History of the Islamic Republic of Iran
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|History of Iran|
One of the most dramatic changes in government in Iran's history was seen with the 1979 Iranian Revolution where Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown and replaced by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The patriotic monarchy was replaced by an Islamic Republic based on the principle of rule by Islamic jurists, (or "Velayat-e faqih"), where clerics serve as head of state and in many powerful governmental roles. A pro-Western, pro-American foreign policy was exchanged for one of "neither east nor west", said to rest on the three "pillars" of mandatory veil (hijab) for women, and opposition to the United States and Israel. A rapidly modernizing, capitalist economy was replaced by populist and Islamic economic and culture.
During the era of the Islamic Republic, Iran has grown from 39 million (1980) to 70 million people.
Some things remain much as they were under the monarchy. Iran has retained its status as a major regional power—it is far larger than any of its gulf neighbors, and possesses large reserves of gas and oil. Its national cohesion brought by a long history as a nation, strong central state government and its oil export revenues have brought it "respectable" levels of income, literacy, college enrollment, infant mortality, and infrastructure. Modern trends found under the monarchy, such as urbanization, growing enrollment in higher education and literacy, continued.
Politics and government
The Islamic Republic of Iran is an Islamic theocracy headed by a Supreme Leader. Its constitution was approved in 1979 and amended in 1989. Jaafari (Usuli) school of thought is the official religion. It has an elected president and elected governmental bodies at the national, provincial and local levels for which all males and females from the age of 18 on up may vote, which are supervised by theocratic bodies, particularly the Council of Guardians which had veto power over who can run for parliament (or Islamic Consultative Assembly) and whether its bills can become law. Nonetheless the elected organs have more power than equivalent ones in the Shah's government.
Following the 1979 revolution in Iran, the Islamic revolutionary regime of Ayatollah Khomeini dramatically reversed the pro-Western foreign policy of the regime it overthrew. Since then, Iran has oscillated between the two opposing tendencies of revolutionary ardour (promoting the Islamic revolution and struggling against non-Muslim tendencies abroad) and moves towards pragmatism (economic development and normalization of foreign relations). Khomeini's 1989 fatwa calling for the killing of British citizen Salman Rushdie for his allegedly blasphemous book, The Satanic Verses, demonstrated the willingness of the Islamic revolutionaries to sacrifice trade and other ties with western countries to threaten an individual citizen of a foreign country living thousands of miles away. On the other hand, Khomeini's death in 1989 led more pragmatic policies, with Presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami leading the charge for more stable relations with the west as well as its surrounding, non-Revolutionary-Islamic neighbors—i.e., Saudi Arabia. Following the 2005 election of President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Iran has returned to more a more hardline stance, frequently antagonizing the west and its neighbors while battling for control over the region.
In the immediate aftermath of the revolution, the Islamic Republic went to war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq after the latter launched a military offensive in the 1980s. With most foreign aid going to Iraq, Iran was forced to accept a ceasefire by 1988. Tensions with Iraq remained long after the war; it was not until the death of Saddam himself that Iran and Iraq have started improving their relations.
The Islamic Republic founded and sponsored the Lebanese group known as Hezbollah; its leaders were followers of Khomeini. The creation of Hezbollah, and its funding from Iran, was in response to the Israeli occupation of Lebanon. Since then, Hezbollah has served as both an ally and a surrogate for Iran during its conflict with America and Israel. Author Olivier Roy describes the Islamic Republic's as having "lost most of its allure among non-Iranian Shia's," giving as examples the 1995 house arrest in Qom of the two sons of Grand Ayatollah Shirazi, spiritual leader of the Bahraini Shia; and the close cooperation between the Afghan Shia party Wahdat and the U.S. Army after November 2001.
The Islamic Republic strongly supports the Palestinian cause. Government aid goes to everything from Palestinian hospitals to arms supplies. There is vigorous media publicity, an official "Quds (Jerusalem) Day", and squares and streets named after Palestine crisscross Iranian cities. Some question whether the issue has domestic grassroots support, arguing that Iranians "lack emotional and cultural ties to Palestinians," or has been too costly in terms of opportunity cost compared to peaceful coexistence.
Despite stagnation in the economy, Iran's Human Development Index rating (including life expectancy, literacy, education, and standard of living) improved significantly in the years after the revolution, climbing from 0.569 in 1980 to 0.759 in 2007/8. It now ranks 94th out of 177 countries with data. This is approximately the same rate, as neighbor Turkey which has a somewhat higher HDI rating (0.775). One factor in the HDI rise has been literacy rates among Iranian women which "rose from 28% to 80% between 1976 and 1996."
Although the Shah's regime had created a popular and successful Literacy Corps and also worked to raise literacy rates, the Islamic Republic based its educational reforms on Islamic principles. The Literacy Movement Organization (LMO), replaced the Literacy Corps following the revolution and is credited with much of Iran's continued success in reducing illiteracy from 52.5 per cent in 1976 to just 24 per cent, at the last count in 2002. The movement has established over 2,000 community learning centers across the country, employed some 55,000 instructors, distributed 300 easy-to-read books and manuals, and provided literacy classes to a million people, men as well as women. The increase in literacy "meant that for the first time in history most of the population, including Azeris, Kurds, Gilakis, and Moazanderanis, could converse and read in Persian."
