Political factions in Iran

Politics in Iran are dictated by factionalism.


This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Government of Islamic Republic of Iran
  • Iran portal
  • Politics portal


Behrouz (1991)

Maziar Behrooz wrote in 1991 that by 1989, there are three identical factions in Iran, namely the Conservatives, the Reformists (radical-reformists) and the Pragmatists (pragmatic-reformists).

Behrooz states that the reformists were statist, while the conservatives were pro-private sector.[1] Behrooz states that the two reformist factions (radicals and pragmatists) were united in opposition to the conservatives and over domestic issues. In this classification, the pragmatists were headed by figures such as Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and differed with the radicals (represented by Mir-Hossein Mousavi among others) mainly over foreign relations. While the pragmatists believed in establishing friendly relations with both the West and the East, as well as post-war reconstruction under state control and foreign investment, the radical reformists tended towards an isolationist strategy in foreign policy and rejected the foreign investment.[2] The reformists who won the parliamentay elections in 1988 were represented by the Association of Combatant Clerics which split off from the conservative Combatant Clergy Association.[3]

He cited two additional developed and "semi-legal" factions outside power, the first of which is represented by the Freedom Movement of Iran and some of Mehdi Bazargan's allies from the National Front. The second faction is "the movement shaped around some top Grand Ayatollahs" who opposed the theory of Velayat Faqih, such as Ahmad Azari Qomi.[4]

Nabavi (1994–95)

With an article entitled "The political tendencies within Iran today", Behzad Nabavi of the Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution of Iran Organization (MIRIO) started a series of pieces, published between November 1994 and May 1995 in the bi-weekly Asr-e Maa, to distinguish four political factions in Iran which he characterizes as "Traditional Right", "Modern Right", "New Left" and "Left".[5][6] These factions are characterised as follows:[6]

Faction Left New Left Modern Right Traditional Right
Policy Revolution More More Less Less
State More Less Less More
Social intervention More Less Less Moderating
Economic intervention More Less Less Moderating

The first conceptualization of its kind after the Iranian revolution,[7] it turned out accepted by many in Iran.[8] According to Mehdi Moslem, the classifaction was considered "the most accurate and comprehensive picture of the ideological differences within the Iranian polity"[7] but several others dispute accuracy of this analysis.

Critics point out that the conflict of interest has undermined the usefulness of it, as Nabavi himself was involved in the political grouping that he presented as stable, united and towards voctory ("Left"). Mohammad Ghouchani, for example, except for the latter criticism, comments that the classification fails to acknowledge the groups that lay beyond its boundries, not recognizing the exceptions and thus not fully reflecting the variety and fluidity of the political players and their economic outlooks.[9] Alireza Alavitabar is against accuracy of the categorisation, due to the lables chosen and neglecting the faction he refers to as "Modern Left", (represented by the IIPF)[10] because of what he deems "their [MIRIO's] own strategic interests".[11]

Based on this classification, Wilfried Buchta writes in 2000 that the 'New Left' "has played a very minor role" and whether it is "an independent ideological faction... cannot be determined".[12] He compares the other three factions as follows:[13]

Faction Islamic Left Modern Right Traditionalist Right
Domestic policy Party pluralism? Yes Yes No
Freedom of speech? Yes Yes No
Closed Society? No No Yes
Economic policy State control? Yes No No
Subsidies? Yes No Yes
Western investment? No Yes No
Foreign policy Relations with the U.S.? Yes Yes No
Export of revolution? No No Some


Mohseni (2016)

Payam Mohseni, fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, provides an analysis based on the theocratic–republican divide (unique to the Islamic Republic of Iran) and the typical economic left–right dualism, classifying four political positions: the theocratic right, the republican right, the theocratic left, and the republican left.[14] He names the main groups and figures of each faction as follows:[15]

Faction Theocratic Left Republican Left Republican Right Theocratic Right
Important figures

