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Iranian Political System, Culture, History Essay

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Updated: Jun 10th, 2020


Iran is one of the countries in the world with unique and complex political systems that incorporate concepts of theocracy and democracy. There are numerous unelected institutions that are governed by the country’s Supreme Leader in association with the president and parliament (Menashri 34). The last ten years of Iran’s politics have been dominated by squabbles between members of different institutions.

The struggles are usually between the conservative institutions of the Supreme Leader against the president and parliament. Bureaucracy has affected the nation adversely because it has led to rampant corruption, lack of foreign investments, and ineffective government institutions. Elected institutions include the president, cabinet, and parliament (Majlis). Unelected institutions include the supreme leader, armed forces, head of judiciary, and expediency council. The political system of Iran is complex because these two groups fight over power and control of the nation.


The history of Iran politics dates back to 1979 after the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran following the passage of a constitution (Menashri 41). A constitutional amendment was conducted in 1989 to define the political, social, and economic order that the country would strive for and adopt. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was characterized by the replacement of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the creation of a new republic based on Islamic principles (Menashri 42). This led to the replacement of an autocratic monarchy by an Islamic Republic that had clerics take positions as heads of government institutions (Ridgeon 47).

The political and economic policies were dominated by Islamic principles. According to the constitution, laws and regulations should be based on principles of Islam because Shia Islam is the country’s official religion. The current Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) came to power in 1989 and has control over all the elected and unelected institutions of Iran (Menashri 42). His rule has been facilitated by the control he has over the military, the judiciary, and the executive.

Culture and political structure

The culture of Iran has always considered the country’s politics and government as legitimate. However, recent demands for reforms have cast doubts regarding the legitimacy of the government and the entire political system. The country’s political system has few components of democracy. However citizens continue to face oppression due to widespread bureaucracy and theocratic system that gives them limited freedom (Adib-Moghaddam 64). Minority groups such as children and women are subjected to discrimination and inequality hence the prevalent calls for reforms. Iran has numerous ethnic languages that are spoken by its people. However, their unity originates from their religion that forms the foundation of their political system (Ridgeon 50).

More than 90% of the population is Muslim. According to the Quran, men and women are equal and should be treated equally. This precept is not evident in the country’s political system because men and women are treated differently and play varied roles in society (Menashri 51). The political culture is dominated by corruption that has been an obstacle to reforms because the Guardian Council that vets presidential candidates rejects candidates who exhibit revolutionary leadership traits.

The Iranian political system is a theocratic form of leadership that comprises both elected and unelected institutions (Palmer 68). The Supreme Leader is at the top of the nation’s leadership and his responsibility is to supervise the creation and implementation of policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Adib-Moghaddam 67). He is followed in line by the president whose responsibility is to oversee the creation and implementation of the country’s economic policies. The powers of the president are greatly limited by the constitution that bestows greater power to the Supreme Leader. He has little influence over the Supreme National Security Council and his rule is supported by several vice presidents.

The constitution has a provision for the creation of an Assembly of Experts that is made up of 86 members (Menashri 54). The institution is responsible for electing and dismissing the Supreme Leader who indirectly influences its decisions because he appoints 50% of its members. Therefore, his rule has been largely unchallenged by the assembly because of his influence over its creation. The Guardian Council is responsible for vetting members who express interest in becoming members of the Assembly of Experts (Ehteshami and Zweiri 35). On the other hand, the council is responsible for providing interpretations to the constitution and determining the plausibility of legislation passed by parliament. It determines whether laws are in accordance with Islamic teachings. Individuals who express interest in the presidency and parliament must demonstrate their allegiance to Islam and their readiness to continue the objectives of the revolution.

The parliament is made up of 290 members and has lesser power compared to other institutions (Ehteshami and Zweiri 35). Non-elected bodies such as the Guardian Council control most of the country’s affair by overseeing the activities of elected institutions. The parliament determines the amount of money given to the government and evaluates the performance of government ministers and other officials (Ehteshami and Zweiri 36). In addition, it vets and confirms ministers elected to government by the president. In many countries, the president is the most powerful leader in the country. In contrasts, Iran’s president has limited power because according to the constitution, the Supreme Leader is the most powerful official. The Iranian political system is complex because even though the president is elected by the power, he has to be appointed by the Supreme leader in order to serve in government. The parliament is responsible for approving the executive’s cabinet.

However, recent squabbles have transferred the responsibility to the office of the Supreme Leader. The constitution mandates the Guardian Council to evaluate any individual who expresses interested in to run for any of the aforementioned positions. The constitution facilitates the creation of an Islamic theocracy that gives great power to the Supreme Leader over the president and the parliament (Ehteshami and Zweiri 39). The Supreme Leader has ideological and political control over Iran’s affairs and struggles to rule amidst objections and pressure from religious and pressure groups. His rule is augmented by representatives that are spread among the various institutions of government. These representatives represent the Supreme Leader and intervene on his behalf I maters of national interest. The scope of their power is great because they are more powerful and influential than the president’s ministers.