In particular conditions improved in the countryside. The Reconstruction Jihad "extended roads, electricity, piped water, and most important of all, health clinics into villages. ... turning peasants into farmers. Soon most farmers had access not only to roads, schools, ... but also ... radios, refrigerators, telephones, televisions, motorbikes, even pickup trucks. ...on the eve of the revolution, life expectancy at birth had been less than 56; by the end of the century, it was near 70."
Under the Islamic Republic, Iran's economy has been 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, or Bonyads, whose combined budgets are said to make up as much as half that of the central government.
Economic problems include the shattering of the Iranian oil sector and consequent loss of output from the revolution and Iran–Iraq War (Iran sustained economic losses estimated at $500 billion), a soaring population over the same period, inefficiency in the state sector, dependence on petroleum exports, and corruption.
The constitution of the Islamic Republic calls for the state sector "to include all large-scale and mother industries, foreign trade", natural resources and communication; and calls on the private sector to "supplement the ... state and cooperative sectors."
The International Monetary Fund reports that Iran's gross national income per capita (PPP model) more than doubled since the revolution despite strong population growth—one year after the revolution it was $4,295 and grew to $11,396 by 2010.
However, complaining about the economy is said to have become "a national pastime" among Iranians. According to international economic consultant Jahangir Amuzegar, as of 2003:
Despite a 100 percent rise in average annual oil income since the revolution, most indicators of economic welfare have steadily deteriorated. … Average inflation in the years after the revolution has been at least twice as high as during the 1970s, unemployment has been three times higher, and economic growth is two-thirds lower. As a result, Iran's per capita income has declined by at least 30 percent since 1979. By official admission, more than 15 percent of the population now lives below the absolute poverty line, and private estimates run as high as 40 percent.
Per capita income declines when the price of oil declines (per capita income reportedly fell at one point (1995) to 1/4 of what it was prior to the revolution); Accumulated assets of the Iranian middle class—carpets, gold, apartments—that were acquired in the four-year boom after the 1973 oil price rise and served to cushion the fall in standards of living, have now reportedly "largely been sold off."
The poor have also exhibited dissatisfaction. Absolute poverty rose by nearly 45% during the first 6 years of the Islamic revolution and on several occasions the mustazafin have rioted, protesting the demolition of their shantytowns and rising food prices. Disabled war veterans have demonstrated against mismanagement of the Foundation of the Disinherited. Hardship has compelled some children to take odd jobs rather than go to school.
A 2002 study leaked from Iran's Interior Ministry, reported nearly 90% of respondents dissatisfied with the present government according to Amuzegar. Of this total, 28% wanted "fundamental" changes, 66% "gradual reforms." 10% expressed satisfaction with the status quo.
According to British-Iranian scholar, Ali M. Ansari, "Iranians joke" that with the world's second or third largest reserves of oil and natural gas, extensive deposits of copper, gold, uranium, as well as an educated and cohesive workforce, "they are blessed with all the facilities to be the industrial engine of the region, except good governance."
Corruption is a problem in the Islamic Republic. According to some observers, its level compares unfavorably with pre-revolutionary days. Foreign journalist Robin Wright quotes a bazaari as saying "The clergy tries to keep itself clean. But you can't-do anything anymore without paying off this mullah's son or that mullah's brother-in-law – and these days usually both."
Bribery in Iran was increasingly becoming the biggest part of business deals—and a lot of other transactions too. Iranians called it "oiling the mustache," and it was commonly practiced before the revolution, but payoffs then were usually a one-time thing of a known amount. Two decades after the revolution, even the smallest service called for bribes to several different parties.
Journalists report complaints that, "these days, if a student is lucky enough to study in the West, he will rarely come home. There are so few good jobs that everyone, from students to middle-aged engineers, is looking for a way out." An estimated "two to four million entrepreneurs, professionals, technicians, and skilled craftspeople (and their capital)" emigrated to other countries following the revolution, and continue to do so at a rate of more than 150,000 a year. This flight of intellectual capital is estimated to come to almost $6 billion a year in growth opportunities, based on the average Iranian professional contributing $40,000 per year to gross capital formation.
Emigration from Iran, starting with young males fleeing from the Iran–Iraq War draft, is thought by some to be the feature of the Islamic Republic most resented by Iranians. According to Shirin Ebadi, "If you ask most Iranians what keener, what grievance, they nurture most bitterly against the Islamic Republic, it is the tearing apart of their families ... had the revolutionaries tempered their wild radicalism, had they not replaced the Shah with a regime that prompted mass flight, their families would still be whole."
While the revolution brought about some re-Islamisation of Iran, particularly in terms of personal appearance—beards, hijab—it has not prompted a reversal of some modernizing trends or a return to traditional patterns of family life, (such as polygamy and the extended family with numerous children).
It is recommended that one hurries in giving the husband to a daughter who has attained puberty, meaning that she is of the age of religious accountability. His Holiness, Sadegh [the 6th Imam] salutations to him, bade that it is one of a man's good fortunes that his daughter does not see menses in his own house.
the actual average age of marriage for women rose to 22 by 1996. Thus the age difference between husbands and wives in Iran actually fell between 1980 and 2000, from 7 to 2.1 years. (The man's average age at marriage has remained around 24.4 over the past 20 years, which means greater educational equality between spouses.)
Nor has Islamisation of family law lead to an increase in the number of polygamous families or more frequent divorces. Polygamy has remained at about 2% of permanent marriages during the past 40 years and the divorce rate has decreased slightly since the 1970s.
Population growth was encouraged for the first nine years of the revolution, but in 1988 youth unemployment concerns prompted the government to do "an amazing U-turn" and Iran now has "one of the world's most effective" family planning programs.
