The Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979 after a populist revolution toppled the monarchy of Reza Pahlavi, the last of the Pahlavi dynasty. The Constitution, ratified after the revolution by popular referendum, established a theocratic republic and declared as its purpose the establishment of institutions and a society based on Islamic principles and norms. The Government was dominated by Shi'a Muslim clergy. The Head of State, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was designated the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution and had direct control over the armed forces, the internal security forces, and the judiciary.
The right of citizens to change their government has been restricted significantly in post-revolution Iran. Regularly scheduled elections are held for the President, members of the Majles, and the Assembly of Experts. However, the Supreme Leader, the recognized Head of State, was selected for a life term by the Assembly of Experts. The Assembly of Experts could also remove the Supreme Leader. The Assembly itself was restricted to clerics, who served 8-year terms and were chosen by popular vote from a list approved by the Government. There was no separation of state and religion, and clerics have historically dominated the Government of post-revolution Iran. The Government repressed attempts to separate state and religion or to alter the State's theocratic foundation. The Government effectively controlled the selection of candidates for elections, although a bill approved by the Parliament weaken its control.
The Constitution provides for a Council of Guardians, composed of six Islamic clergymen and six lay members, who are nominated by the head of the judiciary and approved by the Majles. The Council of Guardians review all laws for consistency with Islamic law and the Constitution. The Council also screens political candidates for ideological, political, and religious suitability. The Constitution provided the Council of Guardians the power to screen and disqualify candidates for elective offices based on an ill-defined set of requirements, including candidates' ideological beliefs. It accepts only candidates who support a theocratic state. Clerics who disagree with government policies also have been disqualified. For example, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Council of Guardians rejected the candidacy of 145 out of the 356 candidates who filed to run for 17 seats in the special Majles election held concurrently with the Presidential election in June 2001. This constituted a far higher percentage than were rejected in the February 2000 Majles elections. The judiciary was subject to government and religious influence.
In addition to the Council of Guardians there are two other bodies considered part of the Executive branch of government. The Assembly of Experts (Majles-Khebregan) is a popularly elected body charged with determining the succession of the Supreme Leader, reviewing his performance, and deposing him if deemed necessary. The Expediency Council or the Council for the Discernment of Expediency (Majma-e-Tashkise-Maslahat-e-Nezam) exerts supervisory authority over the executive, judicial, and legislative branches and resolves legislative issues on which the Majles and the Council of Guardians disagree and since 1989 has been used to advise national religious leaders on matters of national policy. In 2005 the Council's powers were expanded to act as a supervisory body for the government
A popularly elected 290-seat unicameral Islamic Consultative Assembly, or Majles (also written Majlis), develops and passes legislation. 5 of these seats are reserved for special representatives of officially recognized religious minorities: 2 for Armenian Christians and 1 each for Assyrian Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians. In 2005 some 12 women held seats. The speaker presides over parliament, assisted by two deputies and a system of 22 permanent committees. Select committees also can be established when necessary. The Majlis may both propose and pass legislation, and the executive branch cannot dissolve it. Ministers of the cabinet can also present bills. All bills passed by the Majlis must be reviewed by the 12-member Guardians Council for consistency with the constitution and with Islamic principles. The leader and the Majlis each appoint six members of the Guardians Council. If the Guardians Council finds a bill compatible with the constitution and Islam, the bill becomes law. If it finds a bill partially or wholly unconstitutional or un-Islamic, the bill is sent back to the Majlis for revision. In 1987 Khomeini resolved tension that had developed between the Majlis and the Guardians Council by establishing the Expediency Council to resolve disputes between the two. In practice, the Expediency Council has upheld some Guardians Council vetoes, overridden others, and sent back some vetoed legislation with instructions that the Majlis and Guardians Council work out acceptable compromises.
The Constitution provides for freedom of the press, except when published ideas are "contrary to Islamic principles, or are detrimental to public rights." However, the Government restricted freedom of speech and of the press in practice. After the election of President Khatami in 1997, the independent press, especially newspapers and magazines, played an increasingly important role in providing a forum for an intense debate regarding reform in the society. However, basic legal safeguards for freedom of expression did not exist, and the independent press was subjected to arbitrary enforcement measures by elements of the Government, notably the judiciary, which treated such debates as a threat.
Since the victory of the Islamic Revolution there had been two views within the government of the Islamic Republic. The first view is a radical, conservative, and fundamentalist view which has had a stronger role in directing the government and people of Iran. In foreign policy it sees a conflict in the policies of Iran's Islamic regime and that of the "aggressive regimes" (as the government calls them) headed by America. The second viewpoint believes in Islam and the Revolution but at the same time it is a moderate viewpoint. Rafsanjani is with the moderate forces. But Rafsanjani owed a part of his success to Mr. Ahmadinejad, because of the way Mr. Ahmadinejad and his clerical supports entered the fray and campaigned against the two other clerical figures. When it comes to determining the successor of the supreme leader by the committee in the Assembly of Experts, the chairman of the Assembly of Experts wields a great deal of power and could play a major role in the decision. Mr. Rafsanjani played a truly key role in selecting Mr. Khamenei as the leader.
