Iran Government and Politics

State and politics

Iran Country Flag

Iran is a republic based on Islamic values. The power lies with those who are set to interpret these values, primarily the Supreme Leader, wali faqih, who is appointed for life. The role of religion permeates the whole of society. In practice, Iran acts as a Shiite Muslim theocracy that does not tolerate open opposition and with the decisive power placed on non-elected bodies.

However, within the system there are parallel centers of power, grouped around different interpretations of the basic values. Security forces of various kinds also have great influence. Political parties were again permitted in 1998 after several on rs f örbud but may not nominate candidates in the general elections, which are person-based. All in all, this constitutes a difficult pervasive political system, with varying alliances and a considerable element of personal power struggles.

The political situation is also largely characterized by a relatively young, urban population who strive for better material conditions and a modernization of the country. At the same time, there is a power struggle at regional level between Sunni Muslims, with Saudi Arabia at the forefront, and Shia Muslims, with Iran as its main representative. Since the US intervention in Iraq in 2003, Iran has increased its influence in the Middle East and played an active but unofficial role in, for example, the ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. This activism is being questioned by oppositionists who would rather see initiatives at home.

The political spectrum does not follow a right – left or radical – conservative scale in the traditional sense. Broadly speaking, the political class, dominated by theologians, is usually divided into religiously orthodox, pragmatically conservative and reform-minded, respectively.


Iran’s supreme leader is the wali faqih, the fr Amster interpreter of the law and ställfö ret ä conductor f ear the twelfth, hidden imam, who has a central role in Shi’ite Islam. He is elected for life by an expert council, the Expert Collection, with 99 religious or legal scholars who are appointed for eight years in general elections. The assembly can also dismiss the leader. Guards’ advice, which consists of six years Scholars appointed by the highest spiritual leader and six jurists nominated by a Supreme Judicial Council and then appointed by Parliament, verify that all laws are in accordance with Islam and the Constitution. The Guardian Council has so far interpreted the Constitution so that women cannot be appointed to any of the governing, religious offices, nor can they run for office.

The executive is exercised by a president elected for four years. The same person can sit for two consecutive terms. Da refter m on Ste vederb island generating pieces rce aside a term but has the opportunity to be a candidate again. At the same time, the president is the head of government.

A parliament with 290 members, majlis, has the legislative power and is elected for four years in the general election. Majlis also has the power to dismiss the government ministers. However, the laws that are passed can be revised or stopped by the Guardian Council, an arrangement that has led to conflicts between the Council and the majlis. In such disputes between institutions have the highest conductor final determination, directly or through Crude the f ear fixing ä ACHIEVEMENTOFOBJECTS ålsenlighet. The Guards’ Council also decides which candidates may stand in general elections. In the 2020 parliamentary elections, the Council rejected over 7,000 people who wanted to run for office.

Women are allowed to run for parliament, but women’s representation is low. In 2019, female members accounted for just under 6 percent of the total. Only one female minister has been appointed since the 1979 revolution (Marzieh Dastjerdi, Minister of Health 2009-13). However, following criticism from the women’s movement, President Hassan Rohani, in 2017, appointed three female vice presidents (out of a total of 12).

Political history

The Iranian revolution of 1979 had caused great concern, both in the West and among neighboring countries. Already in 1980, Iran was invaded by Iraq under President Saddam Hussein, who then had US support. The subsequent war lasted for eight years and led to great losses of human lives, especially on the Iranian side. At the same time, the war helped to strengthen the Iranian national cohesion and support of the revolution. However, after the death of Ayatollah Khomeyni in 1989, a year after the war ended, tendencies to divide began to surface, not least among high Ayatollahs in the holy city of Qom.

The person Khomeyni wanted to see as successor, storayatolla Hossein Ali Montazeri, was maneuvered since he criticized the abuses against the opposition, which indicates that the underground criticism of the political system was widespread already during Khomeini’s time in power.

Instead, the new spiritual leader became the incumbent president, the conservative Ali Khamenei, who was succeeded as the new president by Parliament’s President Rafsanjani. Its attempt for eight years to pursue a more pragmatic line with economic reforms and increased foreign trade was countered by the most orthodox theologians.