After the Iranian revolution, Iranian women have continued to occupy high positions in the political system. In the late 1990s, Iranians sent more women to Iranian parliament than Americans sent to U.S. senate.
Gharbzadegi ("westoxification") or western cultural influence stubbornly remains, entering via (illegal) music recordings, videos, and satellite dishes, despite government efforts. Compulsory hijab (veiling) for women has been given extensive police enforcement, Shorts, necklaces, “glamorous” hairstyles, and neckties (in government buildings) are forbidden for men. Western music is banned even more thoroughly, but observers note it is nonetheless popular and widespread. One post-revolutionary opinion poll found 61% of students in Tehran chose "Western artists" as their role models with only 17% choosing "Iran's officials."
In the first five years of the Islamic Republic, during its consolidation, approximately 8000 political opponents were executed. Thousands of political prisoners were also executed in 1988. Like other revolutions before it, the Iranian Revolution took a higher toll on those who had participated in the revolution than those in the regime it overthrew.
In recent years the killing of dissidents has been much less frequent and reported abuses are more likely to include harsh penalties for crimes; punishment of fornication, homosexuality, apostasy, poor hijab (covering the head for women); restrictions on freedom of speech, and the press, including the imprisonment of journalists; unequal treatment according to religion and gender; torture to extract repudiations by prisoners of their cause and comrades on video for propaganda purposes, and allowing prisoners to die by withholding medical treatment.
Iran is governed by Sharia law. It is one of the few Muslim countries where hijab for women is required by law. At the same time, it has "the lowest mosque attendance of any Islamic country," according to Zohreh Soleimani of the BBC. Iranian clergy have complained that more than 70% of the population do not perform their daily prayers and that less than 2% attend Friday mosques.
For religious minorities, life has been mixed under the Islamic Republic. Khomeini also called for unity between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims (Sunni Muslims are the largest religious minority in Iran). Pre-revolutionary statements by Khomeini were antagonistic towards Jews, but shortly after his return from exile in 1979, he issued a fatwa ordering that Jews and other minorities (except Baha'is) be treated well. Non-Muslim religious minorities do not have equal rights in the Islamic Republic (For example, senior government posts are reserved for Muslims and Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian schools must be run by Muslim principals) but four of the 270 seats in parliament are reserved for three non-Islamic minority religions.
The 300,000 members of the Bahá'í Faith, are actively harassed. "Some 200 of whom have been executed and the rest forced to convert or subjected to the most horrendous disabilities." Starting in late 1979 the new government systematically targeted the leadership of the Bahá'í community by focusing on the Bahá'í leadership.
The 6.6 Mw Bam earthquake shook southeastern Iran with a maximum Mercalli intensity of IX (Violent), leaving more than 26,000 dead and 30,000 injured. The 7.4 Mw Manjil–Rudbar earthquake struck northern Iran with a maximum Mercalli intensity of X (Extreme), killing 35,000–50,000, and injuring 60,000–105,000.
Iran's scientific progress is subject to many problems including funding, international sanctions, and management. However, in some areas such as medicine, surgery, pharmacology, stem cell research and theoretical physics (e.g. string theory), Iranian scientists have found international reputation since the Iranian revolution. Nuclear technology and stem cell research were the two fields that have enjoyed special support from the central government and Iranian leadership since the revolution.
In 2005 Iran's national science budget was less than $1 billion and had not been subject to any significant increase since 15 years ago. But according to Science-Metrix, since 1990 Iran's scientific production has had a rapid buildup, and Iran currently has the fastest growth rate in science and technology worldwide.
Iran is among the international leaders of stem cell technology and was the 10th country to produce embryonic human stem cells, although in terms of articles per capita basis, it reportedly ranked 16th in the world.
Ayatollah Khomeini was the ruler of (or at least dominant figure in) Iran for a decade, from the founding of the Islamic Republic in April 1979 until his death in mid-1989. During that time the revolution was being consolidated as a theocratic republic under Khomeini, and Iran was fighting a costly and bloody war with Iraq.
The Islamic Republic of Iran began with the Iranian Revolution. The first major demonstrations to overthrow Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi began in January 1978. The new theocratic Constitution — whereby Khomeini became Supreme Leader of the country — was approved in December 1979. In between, the Shah fled Iran in January 1979 after strikes and demonstrations paralyzed the country, and on February 1, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran to a greeting by several million Iranians. The final collapse of the Pahlavi dynasty occurred shortly after on February 11 when Iran's military declared itself "neutral" after guerrillas and rebel troops overwhelmed troops loyal to the Shah in armed street fighting. Iran officially became the Islamic Republic on April 1, 1979, when Iranians overwhelmingly approved a national referendum to make it so.
Initial international impact
The initial impact of the Islamic revolution around the world was tremendous. In the non-Muslim world it has changed the image of Islam, generating much interest in the politics and spirituality of Islam, along with "fear and distrust towards Islam" and particularly the Islamic Republic and its founder. In the Mideast and Muslim world, particularly in its early years, it triggered enormous enthusiasm and redoubled opposition to western intervention and influence. Islamist insurgents rose in Saudi Arabia (the 1979 week-long takeover of the Grand Mosque), Egypt (the 1981 machine-gunning of the Egyptian President Sadat), Syria (the Muslim Brotherhood rebellion in Hama), and Lebanon (the 1983 bombing of the American Embassy and French and American peace-keeping troops).
