State of Iran

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For more information, see: Iran.

The current State of Iran is the world's only theocracy in charge of a major country. In principle, it is a system with checks and balances, although much more complex than a system that simply has a Parliament and judiciary, or Executive, Legislative and Judiciary.

Structure of the government

Besides the basic idea of checks and balances among powers, there are additional bodies that check that all governmental actions comply with Islamic principles. These decisions must come from clerics, under the principles of wilayat al-faqih and sharia.

Penultimate clerical authority is vested in the Supreme Leader or faqh, who is appointed and could be removed by the Assembly of Experts, who thus are theoretically the ultimate authority. He is considered the most authoritative jurisprudent under wilayat al-faqih. The head of state, not the President, commands the military and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The President, Parliament, and Assembly of Experts are elected, but from a slate approved by the clerical Council of Guardians, which is appointed by the Supreme Leader and Judiciary.

Political background

A strong clerical role goes back to the Safavid Dynasty, which unified Iran and declared it a Shi'a state in 1501. The Ottomans unified the rest of the Muslim world as Sunni in the same period. The Safavids created an infrastructure that both directly funded the ulama and allowed them to collect tithes, building a strong social network.

In more recent times, the three groups that could produce revolution were the ulama, the bazaari merchants, and the intelligentsia. [1] The first manifestation of popular power was the Tobacco Revolution of 1890, followed by the Constitutional Revolution of 1906, the latter of which added the role of students.

A new popular force came with oil nationalization in 1951-1953, Mohammed Mossadegh becoming a popular Prime Minister. His overthrow by an Anglo-American coup in 1953 caused permanent popular resentment, although the dynamics of the two coups is more complex than popularly believed. The first coup failed because the ulama had opposed it, but they allowed the second because they were concerned that his emphasis on democracy threatened the clerical role.

Even more, the clerics were threatened by the Shah's 1963 Iranian White Revolution, which introduced land reform, participation of farmers and workers in government, and female suffrage.[2]

The 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution had a combination of factors, not only human rights and financial corruption, but by challenging the key social structures of the ulama and bazaaris.

Head of State

See also: Iranian Security Forces

The Iranian Government is a complex theocratic republic, with a powerful head of state, the Supreme Leader or faqh, who is a cleric and derives his authority from the principle of wilayat al-faqih. The Supreme Leader directs the Iranian Security Forces, although the President routinely directs of the Ministry of Interior and the police. He is appointed for life, but in principle could be removed, by the Assembly of Experts, Majles-Khebregan.

Ali Khameini is the incumbent, who followed the late Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Head of Government

The President is the head of government (not including the military). He is directly elected, but candidates are approved by the Council of Guardians. A president may serve two consecutive terms and a nonconsecutive third term.


Originally, the office was relatively weak. [3]Iran's first president, Abol Hassan Bani Sadr, ran into immediate disagreement on policy between his office and Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Rajai; the office of the Prime Minister has since been abolished. Bani Sadr was accused of creating an imperial presidency, was marginalized by supporters of the regime, and in 1981 fled to France amid calls for his execution.[4] Rajai succeeded him, but was assassinated two weeks later.

Third in the line of presidents was Ali Khameini, now Supreme Leader but overshadowed by Ruhollah Khomeini, the first Supreme Leader. His Prime Minister, before the office was abolished in 1989, was Mir-Hossein Mousavi, considered a strong leader, especially on economic matters. Mousavi was the chief challenger to Ahmadinejad in 2009.

Fourth was Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was an effective president due to his personal relationships and political charisma, but that effectiveness disappeared with the 1997 election of Mohammad Khatami. "Khatami didn't have that kind of relationship with the Supreme Leader" that Rafsanjani did, says Mohsen Milani, an expert on Iran's presidency at the University of South Florida, and "during that period the presidency wasn't that powerful." Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, restored the type of political influence commanded by Rafsanjani, Milani says, "and the Supreme Leader has started to give [Ahmadinejad] some room to maneuver, especially on domestic issues." [3]

Current presidency

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the incumbent, first elected in 2005 and reelected on 12 June 2009 in a highly contested and challenged 2009 Iranian Presidential election. Officially,he received 62.6% and his main opponent Mir-Hosein Musavi-Khamenei 33.8%.

Ahmaninejad submitted a slate of Cabinet ministers to the Majlis in August 2009; 18 of the 21 were approved; those not approved are in italics

Portfolio Name Notes
Foreign Ministry Manouchehr Mottaki Incumbent
Defense Ahmad Vahidi Wanted by Argentina for 1994 bombing of a Rio de Janeiro synagogue; Interpol warrant
Oil Masoud Mir Kazemi
Health Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi First woman in cabinet
Interior Mostafa Najjar
Intelligence and National Security Heidar Moslehi
Economy Shamseddin Hosseini
Telecommunications Reza Taqipour
Agriculture Sadeq Khalilian
Industry and Mines Ali Akbar Mehrabian
Culture and Islamic Guidance Mohammad Hosseini
Labor Abdolreza Sheikholeslami
Housing Ali Nikzad
Cooperatives Mohammad Abbasi
Science and Technology Kamran Daneshjoo
Commerce Mahdi Qazanfari
Transportation Hamid Behbahani
Justice Morteza Bakhtiari
Education Susan Keshavarz Rejected; woman
Welfare and Social Justice Fateme Ajorlou Rejected; woman
Energy Mohammad Aliabadi


There is an elected Parliament, the Majlis. It has 290 seats. Iranian political parties are not well developed, but the membership can be divided into conservatives/Islamists 167, reformers 39, independents 74, religious minorities 5, other 5[5]

Political parties and influence groups

Most conservatives still prefer to work through political pressure groups rather than parties; often political parties or coalitions are formed prior to elections and disbanded soon thereafter.

