The History of Formation of Iranian Politics
Despite its practical similarities, Iranian society differs significantly from their Arab neighbors. First, they are Persians and not Arabs. Second, their religious conviction represents a rather complex rejection of orthodox conviction common among the Sunni (Palmer 263). It is important to mention that Iranian religion and politics are closely interrelated. The majority of the principles inherent in the religious conviction of Iranians finds its reflection in their political outlooks (Palmer 264).
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One of the key highlights in the history of Iran is its tribal origin. Later, Iranians were the ones who represented the administrative part of the Islamic empire. The interesting thing about this detail is that initially Iran was conquered by Arab armies (Palmer 265). As the time passed, Iran gradually separated from other Arab countries in terms of their culture. On a bigger scale, Iranian population chose to follow its Persian origins and stick to the Twelver doctrine (Palmer 265).
Throughout the colonial era, Iran was significantly impacted by the European powers. To be more specific, the most vivid examples of influence were Britain and Russia. The governments of both these countries were so powerful that they were able to obtain monetary concessions from the decadent shahs (Palmer 266). Colonial era developed Iranian nationalism as a reply to the Western involvement in the activities of the East. At the beginning of the 20th century, a new Constitution was elaborated and implemented in practice (Palmer 266). A variety of social reforms that transpired throughout this period generated critical transformations in Iranian society. The key renovations materialized in the area of democracy and social equality (Palmer 267). All these alterations became the reason behind the appearance of the Nationalist and the Communist parties.
The next stage in the political history of Iran was Islamic resurgence. During this period, shah’s rule was overturned, and the presence of the West became not so persuasive (Palmer 270). Ayatollah Khomeini became the new ruler of Iran and decided to turn the country into a state that is majorly dependent on religion. Nonetheless, there were numerous problems with Iranian society that interfered with Khomeini’s plans. Nonetheless, multiple challenges of the industrial world and economic sphere impacted both the new government and the social order (Palmer 272). As a result of the revolution, the state was left without medical experts, engineers, and many other specialists because they ultimately fled the country. Despite Khomeini’s authority, the revolution gradually developed in a spontaneous manner due to the unprompted actions of revolutionary committees (Palmer 273). At this stage, the revolution in combination with the ongoing war in the area was too much for Iran. Iranian community was tired of the unyielding moral code of Khomeini’s regime. This happened by reason of the disrespect towards internal development and embracement of revolutionary goals (Palmer 276).
The next period in Iranian history was marked by the death of Khomeini and the collapse of the USSR. The stage was also called the era of the New World Order due to the major appearance of the United States on the worldwide arena. The conflict that took place during this period was based on the disagreements between the economically and politically influential United States and extremist Iranian political system (Palmer 276). The remaining elite was determined to save Iran’s theocratic state organization. At this stage, the key two goals of the new regime were to suppress the revolution and develop Iranian economy. Nonetheless, the elite was divided into two opposing parties, and they could not come to an agreement on how to achieve those goals (Palmer 277). As a result, a conflict between the campaigners and the disciplinarians transpired. The enactment of reforms could have triggered violence from hard-liners, but the two parties were able to achieve relatively calm outcomes and were called a perfect illustration of Islamic democracy (Palmer 280).
Throughout the era of terror, Iran was exposed to a major problem. The country had to avoid the attacks coming from the US and, simultaneously, not to allow the United States to fortify their position in the Gulf area. Nonetheless, the US attacked Iraq, and further takeover of the regime was almost impossible due to the deep roots of the Islamic regime in Iran (Palmer 281). On a bigger scale, Iraq was found between two fires in the conflict of interests between Iran and United States. The hard-liners were unable to resolve economic and social issues. This stage questioned the compromise with the United States and the ultimate possibility of enacting any reforms in Iran (Palmer 283).
Elites and Institutions
The beginning of the 21st century for Iran was marked by a twofold political system. On the one hand, there were Iranian spiritual ruling classes. On the other hand, there were representatives that were elected by Iranian community. Taking into consideration the peculiarities of Iranian political system, the Council of Guardians became the bridge between the elected representatives and spiritual authorities (Palmer 284). If any complications transpired in relation to the Council of Guardians, the Expediency Council resolved all the issues.
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The highest Iranian political instance is the Supreme Guide. The latter is responsible for the interpretations of the law and is in charge of virtually every political decision (Palmer 284). All the above representatives relate to the spiritual ruling classes. If we speak about the secular authority, the key figures are the president and the parliament. Their power directly depends on the popular vote. The utmost responsibility of the President of Iran is to manage the state and propose new legal acts to the parliament (Palmer 285). Even though the parliament does not possess the authority held by the Supreme Guide or the President, this political body has played a major role in the forming of Iranian social and economic policies.