Consolidation of the Revolution
Instability in Iran did not end with the creation of the Islamic Republic and remained high for a few years. The country's economy and apparatus of government had collapsed. Military and security forces were in disarray. But by 1982 (or 1983) Khomeini and his supporters had crushed the rival factions and consolidated power.
The first draft of the constitution for the Islamic Republic contained a conventional president and parliament but its only theocratic element was a Guardian Council to veto unIslamic legislation. However, in the summer of 1979 an Assembly of Experts for Constitution, dominated by Khomeini supporters, was elected. Their new draft gave the guardians much more power and added a powerful post of guardian jurist ruler intended for Khomeini. The new constitution was opposed by non-theocratic groups, both secular and Islamic, and set for approval by referendum in December 1979.
An event that helped pass the constitution, radicalize the revolution and strengthen its anti-American stance, was the Iran hostage crisis. On November 4, 1979, Iranian students seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran holding 52 embassy employees hostage for 444 days. The Carter administration severed diplomatic relations and imposed economic sanctions on April 7, 1980, and later that month unsuccessfully attempted a rescue that further enhanced Khomeini's prestige in Iran. On May 24 the International Court of Justice called for the hostages to be released. Finally, the hostages were released 20 January 1981, by agreement of the Carter Administration, see Algiers Accords Jan. 19, 1981. The crisis also marked the beginning of American legal action, or sanctions, that economically separated Iran from America. Sanctions blocked all property within US jurisdiction owned by the Central Bank and Government of Iran.
Suppression of opposition
Revolutionary factions disagreed on the shape of the new Iran. Those who thought the Shah would be replaced by a democratic government soon found Khomeini disagreed. In early March 1979, he announced, "do not use this term, ‘democratic.’ That is the Western style."
In succession the National Democratic Front was banned in August 1979, the provisional government was disempowered in November, the Muslim People's Republican Party banned in January 1980, the People's Mujahedin of Iran guerrillas came under attack in February 1980, a purge of universities was begun in March 1980, and leftist President Abolhassan Banisadr was impeached in June 1981.
Explanations for why Khomeini supporters were successful in crushing the opposition include lack of unity in the opposition. According to Asghar Schirazi, the moderates lacked ambition and were not well organized, while the radicals (such People's Mujahedin of Iran or PMOI) were "unrealistic" about the conservatism of the Iranian masses and unprepared to work with moderates to fight against theocracy. Moderate Islamists, such as Banisadr, were "credulous and submissive" towards Khomeini.
The ouster of President Banisadr did not put an immediate end to the opposition but moved it to terror. Hundreds of PMOI supporters and members were killed from 1979 to 1981, and some 3,000 were arrested, but unlike other opposition is driven underground by the regime, the PMOI was able to retaliate.
On 28 June 1981, bombs were detonated at the headquarters of the since-dissolved Islamic Republic Party. Around 70 high-ranking officials, including Chief Justice Mohammad Beheshti (who was the second most powerful figure in the revolution after Ayatollah Khomeini at the time), cabinet members, and members of parliament, were killed. The PMOI never publicly confirmed or denied any responsibility for the deed, but only stated the attack was `a natural and necessary reaction to the regime's atrocities.` Khomeini did accuse them of responsibility and, according to BBC journalist Baqer Moin, the PMOI were "generally perceived as the culprits" for it in Iran. Two months later on August 30, another bomb was detonated killing President Rajai and Premier Mohammad Javad Bahonar. A member of the PMOI, Mas'ud Kashmiri, was announced as the perpetrator, and according to regime reports came close to killing the entire government including Khomeini. The reaction following both bombings was intense with thousands of arrests and hundreds of executions of PMOI and other leftist groups, but "assassinations of leading officials and active supporters of the regime by the PMOI were to continue for the next year or two."
The eight-year-long Iran–Iraq War (September 1980 – August 1988) was the most important international event for the first decade of the Islamic Republic and possibly for its history so far. It helped to strengthen the revolution although it cost Iran much in lives and treasure.
Shortly after the success of the revolution, revolutionary leader Ruhollah Khomeini began calling for Islamic revolutions across the Muslim world, including Iran's Arab neighbor Iraq, the one large state besides Iran in the Gulf with a Shia Muslim majority population. The leadership in Tehran believed that they would launch a massive Shiite uprising across the Middle East and after Iraq's defeat, march on Israel and destroy it.
The war began with Iraq's invasion of Iran, in an attempt by Iraq's dictator Saddam Hussein to take advantage of the perceived post-revolutionary military weakness in Iran and the Revolution's unpopularity with Western governments. Much of the top leadership of Iran's once-strong Iranian military had been executed. Saddam sought to expand Iraq's access to the Persian Gulf and the oil reserves in Khuzestan (which also only has a substantial Arab population), and to undermine Iranian Islamic revolutionary attempts to incite the Shi'a majority of his country. Iranians also believe Saddam invaded with the encouragement of the United States, Saudi Arabia and other countries.
A combination of fierce resistance by Iranians and military incompetence by Iraqi forces soon stalled the Iraqi advance and by early 1982 Iran regained almost all the territory lost to the invasion. The invasion rallied Iranians behind the new regime, enhancing Khomeini's stature and allowed him to consolidate and stabilize his leadership. After this reversal, Khomeini refused an Iraqi offer of a truce, declaring "the regime in Baghdad must fall and must be replaced by the Islamic Republic."
