper
• Arable land: 9%
Iranian People
Nationality: Iranian(s).
Population (2007 est.): 69 million.
Population growth rate (2007): 1.07%.
Ethnic groups: Persians 51%, Azeri 24%, Gilaki and Mazandarani 8%, Kurd
7%, Arab 3%, Lur 2%, Baloch 2%, Turkmen 2%, other 1%.
Religions: Shi'a Muslim 89%; Sunni Muslim 10%; Zoroastrian, Jewish,
Christian, and Baha'i 1%.
Languages: Persian and Persian dialects 58%, Turkic and Turkic dialects
26%, Kurdish 9%, Luri 2%, Balochi 1%, Arabic 1%, Turkish 1%, other 2%.
Education: Literacy (total population age 15 and over who can read and
write, 2007) 79.4%.
Health (2003 est.): Infant mortality rate—44.17 deaths/1,000 live births. Life
expectancy at birth (2007)--total population: 69.35.
Work force (2001): Agriculture 30%, industry 25%, services 45% est. There
is a shortage of skilled labor. (State Department Background Notes )
• GDP (2004 est.): $477.8 billion. (1994 est. $90 billion)
GNP real growth rate (2007 est.): 7.6%.
GDP composition by sector (2004): Agriculture 19%, industry
26%, services 55%.
• Per capita income (est.2007): $8,700. (2004 7,000 est) (1994 est
• Natural resources: Petroleum, natural gas, and some mineral
• Agriculture: Principal products--wheat, rice, other grains,
sugarbeets, fruits, nuts, cotton, dairy products, wool, caviar; not selfsufficient in food.
Industry: Types--petroleum, petrochemicals, textiles, cement and
building materials, food processing (particularly sugar refining and
vegetable oil production), metal fabricating (steel and copper),
• Trade (2002): Exports--$24.8 billion: petroleum 85%, carpets, fruits,
nuts. Imports--$21.8 billion: food, machinery, and semifinished
goods. Major markets/suppliers--Germany, Japan, Italy, South
Shiite and Sunni Islam
• Muhammad dies in 632 without designating a
• Followers split into two groups:
1) Sunni – believed that the most prominent
members of the community should select the
new leader (caliph) on the basis of personal
attributes (piety, wisdom, morality, leadership)
2) Shiia – believed leadership should stay in the
prophet’s family; believed Muhammad wanted
his son-in-law Ali – “Shi’at Ali” – the partisans
of Ali
Religious and political origins
• 2,500 years of existence as a state
• Characterized by struggle between
monotheistic religion and monarchical
secular government.
• Persia is never colonized – but is impacted
by the west (Romans, Russia, Great
• The monarchy: Shahinshah – king of kings
(The Shah)
Persian Kings
• 400 years of expanding authoritarianism
under the monarchy
– Safavid dynasty
– Qajar dynasty
– Authoritarianism reinforced by Shiism
(respect for learned scholars)
• Islam’s expansion related to regional
– Rejects the Sunni branch (Ottoman Empire)
– Turn to Shiia Islam
19th Century transition
• Persia torn by own traditions and growing
western pressure – Qajar dynasty weak –
pushing secularization
• Domestic response:
– Shiites reject secularization
– Bazaaris (small businessmen) want to make
more money; reducing outside competition
– Secular middle class wants political reform to
“rule of law” if not total democracy
Constitutional Revolution
• Promised all things to all people
– Firming the legal status of Islam
– Strengthening the state
– Codifying the legal system
• 1906 King dismissed his Prime Minister
creates the Majlis – conflict ensues
– Revolution is defeated; a shah comes to power
but controls only part of the country.
• Increases the influence of external powers
(Great Britain)
The Final Dynasty
• Russian occupation (North); British
occupation (South)
• Rise of Reza Khan – Cossack leader
occupies Tehran; supported by British
against Russians
• 1925 crowns self Shah; chooses name
– Takes power in name of Shiism and
– Era of modernization
The Revolution
• Last Shah (Muhammad Reza Shah):
– alienated Shiite clerics
– Tradition of shunning politics ended when Shah
instituted the white revolution and created SAVAK
to enforce his rule
• White Revolution (1963)
– Effort to modernize country and consolidate Shah
– Targeted clergy (land redistribution, reduction of
– Extended women’s rights
The Revolution
• SAVAK (1957)
– Farsi acronym for Intelligence and Security
Organization of the Country
– Arrested and tortured dissidents at home and
• Religious community radicalized
– Ayatollah Khomeini (ayatollah in 1960)
– Argues religion/politics not separable
– Obligation to uphold principles in Iran
– Arrested by Shah in 1963
The Revolution
• Khomeini released in 1964
– “All of Islam is politics”; exiled to Iraq (15 yrs)
– Teaching: galvanizes opposition to the Shah
• Unintended consequences of Shah’s
– Land redistribution fails
– Unemployed; slums of Tehran
– Continues to concentrate power
– Alliance with U.S. unpopular; U.S. resident
behavior culturally unacceptable
• 1979 – Revolution
– Diverse coalition of revolutionaries too divided
to govern
– Political purges followed (executions); rival
movements eliminated
– Khomeini’s power solidified:
• 444 day occupation of US embassy by Iranian
• Iran/Iraq war (1980-1988)
– 500,000 killed; stalemate
• Domestic repression increases
Political System
• Theocracy – “rule of the clergy”
• Cleric with title “Supreme Leader”
– Ayatollah Ali Hoseini Khamenei
• Clergy rule by divine right
• Centralized administration with 28
– Unitary state – governors appointed by the
interior minister
Leader of the Islamic Revolution
Council of Guardians
• Ayatollah – leader of the Islamic Revolution
• Council -12 members - religious leaders.
– 6 religious members appointed by Ayatollah.
– 6 lay members appointed by Majles.
• Ultimate authority in Iranian political system.
• Ayatollah appoints highest judicial authorities.
• Council certifies competence of candidates for
President and National assembly.
• President and cabinet (Council of
• Candidates for both approved by Council
of Guardians.
• President popularly elected – 4 year cycle
• President appoints cabinet with approval
of Majles (parliament)
• Majles 290 seats, 4 year election cycle
• Multimember districts, most votes
– Direct, secret ballot
• Legislation must be approved by Council
of Guardians
– lawyer members review legislation for limited
questions of constitutionality
– religious leaders consider legislation for
conformity to Islamic principles.
• Authority vested in the Supreme Court and
four member High Council of the Judiciary
• 2 separate groups with overlapping
responsibilities and one head.
• Supervise enforcement of all laws and for
establishing judicial and legal policies.
The Accidental President:
2005 Election
• Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
– 1997 served two terms as president
– Was head of Expediency Council and
Assembly of Experts (currently in this position)
• Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (60% in second
• Rafsanjani’s defeat seen as repudiation of
the generation that came to power with
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1903-1989)
• First non-cleric to win the presidency of
the Islamic Republic
• Former mayor of Tehran
• Possibly more conservative than the
• Appealed to youth/poor view selves as left
behind by the theocracy
– ¼ population is under age 15
– Median age is 26