The structure of Iran’s elite represents the intricacy of the country’s political system. The Supreme Guide can be located at the top of the political hierarchy. The next layer of the hierarchy includes the President, the Councils, and the speaker of the parliament (Palmer 286). It is important that the authority of the elites directly depends on their reputation and standing in the society (Palmer 286). Currently, there are two major directions in Iranian politics that are divided into four parties – the conservatives and the radicals (the hard-liners) who are opposed to the pragmatists and the liberals (the reformers). The radicals tend to act in compliance with the strict moral code of Islamic religion. They are also known for their anti-American outlooks and the determination to close the gap between the poor and the rich (Palmer 287).
The conservatives are also known for their strong predisposition towards Islamic religious laws. Nevertheless, they advocate for private property and endorse the eradication of the government that interferes with individual economic affairs. They are the most authoritative body in Iranian government due to the fact that the Supreme Guide and the Council of Guardians belong to their camp (Palmer 287). The pragmatists support economic transformations and are rather flexible when it comes to the obedience to Islamic religious laws. The key objective of this political party is to embrace the economic and governmental development. The liberals embrace the democratic principles and pay close attention to human rights. They also advocate for a milder interpretation of Islamic religious laws (Palmer 288).
The role of bureaucracy in Iran consists in the implementation of the decisions made by the elite. Iranian bureaucracy can be described as corrupt and bigoted. Numerous experts see the solution to the problem in stricter penalties for corruption and development of capitalism and the private sector. Bureaucratic regulations have a big impact on Iranian political and social state due to the fact of extensive cases of corruption (Palmer 289). Bureaucrats are poorly paid, and their unwillingness to take risks can be explained by the indecisive nature of Iranian political principles. Regardless, bureaucratic issues of the country are not exclusively the result of corruptible politicians. The elite is in charge of the complexities as well due to their inability to frame clear political objectives (Palmer 289). It is practically impossible to serve two governments at the same time (secular and religious). Therefore, confusing decisions of the elite proved to be counterproductive and led to defective policy implementation. The key objective of the current government is to hire a cluster of experienced and proficient individuals that would help run the government (Palmer 289).
One of the key pressure groups in Iran are the bonyads. They are considered to be the religious successors of the revolution. The bonyads appeared after the monetary assets were appropriated from the shah and his family. This pressure group does not belong to the private or public sector (Palmer 293). The course of the bonyads usually depends on the benefits of the decisions that are to be made by the pressure group. The obtained profits are expected to help the poor, but they are also known to be a source of revenue for the Supreme Guide. The bonyads disregard governmental principles and specialize on importing foreign tax-free goods (Palmer 293). Nonetheless, numerous bonyad representatives have been accused of briberies and mismanagement, and not all bonyad organizations are gainful.
Another pressure group is called the bazaaris. This group is commonly represented by mid-range and low-range sectors. The members of this pressure group are typically craftsmen, wholesalers, and retail merchants (Palmer 293). As Palmer also notices, the bazaaris are an “urban and petit-bourgeois phenomenon” (293). They act in compliance with a special code that specifies that certain ethical and religious conduct should be maintained. The bazaaris majorly advocate against the Westernization and also have a close relationship with the ulema. As a result, the commercial activity of Iran gradually drifted away from the bazaaris as the process of Westernization went on. This led to a conflict between the government and the bazaaris (Palmer 294). It is also important to consider that the bazaaris stand at the origins of the Islamic regime and most of the local trade and distribution is administered by this pressure group.
There are also three smaller pressure groups – the clergy, women, and students. The clergy consists of almost 200000 religious representatives. These individuals have the most influence among these three pressure groups. The importance of clergy consists in the fact that they maintain the revolutionary basis of the government (Palmer 294). Nonetheless, the effectiveness of this group is minimized by numerous conflicts with other groups. The students were one of the decisive factors that helped to overturn the shah’s regime. This pressure group is one of the key problems of Iranian conservatives. The key objective of the students is to find a stable future for themselves (Palmer 295). Iranian women have also played an important role in challenging the traditional Islamic practice. Despite their influence, they were not able to regain their rights and achieve ultimate gender equality. In the light of this statement, Palmer declares that “the struggle continues, but the progress is being made” (296).
The majority of Iranians support Shi’a Islam as it is considered to be the key component of Iran’s political culture. It does not mean that all Iranians are deeply religious, but it means that they appreciate the values of Shi’a Islam. Moreover, Iranian political culture is marked by their disapproval of Western exploitation. They believe in social impartiality and Iranian nationalism (Palmer 297). The majority of Iranian citizens supports democracy and economic development of the country. The main problem of the political culture of Iran consists in insecurity and a constant state of hostility. It is also important to mention that the political culture in Iran is not unified. Different social layers have different values and outlooks. Consequently, this results in numerous conflicts on politic and ethical grounds (Palmer 297).
The Context of Iranian Politics
Iranian politics are subject to a number of factors. The most depend on the environment (social, financial, and global) and the actors that are involved. The key threat to Iran is hostility of the United States. There are numerous questions concerning the policy of Iran that are yet to be answered, but it is evident that the situation is far from picture-perfect.
Palmer, Monte. The Politics of the Middle East. 2nd ed., Cengage, 2006.