In the first years after the revolution, the regime pursued and imprisoned the political opposition and other dissent, many of whom participated in the uprising against the Shah. In the name of Islam, severe abuses were committed against those who did not quite stand on the new line: the people of the Shah, liberals, Kurds and other minorities, and opponents of the theocratic system. Opponents also included groups on the far left of Islam or Marxist-Leninist ideology. These groups took up arms and, through political and ideologically motivated terror, tried to oust the regime. This in turn led to severe counterterrorism on the part of the regime. The prisons, which were emptied after the fall of the Shah, were again quickly filled with “enemies of Islam”.

A narrow interpretation of Islam regarding, for example, the view of women and morality, together with pure fanaticism and irreconcilability with the West and the Shah’s society, characterized much of the new elite that the revolution brought to power.

The period 1997-2005 was marked by greater openness and approaches to reform, since former Minister of Culture Mohammad Khatami became president with a massive backing of mainly women, younger voters and western-oriented intellectuals. Student movements, liberal reform friends and those who were previously part of the so-called Islamic Left formed in 1998 the Party of Islamic Iran’s Participation Front (Mosharekat) and new newspapers advocating reform were started. The authoritarian government agencies responded with a wave of repression: outlawed newspapers were banned, journalists and student leaders were imprisoned or murdered. Political reforms were stopped by Conservative members of Parliament, by the Guardian Council or by the Supreme Spiritual Leader, Ayatolla Khamenei. Over time, Khatami’s position became increasingly difficult, and many disappointed students resigned from the president.

The 2005 presidential election, boycotted by many reformists, meant a victory for the Orthodox who wanted to see a return to the original ideal of the revolution. Former Revolutionary Guardian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became President, the first to have no religious education. His populist leadership style with extreme statements on foreign policy issues and the dismissals of thousands of government officials who were replaced by his own supporters made him enemies both at home and abroad. Ahmadinejad also failed in his economic policy despite high oil revenues and within the elite, more and more conservative politicians and Orthodox Ayatollans resigned from the president.

However, when Ahmadinejad, who was popular in broad masses, could still remain after the disputed elections in 2009, the Islamic Republic’s most severe crisis and the most extensive protest demonstrations to date began. The legitimacy of the regime came to be questioned, not least since Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declared that the election – which was most likely to be characterized by extensive cheating – had been fair. Even before, the spiritual leader had intervened directly in the struggles of current politics, which a faqih according to the Quietist and traditional interpretive traditions should not do. With what was seen as a direct support to Ahmadinejad after the election, Khamenei’s position was further weakened by pure Ayatollahs.

The regime blamed the protest movement, which went by the name green movement, for wanting to overthrow the state with the support of the West and responding to the protests with violence and imprisonment. The regime’s brutal treatment of the protesters led to even more extensive protests and Ahmadinejad lost further popular support. However, the opposition was fragmented, which together with the regime’s stubborn actions meant that developments in Iran did not follow the same pattern as in the authoritarian states of the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring.

Current policy

The 2013 presidential election was initially described as an opportunity for a major change in the country. The pragmatic and reform-friendly candidate Hassan Rohani, supported by Khatami and Rafsanjani presidents, received just over 50 percent of the vote. High expectations of a new policy with increased political and civil liberties were placed on the new president.

Rohani’s ability to live up to expectations, however, has been limited by the theocratic rule of law, where the non-elected bodies with the Guardian Council at the forefront have the decisive power. The changes that have been made in the area of domestic politics have been mainly cosmetic, while the conservative forces have retained their decisive power. While the president has repeatedly criticized the conservatives ‘restrictions on citizens’ freedoms and rights, the Iranian constitution does not allow the president more room for maneuver when it comes to domestic politics. The formerly strong pressure on young people and women has diminished, but the morality and morality police and the conservatively controlled judiciary remain and can change the rules of the game at any time.

Consequently, Rohani has focused on foreign policy and the election promise to break Iran’s international isolation. This mainly resulted in an agreement on nuclear technology development which, after long and hard negotiations in 2015, could be concluded with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council as well as Germany and the EU.

