16 July 2015

The Iran Explainer: Backgrounder on Iranian Polity

In a major breakthrough, Iran and the P+1 agreed, on 15 July 2015, on a comprehensive nuclear deal, which is designed to halt advancements in Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting economic sanctions and bringing Iran back into the global political and economic mainstream.

P+1 represents six of the world’s most powerful nations – Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States (permanent members of the UN Security Council) and Germany.

The original name of the nuclear deal is ‘
Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)’. The official document detailing the JCPOA uses E3/EU+3 (China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States) to describe the negotiating parties that sat at the table with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In a multi-part explainer series, I will focus on this landmark nuclear deal. In the first part of this Explainer on Iran, I will focus on the Iranian political system.

Brief Backgrounder on Iranian Political System
Iran, the world’s largest Shia Muslim nation, is a powerful force in the Middle East. Iran has the world’s fourth largest reserves of oil and second largest reserves of gas, which make it a formidable power in the global energy market. In a world that is ever thirsty for energy, Iran is often seen as a force with a huge bargaining power.

Iran and its Neighbourhood
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Iran, which sees itself as a regional superpower, aims to become the voice of the highly divisive Islamic world, a status that is now claimed, for all practical purposes, by Saudi Arabia.

In 1979, Iran witnessed an Islamic Revolution, which ousted the pro-West monarchy. The Islamic Revolution brought the clergy to power, which used all possible administrative means to purge the country of pro-West elements.

Even for an Islamic country, Iran has a highly complex and deeply hierarchical political governance system. The system combines Islamic theocracy with democracy. The State’s Supreme Leader is the Ayatollah, who is appointed by an elected body. For all practical purposes, the Supreme Leader is accountable to none.

With a Clerical Administration in power, the system is peopled in large numbers by ultra-orthodox religious hardliners. In a closely-knit system such as the Iranian Clerical polity, it is important to populate it with the ‘right’ kind of people – people who are loyal to the Supreme Leader and the ‘political and religious beliefs’ that define the State.

To this end, the polity is peopled in large numbers by ultra-orthodox religious hardliners. Religion plays a dominant role in the way the country is governed; in fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that religion colours everything about the behavior of the Iranian State – towards its citizens and towards the international community.

It is also true that the ultra-conservative Clerical regime is torn by various factions, which are pulling in different directions. The heroes of the Islamic Revolution still control all the key institutions of the State machinery. The hardliners control the judiciary, while the Council of Guardians is the watchdog of the country’s constitution. The hardliners also rule the roost when it comes to controlling other powerful institutions like the Revolutionary Guards and the Ansar-e-Hezbollah (a sort of Islamic vigilante).

When it comes to domestic affairs, the Clerical administration, dominated by hardliners, uses violence, intimidation, arbitrary detention, and extreme religious laws to silence the voice of its political opponents. In simple words, a once-liberal Iran has now become a laboratory in which the State uses draconian laws to circumvent any kind of dissent against its gross acts.

Since 1979, the Iranian Clerical regime has exhorted the ordinary Iranians against the United States, who it calls “The Great Satan”. In fact, the post-Revolution generation of Iranians, also called the War Generation (born during the 1980-88 war between Iran and Iraq) displays a marked resentment toward the U.S. for its alleged duplicity. They accuse the U.S. of having turned a Nelson’s Eye when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein used chemical and biological weapons against Iran during the eight-year war.

Tomorrow: A Brief History of Sanctions in The Iran Explainer: History of Sanctions.


Unknown said...

Excellent! Looking forward for Part II.

Anonymous said...

Very informative.......helps to grasp the basic of Iran present system