According to Mohseni, theocrats believe the primary source of legitimacy for the Iranian government is Velayat Faqih, which they deem "divinely ordained", while the republicans think "the ultimate authority rests squarely with the people".[16] Moreover, the rights are capitalist and favor free market, maintaining ties to the Bazaari class and prioritizing economic growth over social justice.[14] The left theocrats are anticapitalist, advocate state intervention in the economy and promote social justice and equal welfare. However, the republican lefts who once were revolutionary anticapitalist, had an "ideological change" and largely shifted right to become more aligned with liberal economics.[17] He additionally cites a recent defection within the theocratic right toward the republican right (demonstrated by individuals such as Ali Motahari)[18] and the split of theocratic left into two different yet overlapping groups of pro-Ahmadinejad and pro-Mesbah.[19]

The main alliances shaped between the factions mentioned as follows:[20]

YearsAllied factions
1980–1988Republican LeftTheocratic Right
1989–1996Republican Right
1997–2004Republican LeftRepublican Right
2004–Theocratic LeftTheocratic Right

Mohseni states that those commonly refer to themselves as the 'Principlists', are members the alliance of theocrats (left and right)[21] and the 'Reformists' are the republicans (left and right).[22]

Alternative classifications

Marc Champion, wrote an op-ed published in the Bloomberg News in 2016, suggesting that instead of two "neat camps" there are four "messy camps" in Iran: 'principlists', 'pragmatic principlists', 'radical republicans' and 'pragmatic reformers'.[23]



  1. Behrooz 1991, p. 588–589.
  2. Behrooz 1991, p. 607–608.
  3. Behrooz 1991, p. 606.
  4. Behrooz 1991, p. 599.
  5. Pesaran 2011, p. 102.
  6. 1 2 Roy & Sfeir 2007, p. 146.
  7. 1 2 Moslem 2002, p. 92.
  8. Buchta 2000, p. 11.
  9. Pesaran 2011, p. 103-104.
  10. Buchta 2000, p. 13.
  11. Mirsepassi 2011, p. 139.
  12. Buchta 2000, p. 19–20.
  13. Buchta 2000, p. 14.
  14. 1 2 Mohseni 2016, p. 42–43.
  15. Mohseni 2016, p. 43–45, 64.
  16. Mohseni 2016, p. 42.
  17. Mohseni 2016, p. 43–44.
  18. Mohseni 2016, p. 63.
  19. Mohseni 2016, p. 64.
  20. Mohseni 2016, p. 44–47.
  21. Mohseni 2016, p. 47.
  22. Mohseni 2016, p. 45.
  23. Champion 2016.


  • Moslem, Mehdi (2002). Factional Politics in Post-Khomeini Iran. Syracuse University Press. ISBN 978-0815629788. 
  • Pesaran, Evaleila (2011). Iran's Struggle for Economic Independence: Reform and Counter-Reform in the Post-Revolutionary Era. Routledge Political Economy of the Middle East and North Africa. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1136735578. 
  • Roy, Olivier; Sfeir, Antoine (2007). The Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0231146401. 
  • Buchta, Wilfried (2000). Who Rules Iran?: The Structure of Power in the Islamic Republic. Washington DC: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, The Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. ISBN 0-944029-39-6. 
  • Mohseni, Payam (2016). "Factionalism, Privatization, and the Political economy of regime transformation". In Brumberg, Daniel; Farhi, Farideh. Power and Change in Iran: Politics of Contention and Conciliation. Indiana Series in Middle East Studies. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0253020680. 
  • Mirsepassi, Ali (2011). "Alireza AlaviTabar and Political Change". Democracy in Modern Iran: Islam, Culture, and Political Change. NYU Press. ISBN 978-0814763445. 
  • Behrooz (subscription required), Maziar (October 1991). "Factionalism in Iran under Khomeini". Middle Eastern Studies. Taylor & Francis. 27 (4): 597–614. JSTOR 4283464. 

Champion, Marc (8 March 2016), Tracy Walsh, ed., Stop Thinking 'Reformers Versus Conservatives' in Iran (Op-ed), Bloomberg, retrieved 9 July 2016 

This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.