MARCH 19, 2012: Iran and the Shah
Iran is bordered by Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Persian Gulf, the
Caspian Sea, Iraq.
Iran has a population of 75 million, and 2/3 of the population is under 30 years old.
Most are Persian speaking, but a small minority speak Kurdish, Arabic, or Turkish
Most Iranians are Muslims, and around 90% are Shi’ites and 9% are Sunni. The
remaining 1-2% is non majority religions (Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians). Bahi’is
have been periodically persecuted in Iran although they are the next biggest religion
Shi-ism is the minority denomination, but in Iran they are a Shi’ites majority. As a
result, many of the festivals are different (ex. Ashura) and marked in a more public
and state driven ways than communities of Shi’ites in Sunni majority countries
Vilayet al-Faqih- means rule of the jurist and is importance for governance in
modern day Iran.
Massive grassroots revolution the late 1970s brought together communists,
students, men, women and clerics, which established the rule of the clerics, and to
overthrow the authoritarian rule of the Shah.
Iran’s current system of government: based on the 1979 constitution. The system
comprises a number of governing bodies. The leader of the revolution, called the
supreme leader in the west, is the commander in chief of the armed forces, controls
military intelligence, and has absolute authority to declare war or peace. Parliament
does not have any role in the declaration of war or peace. Toda’s supreme leader is
Ali Khamenei (he is a balance of power to Ahmadinejad). The assembly of experts
can appoint or fire the supreme leader. The president of Iran (Ahmadinejad) is the
highest state authority after the supreme leader, but they are supposed to balance
each other out. He is elected for with universal suffrage for a 4-year term (so yes,
there is democracy in Iran). A president cannot serve more than 2 terms.
The guardian council must approve presidential candidates before they can run
(there is a barrier, and not everyone can run), and that is where a lot of the
opposition comes from.
The president is responsible for the implementation of the constitution and
executive jobs, and supervises the council of ministers. Supreme leader control
ministers of intelligence and defense.
290-member parliament, elected for 4-year terms.
There is a semi-democratic process for electing the guardian council.
The supreme leader appoints the judiciary head. The head of the judiciary appoints
the prosecutors/chief justice. There are public courts and revolutionary courts
(crimes against national security, etc.). The system has many checks and balances.
There are also local city councils, which are directly elected, in serious elections, and
there is a very active democracy at the local level. The local council gets to appoint
the mayor. Central government has very little control over what mayors do.
There are laws in Iran related to dressing modestly. Women must cover their hair,
dress modestly. Likewise, men cannot wear shorts and must behave modestly and
dress modestly. These laws have been enforced with varying degrees of vigilance.
These laws are not connected to what woman can do (they can work, be in
parliament, in the judiciary, etc.). Regardless if there were laws, many women would choose to wear the veil even without the laws. “Western media has a bizarre
obsession with the veil” and this has everything to do with internal dynamics in the
A small minority of younger women rebel against this (“chaffing under this law”),
and there are sorts of moral police who enforce this. They aren’t arresting these
women for doing this- they just get moral warnings.