The war continued for another six years under the slogans `War, War until Victory,` and `The Road to Jerusalem Goes through Karbala,` but other countries, particularly the Soviet Union gave crucial aid to Iraq. The Iraqis also used chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers. As the costs mounted and Iranian morale waned, Khomeini finally accepted a truce called for by UN Security Council Resolution 598. By 1988, Iran was nearly bankrupted by the ruinous costs of the war and its manpower pool also exhausted. The Iranian Army in desperation began resorting to using boys as young as 14 in human wave attacks against Iraqi machine gun emplacements. Khomeini remarked that agreeing to peace with Iraq was "like drinking poison", but there was no other choice. Although neither borders nor regimes were changed the war helped to `awaken the people and to fight the problems that threaten the revolution,` according to future president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. An estimated 200,000 Iranians were killed and the war is estimated to have cost Iran $627 billion in total direct and indirect charges (in 1990 dollars).
Early laws of the Islamic Republic
The new regime undid the Shah's old Family Protection Law, lowering the marriage age for girls back to nine and allowed husbands to divorce wives with the Triple talaq, without court permission. It purged women from the judiciary and secular teachers from the educational system. It removed Baha'is from government positions, closed down Baha'i Centers, and arrested and even executed their leaders. A strict "Islamic code of public appearance" was enforced—men were discouraged from wearing ties, women were obliged to wear either scarf and long coats or preferably the full chador.
Iran's economy suffered during the first decade following the revolution. Its currency, the rial, fell from 7 to the dollar before the revolution, to 1749 to the dollar in 1989. The revolution also is said to have put an end to the influence of "the notables", and created a very large public sector of the economy, when the government "nationalizing their enterprises in order to keep their employees working... the state ended up with more than 2000 factories many of them operating in the red."
In its early years, the revolutionary regime was especially criticized for its human rights record. In the first 28 months of the Islamic Republic, between February 1979 and June 1981, revolutionary courts executed 497 political opponents as "counterrevolutionaries", and "sowers of corruption on earth" (Mofsed-e-filarz). In the next four years from June 1981 until June 1985, the courts sentenced more than 8000 opponents to death. After a relative lull, thousands of political prisoners were executed in 1988. Like other revolutions before it, the Iranian Revolution took a higher toll on those who had participated in the revolution than those in the regime it overthrew.
Ideological changes by fatwa and constitution
Two major changes in the ideological underpinnings of the Islamic Republic occurred toward the end of Khomeini's reign. In January 1988, he issued an edict declaring that the Islamic "Government is among the most important divine injunctions and has priority over all peripheral divine orders ... even prayers, fasting and the Hajj." In April of the next year he decreed a task force to revise the country's constitution to separate the post of Supreme Leader of Iran from that of Shia marja, (the `highest source of religious emulation`), since he found none of Marja to be suitable successors as none had given strong support for his policies. The amendments were drafted and approved by the public about one month after Khomeini's death (1989 July 9). They paved the way for Ali Khamenei – a long time lieutenant of Khomeini, but a relatively low ranking cleric – to be Khomeini's successor as Supreme Leader, but to critics they undermined the "intellectual foundations" of the Islamic Republic theocracy, breaking "the charismatic bond between leader and followers."
The first post-war decade in Iran has been described as a time of pragmatism, and an `economy-first` policy. According to Shirin Ebadi, "about two years into the postwar period, the Islamic Republic quietly changed course. ... It was fairly clear by then that the Shia revolution would not be sweeping the region."
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was elected president shortly after Khomeini's death, and has been described as less revolutionary and "isolationist" than his rivals — "economically liberal, politically authoritarian, and philosophically traditional." (He served from August 17, 1989, to August 1997.) While Leader Khamenei and the Council of Guardians generally supported these policies, in the parliament radical deputies initially had control, outnumbered Rafsanjani's "pragmatic-conservative camp" 90 to 160.
The two groups differed strongly over economic and foreign policy, with radicals tending to support mass political participation and state control of the economy, and oppose normalization of relations with the West. Conservatives used the power to disqualification candidates from running for office to deal with this problem. "The Council of Guardians disqualified nearly all radical candidates from the fall 1990 Assembly of Experts elections because they had failed to pass written and oral tests in Islamic jurisprudence." In the winter and spring of 1992 nearly one-third of the 3150 candidates for the 1992 election for the parliament were rejected, including 39 incumbents. Leading radicals such as Khalkhali, Nabvi, Bayat, and Hajjat al-Islam Hadi Ghaffari were sent packing because they lacked the "proper Islamic credentials."
In late 1992 Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Seyed Mohammad Khatami and director of the Voice and Vision Broadcasting company Mohammad Hashemi Rafsanjani (brother of the president) were both forced out. By 1994 "hundreds of intellectuals and supposed dissidents were in prison and some had been executed." These purges cleared the regime of opponents but are thought to have set the stage for the reform movement, as exiled radicals warmed to the "liberal" values of freedom of speech, assembly, due process, etc.
Persian Gulf War
Iraq invaded and overran Kuwait on August 2, 1990, causing a multinational coalition of UN forces to be assembled in response. Although Iran criticized the invasion and supported sanctions against its neighbor, it refused any active participation in the war, not surprising given the country's anti-Western attitudes and state of exhaustion from the recent conflict with its neighbor. As a result of the war and its aftermath, more than one million Kurds crossed the Iraqi border into Iran as refugees.