High hopes were attached to the agreement, which would break the country’s international isolation and improve the economy. However, this could only be partially met. Admittedly, UN sanctions were lifted, but US sanctions, especially in the banking sector, continued to hamper economic growth. The process of freeing Iran’s frozen assets, which had been blocked during the reign of former President Ahmadinejad, was slow. Unemployment among young educated as well as others continued to be high. The same was true of inflation. This led to the conservative camp, with the leader Khamenei at the forefront, and forces linked to the Revolutionary Guard increasingly openly attacking Rohani and his policy towards the West, personified by his Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif who was the leader of the nuclear talks.

Despite the elevated tone of the Conservative camp, the group declined sharply in the 2016 parliamentary elections. In both the 2013 and 2016 parliamentary elections, the two largest political groups, called reformists, the Eslahtalaban, and principals, Usulgarayan, and other groupings, came out with joint electoral lists..

In the 2016 parliamentary elections, no Conservative candidates gained voter confidence in the capital, Tehran, while all 30 candidates belonging to the reform-friendly camp, which supports President Rohani’s policies, entered parliament. This is despite massive campaigns on the part of the Conservatives who, with reference to the lack of economic improvements, drew harsh criticism of Rohani and his pragmatic policies.

Despite the criticism, the 2017 presidential election meant continued support for Rohani, who was re-elected by a wide margin (57 percent). The more pragmatic and moderate president was put in the election against the hardline Islamist Ebrahim Raisi. The latter has a background as a judge and prosecutor in the Iranian judiciary and was involved in the mass executions of political prisoners in the late 1980s. During the short but intense election campaign, besides corruption, abuse of power and Iran’s future foreign and cultural policy, the country’s economy was at the center. The debates generally concerned Iran’s inflation and unemployment, and in particular the weak dividend for the country’s economy from the signing of the Iran Agreement in 2015.

The election results came to be seen as a continued support for the opening of Iran to the outside world and made it clear that, especially in the great generation born after the revolution, there was a longing for material progress and a modernization of theocratic rule.

However, in the next parliamentary elections on February 21, 2020, the conservative forces again advanced sharply. The result reflected the precarious economic situation, but also the lack of coordination among the reform forces and weak voter turnout in large cities that previously voted for these forces.

At the beginning of 2020, US action played a crucial role in both politics and the economy in Iran. Following Donald Trump’s inclusion as US President in 2017, the previously cautious US approach to Iran had been reversed in its opposite. The new US foreign policy line meant that the United States 2018 withdrew from the Iran agreement and reintroduced harsh economic sanctions.

These meant that other countries’ economic transactions with Iran were also blocked because of the threat of US sanctions. Thus, companies that traded with Iran could not then continue to trade with the United States or use US banks. After the period of limited recovery following the signing of the Nuclear Technology Agreement, the re-imposed sanctions led to the collapse of the Iranian economy, the already high unemployment rate further increased and the value of the Iranian currency halved.

In 2019 and early 2020, US sanctions were further strengthened in various rounds, with the stated goal of bringing about a radical change in the Iranian regime and paving the way for a more favorable US agreement with Iran.

The economically already hard-pressed population was forced to tighten the strap further. In 2019, street demonstrations erupted in major cities across Iran, triggered by an increase in gasoline prices but aimed at the regime and the Supreme Leader. The security forces responded to the protests by firing sharply at unarmed protesters and some of the demonstrations degenerated into violent confrontations. The regime faced a crisis at least as serious as during the post-election demonstrations in 2009, and for a period shut down all communication via the Internet to make it more difficult to coordinate the protests.

In addition to domestic problems such as mismanaged economy and widespread corruption, not least in the leading tier, the protests also targeted the activist role that Iran has developed in the Middle East’s regional conflicts. Iranian militia or military support in various forms had become a prominent factor in the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, among others. At the regional strategic level, Iran’s role in relation to the arch-rival Saudi Arabia had been strengthened, not least following the US intervention in Iraq in 2003 that overthrew Saddam Hussein’s Sunni Muslim rule. But from the protesters’ perspective, this precious military adventure was made at the expense of the indigenous people.

The ongoing crisis took on another dimension as the United States carried out a drone attack on a car convoy near Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020, which killed some 10 victims of the visiting head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the influential and rebellious General Qasem Soleimani. Shortly thereafter, on January 8, Iranian security forces accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing all 176 people on board. In the multidimensional crisis situation that prevailed at the beginning of 2020, Iran was also hit hard by the rampant coronavirus epidemic.