A loose pro-reform coalition called the 2nd Khordad Front, which includes political parties as well as less formal groups and organizations, achieved considerable success in elections for the sixth Majles in early 2000; groups in the coalition included the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF), Executives of Construction Party (Kargozaran), Solidarity Party, Islamic Labor Party, Mardom Salari, Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization (MIRO), and Militant Clerics Society (Ruhaniyun); the coalition participated in the seventh Majles elections in early 2004; following his defeat in the 2005 presidential elections, former MCS Secretary General and sixth Majles Speaker Mehdi Karubbi formed the National Trust Party; a new conservative group, Islamic Iran Developers Coalition (Abadgaran), took a leading position in the new Majles after winning a majority of the seats in February 2004;.[5]

After the 2004 Majles elections, traditional and hardline conservatives attempted to close ranks under the United Front of Principlists and the Broad Popular Coalition of Principlists; several reformist groups, such as the Islamic Revolution, came together as a reformist coalition in advance of the 2008 Majles elections; the IIPF has repeatedly complained that the overwhelming majority of its candidates have been unfairly disqualified from the 2008 elections.

Groups that generally support the Islamic Republic Opposition and reformers Armed political groups that have been banned
Ansar-e Hizballah-Islamic Coalition Party (Motalefeh) Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF) Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI)
Followers of the Line of the Imam and the Leader Baluchistan People's Party (BPP) Jundallah
Islamic Engineers Society Freedom Movement of Iran Komala
Tehran Militant Clergy Association (Ruhaniyat) Marz-e Por Gohar; National Front Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO)
Islamic Iran Developers Coalition (Abadgaran) Office of Strengthening Unity (OSU) (student group) People's Fedayeen
various ethnic and Monarchist organizations People's Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK)

Revolutionary Guard as power center

While the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps had been seen as the religious army, much as the Saudi Arabian National Guard balances the more secular and technical military, there is increasing thought that it is becoming an independent power center. Rasool Nafisi wrote “A Revolutionary Guards-dominated state that we have witnessed since the presidential election has proven to be a lot less prudent, and a whole lot more violent, than what was the ordinary behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran before...One should calculate the impact of such a state on nuclear development with more caution.” While President Ahmadinejad had been seen as a radicalm the New York Times pointed out that he seemed to accept the October 2009 agreement crafted in Geneva, under which "much of Iran’s low-enriched uranium to Russia, and then France, where it would be converted to fuel rods. The rods, which could be used to power a medical reactor but would be difficult to covert into weapons fuel, would then be sent to Iran. The West accepted the idea because it would have delayed, by about a year, Iran’s ability to make a bomb. But once the deal was announced, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s political enemies back home attacked him, eager to undermine his credibility and legitimacy with the same blunt instrument he had used for so long against his political rivals, the nuclear issue."[6]

Clerical approval

Beyond the usual governmental branch checks and balances, Iran has two clerical bodies that also can stop or mediate actions.

Approval of Candidates and Laws

The twelve-cleric Council of Guardians or Shora-ye Negaban-e Qanun-e Assass approves all candidates for direct election, including the Parliament, Assembly of Experts, and President. It consists of six clerics and six jurists who determine if the legislation approved by the Majlis. They determine if legislation from the Majlis is correct according to religious principles.

Dispute resolution

The Expediency Council, Majma-e-Tashkise-Maslahat-e-Nezam, is in charge of mediating disputes between the parliament and the Council of Guardians, and also serves as an advisory council to the Supreme Leader. It also has a degree of supervision over the three governmental branches.


The Supreme Court, Qeveh Qazaieh, and the four-member High Council of the Judiciary have a single head and overlapping responsibilities; together they supervise the enforcement of all laws and establish judicial and legal policies; lower courts include a special clerical court, a revolutionary court, and a special administrative court.


  1. Hani Mansouria (22 September 2007), "Iran: religious leaders and opposition movements", Journal of International Affairs
  2. White Revolution: The post-Mosaddeq era and the Shah's White Revolution, Iran Chamber Society
  3. 3.0 3.1 Greg Bruno,Jamal Afridi (17 June 2009), Backgrounder: Presidential Power in Iran, Council on Foreign Relations
  4. Milt Freudenheim, Barbara Slavin, Don Wycliff (2 August 1981), "The World in Summary; Bani-Sadr Hitches to France", New York Times
  5. 5.0 5.1 , Iran, The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency
  6. Michael Slackman (25 December 2009), "Hard-Line Rise Alters View of Iran’s Nuclear Ambition", New York Times