Despite the "economy first" focus, Iran suffered serious economic problems during the Rafsanjani era. According to economist Bijan Khajehpour, economic growth in Iran between 1989 and 1994 was "mainly financed through the accumulation of some $30 billion in foreign debt. In 1993, the ratio of Iran's foreign debt to the country's GDP reached 38%, which was alarming." A lack of foreign investment along with a fall in oil prices from $20 to $12 per barrel added to this external debt, and triggered an economic recession. The Iranian rial plummeted from 1749 to 6400 to the dollar in 1995. Unemployment reached 30%. The price of sugar, rice, and butter rose threefold, and that of bread sixfold.
In part this economic downturn came from American economic sanctions leveled in 1995, when America suspended all trade with Iran, accusing Iran of supporting terrorist groups and attempting to develop nuclear weapons. The sanctions, in turn, may be traceable to the earlier hostage crisis and the enmity of the US government which continued to see Iran as a major regional threat both to America and Israel.
A new policy regarded as a success of the new government was its promotion of birth control. In 1989, the government, "having previously encouraged population growth, reversed gears and declared that Islam favored families with only two children". Birth control clinics were opened – especially for women. Condoms and pills were distributed. Subsidies to large families were cut. Sex education was introduced into the school curriculum, mandatory classes for newlyweds were held.)
The eight years of Mohammad Khatami's two terms as president in 1997–2005 are sometimes called Iran's Reform Era.
Khatami based his campaign on a reform program promising a more democratic and tolerant society, promotion of civil society, the rule of law and improvement of social rights. This included city council elections, adherence to Iran's constitution, freedom to criticize high ranking authorities – including the supreme leader, permission to operate newspapers of a wide range of political views, reopening the embassies of all European countries, reorganizing the Ministry of Intelligence of Iran after the Iran's Chain Murders of Intellectuals, initiating a dialogue between people of different faith inside and outside Iran, also called "Dialogue Among Civilizations."
Iran's large youth demographic (by 1995, about half of the country's 60.5 million people had not been born after the Islamic Revolution) is one of Khatami's bases of support.
Political and cultural changes
At first, the new era saw significant liberalization. The number of daily newspapers published in Iran increased from five to twenty-six. Journal and book publishing also soared. Iran's film industry boomed under the Khatami regime and Iranian films won prizes at Cannes, and Venice. Local elections promised in the Islamic Republic's constitution but delayed for over a decade were held for towns, villages, and hamlets and the number of elected officials in Iran increased from 400 to almost 200,000.
After taking office, Khatami faced fierce opposition from his powerful opponents within the unelected institutions of the state which he had no legal power over, and this led to repeated clashes between his government and these institutions (including the Guardian Council, the state radio, and television, the police, the armed forces, the judiciary, the prisons, etc.).
In 1999, new curbs were put on the press. Courts banned more than 60 newspapers. Important allies of President Khatami were arrested, tried and imprisoned on what outside observers considered "trumped up" or ideological grounds. Tehran mayor, Gholamhossein Karbaschi was tried on corruption charges and Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri for "sacrilege" – despite their credentials as activists in the Islamic revolution. In 2002 history professor and reformist activist Hashem Aghajari was sentenced to death for apostasy for calling for "Islamic Protestantism" and reform in Islam.
In July 1999 conservatives closed the reformist newspaper, Salam, and attacked a Tehran University student dormitory after students protested the closing. Prodemocracy student demonstrations erupted at Tehran University and other urban campuses. These were followed by a wave of counter-demonstrations by conservative factions.
Reformers won a substantial victory in Feb. 2000, parliamentary elections, capturing about two-thirds of the seats, but conservative elements in the government forced the closure of the reformist press. Attempts by parliament to repeal restrictive press laws were forbidden by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Despite these conditions, President Khatami was overwhelming re-elected in June 2001. Tensions between reformers in parliament and conservatives in the judiciary and the Guardian Council, over both social and economic changes, increased after Khatami's reelection.
Khatami worked to improve relations with other countries visiting many other countries and holding a dialogue between civilizations and encouraged foreigners to invest in Iran. He announced Iran would accept a two-state solution for Palestine if Palestinians agreed to one, relaxed restrictions on the Bahais, and assured Britain Iran would not implement the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Several European Union countries began renewing economic ties with Iran in the late 1990s, and trade and investment increased. In 1998, Britain re-established diplomatic relations with Iran, broken since the 1979 revolution. The United States loosened its economic embargo, but it continued to block more normalized relations, arguing that the country had been implicated in international terrorism and was developing a nuclear weapons capacity. In his State of the Union Address, United States President George W. Bush labeled Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, as an "Axis of evil."
Tensions with the United States increased after the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in March 2003, as U.S. officials increasingly denounced Iran for pursuing the alleged development of nuclear weapons.
The reform era ended with the conservatives defeat of Iranian reformists in the elections of 2003, 2004 and 2005 – the local, parliamentary, and presidential elections. According to at least one observer, the reformists were defeated not so much by a growth of support for conservative Islamist policies as by division within the reformist movement and the banning of many reform candidates which discouraged pro-reform voters from voting.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected to the presidency twice, in 2005 and 2009. Ahmadinejad ran for office as a conservative populist pledging to fight corruption, defend the interests of the poor, and strengthen Iran's national security. In 2005 he defeated former president Rafsanjani by a wide margin in the runoff, his victory credited to the popularity of his economic promises and a very low reformist voter turnout compared to the 1997 and 2001 elections. This victory gave conservatives control of all branches of Iran's government.