Iranian bureaucracy is characterized by widespread corruption, mismanagement of national resources, poor leadership, and patronage (Ehteshami and Zweiri 41). It is facilitated by conservative technocrats who have promoted privatization of public institutions and other organizations. This patronage is augmented by the great powers vested on the Supreme Leader by the constitution. The military always stays away from the country’s politics mainly because it is under the rule of the Supreme Leader who appoints its leaders (Ehteshami and Zweiri 42).

The Supreme National Security Council is an institution created by the constitution and headed by the president. However, the Supreme Leader possesses the power to determine all matters related to the military and foreign relations. The government’s complexity, corruption, and lack of transparent make the process of decision making difficult (Farazmand 555). All public services are under the jurisdiction of the state. Citizens are very dissatisfied with the leadership because of widespread corruption and patronage that results from bureaucracy (Palmer 78). Bureaucrats lack proper training and experience that is required for the smooth running of public services. Activities such as starting a business or buying a house are difficult because the nation’s pervasive bureaucracy makes the processes slow and tedious. Civil servants are poorly paid hence the low quality of services in government institutions.

Iranian bureaucracy discourages foreign investors from investing because starting a new business is difficult (Ehteshami and Zweiri 44). Several presidents have tried hard to fight bureaucracy to no avail. Iranian bureaucratization has facilitated the privatization of public institutions. National industries and corporations have been either sold or contracted to the private sector in order to attract foreign investments and improve the efficiency of public institutions (Farazmand 555). The government has been unable to manage its large administrative system because of poorly trained personnel and the large size of institutions. Iranian bureaucracy is dominated by Islamic precepts that encourage the privatization of the administrative system, organizations, and public institutions (Farazmand 561).

Pressure groups

Pressure groups in Iran are obscure and their existence plays an important role in the nation’s political system. They comprise leaders from religious, social, political and labor organizations. Their actions signify deep squabbles and tensions between government leaders and their critics. Pressure groups that support the theocratic system of governance include Islamic Coalition Association, Islamic Coalition Party, Islamic Engineers Society, Ansar-e Hizballah, Tehran Militant Clergy Association, Islam’s Students, The Iranian Students Association, and the Muslim Students Following the Line of the Imam (Ehteshami and Zweiri 78).

Groups that oppose the system include the Nation of Iran Party, National Front, Green Path Movement, Marz-e Por Gohar, and the Freedom Movement of Iran. The government has suppressed many groups that used armed militias to compromise its rule. They include People’s Fedayeen, Komala, People’s Free Life Party of Kurdistan, Society for the Defense of Freedom, and the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (Ehteshami and Zweiri 80). Vigilante groups are violent, bold, and promote impunity as a sign of defiance to current leadership. The actions of pressure groups compromise the efforts of reforms started by Iranian leaders as well as the implementation of United Sates’ foreign policy that aims to create strong relations with the nation.

These pressure groups are usually used by forceful factions within the government to push for certain policies (Menashri 87). Therefore, they are not part of the opposition that is supposed to keep check the activities of the government. The activities of pressure groups are aimed at compromising government policies and tarnish its name especially to international groups. These groups use techniques such as intimidation, violence, and murder to push their agenda (Menashri 87). Forceful factions within the government use pressure groups whenever they lack the legal means to reject or change policies.

Context of Iranian politics

Iranian politics is formed under the auspices of Islamic teachings thus making it one of the most complex political systems in the world (Ridgeon 67). The largest percentage of the country’s population belongs to Islam and therefore majority of its policies are based on religious concepts. The Islam Republic of Iran was formed in 1979 after the replacement of a monarchy that was under the rule of Shah. Laws and regulations are created based on the Shia interpretation of Islam. Currently, the politics of Iran are dominated by discourses about its nuclear program that has been criticized by the world’s most powerful countries. The program has been highly politicized and has affected Iran’s foreign relations with many countries. The political system is governed by the constitution that was passed in 1979 and amended in 1989.


The Iranian political system is a theocracy that comprises a supreme leader, a president, parliament, and other elected and unelected bodies. The Supreme Leader is the most powerful and has control of over the president and the parliament. The country’s political system was created in 1979 after the Iranian Revolution that created the Islam Republic of Iran. Wrangles between leaders and pressure groups originated from the country’s pervasive bureaucracy that is characterized by corruption, mismanagement of resources, bad leadership, and privatization of government institutions and organizations. This bureaucracy is the main reason why foreign investors fail to invest in the country. The existence of pressure groups is proof enough that many citizens are dissatisfied with the country’s system of governance. These groups use illegal methods such as assassination and violence to push for certain policies.

Works Cited

Adib-Moghaddam, Arshin. Iran in World Politics: The Question of the Iran Republic. London: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.

Ehteshami, Anoushiravan, and Mahjoob Zweiri. Iran and the Rise of Its Neoconservatives: The Politics of Tehran’s Silent Revolution. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2007. Print.

Farazmand, Ali. Bureaucracy and Administration. New York: CRC Press, 2009. Print.

Menashri, David. Post-Revolutionary politics in Iran: Religion, Society and Power. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.

Palmer, Monte. The Politics of the Middle East. New York: Thamson Wadsworth, 2007. Print.

Ridgeon, Lloyd. Religion and Politics in Modern Iran: A Reader. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2005. Print.

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