After the Shah’s case, the legal order in Iran underwent a radical transformation. It is practically based entirely on Islamic law. The Supreme Court is a supreme court for the entire country. The death penalty is punished for some serious crimes.

Human Rights

Prior to the 1979 revolution, respect for democracy and human rights in Iran was low. The focus was on creating an economic and military superpower. With the Islamic revolution in 1979, the situation deteriorated further.

The reforms implemented for women in the 1960s were torn down, Sharia became prevailing legislation and fundamental civil liberties as well as political rights were severely curtailed during the new repressive state rule.

Respect for the right to life and bodily integrity is at a critically low level and is in sharp contrast to the fact that Iran has acceded to several of the UN human rights conventions. The application is flawed throughout and torture, corporal punishment and general degrading treatment are common.

The corrupt police system utilizes mental and physical torture as interrogation technique and rape on both men and women as a method of punishment. The death penalty is often punished after summary trials and for unclear reasons. In 2011, the authorities conducted more than 600 executions according to Amnesty International. The crimes that can be punished with death include murder, rape, trafficking, drug possession, armed robbery, espionage, sodomy and adultery. There are public executions. However, in the new penal code for 2011, stoning is no longer mentioned as a mandatory sentence for infidelity.

No other country in the world executes as many executions of juvenile delinquents as Iran. Iranian law permits the death penalty for people who have reached puberty, which is defined as 9 years for girls and 15 years for boys. At the end of 2012, more than 100 juvenile delinquents were jailed awaiting execution.

There are a very large number of political prisoners in the country and arbitrary arrests of journalists, students, lawyers and bloggers increased during the 2010s. Zero tolerance prevails against specific views, such as criticism of the state of affairs or the supreme leader, wali faqih, who stands over both president and parliament.

The government also systematically blocks websites, reduces Internet speed and prevents foreign satellite broadcasts. Freedom of the press is regulated by the state and the regime has almost complete control over the media world. Reporters Without Borders places Iran at 173 out of 180 in the Press Freedom Index 2015.

Although women have the right to vote and constitute a majority of the university students, they are widely discriminated against, especially with regard to marriage, divorce, inheritance and custody of children. For example, a woman needs her male guardian’s approval of marriage regardless of her age, and she cannot pass on her nationality to her foreign-born husband or her childless children. Also, a woman cannot obtain a passport or travel outside the country without the written permission of a male guardian. In litigation, a woman’s words weigh only half of a man’s.

Intolerance against LGBTQ persons is extensive and according to the Criminal Code, persons who have committed themselves to voluntary homosexual acts are sentenced to death.

Dynasties and Heads of State

Safavid dynasty (shaher)
1501-24 Ismail I
1524-76 Tahmasp I
1576-77 Ismail II
1578-87 Mohammad Khodabanda
1588-1629 Abbas In the Great
1629-42 Safi
1642-1666 Abbas II
1666-94 Soleyman
1694-1722 Hossein
1722-25 Mahmud
1725-29 Ashraf
1736-47 Nader Shah
1747-48 Adel Shah
1748 Ibrahim
1748-95 Shah Rukh (in Khorasan)
1750-79 Mohammad Karim Khan (Regent)
1779-81 Sadeq
1779-85 Ali Morad
1785-89 Jafar
1789-94 Lotf Ali
1796-97 Aga Muhammad Khan
1797-1834 Fath Ali
1834-48 Mohammad
1848-96 Nose ad-Din
1896-1907 Muzaffar ad-Din
1907-09 Mohammad Ali
1909-25 Ahmad
Pahlavi dynasty
1925-41 Riza Shah Pahlavi
1941-79 Mohammad Riza Pahlavi
1980-81 Abolhasan Bani-Sadr
1981 Mohammad Ali Rajai
1981-89 Sayyed Ali Khamenei
1989-97 Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
1997-2005 Mohammad Khatami
2005-13 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
2013 Hassan Rohani
The leader of the revolution
1979-89 Ruhollah Khomeyni
1989- Sayyed Ali Khamenei

Iran Head of Government

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