His administration has been marked by controversy over his outspoken pronouncements against American "arrogance" and "imperialism," and description of the state of Israel as a “fabricated entity … doomed to go,” and over high unemployment and inflation opponents blamed on his populist economic policies of cheap loans for small businesses, and generous subsidies on petrol and food.
In 2009 Ahmadinejad's victory was hotly disputed and marred by large protests that formed the "greatest domestic challenge" to the leadership of the Islamic Republic "in 30 years", as well as clashes with parliament. Despite high turnout and large enthusiastic crowds for reformist opponent Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad was officially declared to have won by a 2–1 margin against three opponents. Allegations of voting irregularities and protest by Mousavi his supporters were immediate and continued off and on into 2011. Some 36–72 were killed and 4000 arrested. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declared Ahmadinejad's victory a "divine assessment" and called for unity. He and others Islamic officials blamed foreign powers for fomenting the protest.
However, by late 2010 several sources detected a "growing rift" between Ahmadinejad, and Khamenei and his supporters, with talk of impeachment of Ahmadinejad. The dispute centered on Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a top adviser and close confidant of Ahmadinejad, and accused leader of a "deviant current" opposing greater involvement of clerics in politics.
Although functions such as the appointment of the commanders of the armed forces and the members of national security councils are handled by the Supreme Leader and not by Iran's president, Ahmadinejad gained considerable international attention for his foreign policy. Under Ahmadinejad, Iran's strong ties with the Republic of Syria and Hezbollah of Lebanon continued, and new relationships with predominantly Shia neighbor Iraq and fellow opponent of U.S. foreign policy Hugo Chavez of Venezuela were developed.
Ahmadinejad's outspoken pronouncements in foreign affairs included personal letters to a number of world leaders including one to American president George W. Bush inviting him to "monotheism and justice", an open letter to the American people, the declaration that there were no homosexuals in Iran, an expression of happiness at the 2008 global economic crisis which would "put an end to liberal economy".
Hezbollah's dependence on Iran for military and financial aid is not universally supported in Iran. The 2006 Israel–Hezbollah War exposed the world to a number of weapons in Hezbollah possession said to be Iranian imports.
Controversy concerning remarks about Israel
President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad also made several controversial statements about the Holocaust and Israel, and was quoted in foreign media sources as saying "Israel should be wiped off the map." Iran's foreign minister denied that Tehran wanted to see Israel "wiped off the map," saying "Ahmadinejad had been misunderstood." It was asserted that the correct translation of Ahmadinejad's remark was, "the regime currently occupying Jerusalem will be erased from the pages of time." Reviewing the controversy over the translation, New York Times deputy foreign editor Ethan Bronner observed that "all official translations" of the comments, including the foreign ministry and president's office, "refer to wiping Israel away". His comments were strongly criticized by a number of foreign leaders.
Iran's stated policy on Israel is to urge a one-state solution through a countrywide referendum in which a government would be elected that all Palestinians and all Israelis would jointly vote for; which would normally be an end to the "Zionist state". Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, rejecting any attack on Israel, called for a referendum in Palestine. Ahmadinejad himself has also repeatedly called for such solution. Moreover, Khamenei's main advisor in foreign policy, Ali Akbar Velayati, said that Holocaust was a genocide and a historical reality. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other prominent officials have however on other occasion called for the destruction of Israel.
Controversy about Iran's nuclear program
After, in August 2005, Iran resumed converting raw uranium into gas, a necessary step for enrichment, the IAEA passed a resolution that accused Iran of failing to comply with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and called for the agency to report Iran to the UN Security Council. The timetable for the reporting, however, was left undetermined. Iran's stated position is that it is in full compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, that it has allowed the IAEA inspections beyond what is required, and that it has no ambitions to build atomic weapons.
In February 2004, elections, conservatives won control of parliament, securing some two-thirds of the seats. Many Iranians, however, were unhappy with the failure of the current parliament to achieve any significant reforms or diminish the influence of the hardliners. In mid-2004 Iran began resuming the processing of nuclear fuel as part of its plan to achieve self-sufficiency in civilian nuclear power production, stating that the negotiations with European Union nations had failed to bring access to the advanced nuclear technology that was promised. The action was denounced by the United States as one which would give Iran the capability to develop nuclear weapons. The IAEA said that there was no evidence that Iran was seeking to develop such arms. However, the IAEA also called for Iran to abandon its plans to produce enriched uranium. In November 2004, Iran agreed to suspend uranium enrichment but subsequently indicated that it would not be held to the suspension if the negotiations the EU nations failed.
During an October 2013 meeting, however, Iran agreed, in negotiations with several Western European nations, to toughen international inspections of its nuclear installations. Nonetheless, the international community continued to express concerns over Iran's nuclear program. At least five Iranian nuclear scientists during 2010 and 2011 had been killed, by unknown attackers.
Ahmadinejad's populist economic policies of cheap loans for small businesses, and generous subsidies on petrol and food were helped by soaring petroleum export revenues until the Global financial crisis of 2008.
President Ahmadinejad has vouched to fight "economic Mafia" at all echelons of government. President Ahmadinejad has also proposed that lawmakers consider a bill, based on which the wealth and property of all officials who have held high governmental posts since 1979 could be investigated.
According to Farda newspaper, the difference between President Ahmadinejad administration's revenues and the amount deposited with the Central Bank of Iran exceeds $66 billion. This is a large number as it is equal one-tenth of Iran's total oil revenues since the 1979 revolution. This amount is broken down as follows:
- $35 billion in imported goods (2005–2009),
- $25 billion in oil revenues (2005–2008),
- $2.6 billion in non-oil export revenues,
- $3 billion in foreign exchange reserves.
Vice President for Executive Affairs Ali Saeedlou said in 2008 that "mafia groups" in Iran are trying to divert public opinion away from the government's determination to fight economic corruption by creating impediments, spreading rumors and promoting despair in the society.
In 2010, more than 230 lawmakers in a letter to Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani said it is the duty of his organization to start from the top echelons of power in the drive against corruption. The letter added,
“It is the duty of the judiciary to start from higher echelons of power in this challenging but sacred drive. It does not make a difference whether the suspect is a high-ranking official or kith and kin of the officialdom. The legislators assure the people that they will endorse this Jihad of the judiciary alongside the Leader and people.”
Controversies over economic policy
In June 2006, 50 Iranian economists wrote a letter to Ahmadinejad that criticized his price interventions to stabilize prices of goods, cement, government services, and his decree issued by the High Labor Council and the Ministry of Labor that proposed an increase of workers' salaries by 40 percent. Ahmadinejad publicly responded harshly to the letter and denounced the accusations.
In July 2007, Ahmadinejad ordered the dissolution of the Management and Planning Organisation of Iran, a relatively independent planning body with a supervisory role in addition to its responsibility to allocate the national budget, and replaced it with a new budget planning body directly under his control, a move that may give him a freer hand to implement populist policies.
In November 2008, a group of 60 Iranian economists condemned Ahmadinejad's economic policies, saying Iran faces deep economic problems, including stunted growth, double-digit inflation, and widespread unemployment, and must drastically change course. It also criticized Ahmadinejad's foreign policy calling it "tension-creating" and saying it has "scared off foreign investment and inflicted heavy damage" on the economy. Ahmadinejad replied that Iran has been "least affected by this international financial crisis."
2007 Gas Rationing Plan in Iran
In 2007, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's cabinet launched the Gas Rationing Plan to reduce the country's fuel consumption. Although Iran is one of the world's largest producers of petroleum, mismanagement, kleptocracy, rapid increases in demand and limited refining capacity has forced the country to import about 40% of its gasoline, at an annual cost of up to $7 billion.
According to the group Human Rights Watch, Iran’s human rights record "has deteriorated markedly" under the administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Beginning in 2005, the number of offenders executed increased from 86 in 2005 to 317 in 2007. Months-long arbitrary detentions of "peaceful activists, journalists, students, and human rights defenders" and often charged with “acting against national security,” has intensified.
Population, cultural and women's issues
In April 2007, the Tehran police began the most fierce crackdown on "bad hijab" in more than a decade. In the capital Tehran thousands of Iranian women were cautioned over their poor Islamic dress and several hundred arrested. In 2011, an estimated 70,000 police in Tehran alone, patrolled for clothing and hair infractions. As of 2011, men are barred from wearing necklaces, “glamorous” hairstyles, ponytails, and shorts. Neckties are forbidden in the holy city of Qom. After a leading cleric (Hojatoleslam Gholamreza Hassani) issued a fatwa against keeping dogs as pets, a crackdown on dog ownership commenced.
Several controversial proposals by President Ahmadinejad and conservatives have not come to fruition. Plans to encourage larger families, to encourage polygamy by permitting it despite the opposition of a husband's first wife; and to put a tax on Mahriyeh—a stipulated sum that a groom agrees to give or owe to his bride which is seen by many women "as a financial safety net in the event a husband leaves the marriage and is not forced to pay alimony"—have not gone anywhere.
2009 election controversy
Ahmadinejad's 2009 election victory was hotly disputed and marred by large protests that formed the "greatest domestic challenge" to the leadership of the Islamic Republic "in 30 years". Despite high turnout and large enthusiastic crowds for reformist opponent Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad was officially declared to have won by a 2–1 margin against three opponents. Allegations of voting irregularities and protest by Mousavi his supporters were immediate and by 1 July 2009 1000 people had been arrested and 20 killed in street demonstrations. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and others Islamic officials blamed foreign powers for fomenting the protest. However, according to World Public Opinion (a United States poll), the protest does not mean Iran is in a "pre-revolutionary" situation as a WPO poll of Iranians taken in early September 2009 found high levels of satisfaction with the regime. 80% of the Iranians respondents said President Ahmadinejad was honest, 64% expressed a lot of confidence in him, and nine in ten said they were satisfied with Iran's system of government.
- Iranians are divided on the government's performance.
- Dissatisfied with the economy.
- Worry over sanctions and isolation.
- Want to focus on domestic affairs.
- Favor closer ties to the West.
- Rising tensions sparked hostility toward the US, Europe, and U.N.
- Favor nuclear arms and do not want to back deals to halt enrichment.
- Independent polls do not contradict official turnout of 2009 election, which gave around 60% of the vote to Ahmadinejad.
Post election of Rouhani in 2013
Hassan Rouhani was elected as President of Iran on 12 June 2013 and took office on 3 August. He is known as a moderate left-leaner, supported by reformists in the election. He has open ideas in the area of economics and a high-level foreign policy, as he served as a diplomat before his election. He has moved quickly to engage in diplomatic negotiations with Western countries, seeking the lifting of crippling economic sanctions on oil exports in exchange for Iran's cooperation with UN treaties regarding the development of nuclear weapons.
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