The fundamentalist approach and the realist approach, have fundamentally different attitudes towards the Jurisprudent Guardian [Supreme Leader] and his jurisdictions. The fundamentalist approach towards the Jurisprudent Guardian more or less reserves an immaculateness for the post. In fact, they believe that the leadership should enjoy the authorities and powers previously held by the Shiite Imams, and with such mentality, the issue of supervision would be meaningless, because if someone is immaculate, everything he does would naturally be correct. Contrary to this view, the realists believes that there ought to be certain authorities reserved for the Jurisprudent Guardian, though they nonetheless believe that the supreme leader must be held accountable his policies and his appointments. The reformists believe that it is entirely possible for the Jurisprudent Guardian to make wrong decisions and that it is up to the Assembly of Experts to evaluate the policies and decisions taken by the supreme leader. The fundamentalist vision denies such a possibility.
A clear historical trend in Iran was that the hard-liners had indicated that they did not care what it was that the people might want. They believed that they had God on their side, and they were prepared to do what was necessary in order to continue with their rule. Iran had an evolving constitutional change, which had been to reduce the powers of elected positions, like that of the president of the Majles, and to expand the powers of appointed positions from the Supreme Religious Leader, and to expand the powers of the judiciary. So the space for elections was diminished. Only the hardest liners among the conservatives were prepared to use all-out repression. That reflected a constant dynamic between hard-liners and more moderate camps within the Islamic government that was really moving toward a more representative and democratic system. The hardest-line people were the people who controlled the secret police, the people who controlled the military, and the Revolutionary Guards. They had clearly indicated that they were prepared to use force to kill people in order to stay in power, irrespective of what an election showed.
The Iranian regime has often based much of its legitimacy on its religious credentials and connection with Qom. The Qom howzeh would fear the transfer of prominence to the Al-Najaf howzeh. As suggested by an editorial in "Farhang-i Ashti," Al-Najaf was the "new Islamic Vatican" and it rivaled Qom.
In Iran the surname “Larijani” is a “brand name”, as it were, which symbolizes nepotism. Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, the current chief of Iran’s judiciary, was appointed as chief of the judiciary right after the 2009 post-presidential election riots. He played a key role in cracking down on Green movement activists. Ayatollah Sadeq’s older brother Ali Larijani is the president of the Islamic Consultative Assembly. Therefore, two-thirds of the constitutional power in the Islamic Republic is concentrated in the hands of two brothers.
Ayatollah Sadeq has three other brothers who also occupy positions of great power: Jawad Larijani, ex-deputy of the foreign minister, is now the head of Iran’s Human Rights Commission, which represents the Islamic Republic at international human rights fora; Fazel Larijani, who was used to be a diplomat, is currently a top official in the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution and the Islamic Azad University; and Baqer Larijani, who has in the past served as the chancellor of Tehran University of Medical Science, is now the deputy minister of Health. Altogether, they have formed an unchallengeable political block in the Iranian political system, hence no wonder they are popularly known as “the Dalton brothers”.
The Larijani block is the reflection of neo-tribalism in the Iranian political system. They owe their power to their multi-level and multi-layered connections with the traditional Shia religious institution: First, their father Ayatollah Syed Hashim Amuli Larijani has been an influential and respected clerk in Qom. Second, they are connected to the clergy class through marriage. Ali is the son-in-law of Ali Mutahhari, one of the ideologues of the Islamic Revolution; Ayatollah Sadeq is the son-in-law of Grand Ayatollah Vahid Khorasani; and Baqer is son-in-law of of Ayatollah Hassanzadeh Amoli. On the other hand, Ayatollah Muhaqqiq Damad, a former chief of the State Inspectorate Organization, is Larijanis’ brother-in-law. Third, a number of influential Grand Ayatollahs, such as Makarim Shirazi and Javadi Amoli, were students of their father. Finally, while Ayatollah Sadeq is a professional clerk, the other four brothers were all educated at the Qom seminary and had student-teacher relationships with various powerful clergymen.
The Larijanis were not part of the mainstream politics during Ayatollah Khomeini’s rule. It was his successor Ayatollah Khamenei who discovered the Larijani family. Ayatollah Sadeq has been trying to come across as being a potential successor to Ayatollah Khamenei along with a number of other candidates, such as Hashemi Shahroodi and Ibrahim Raeesi. Raeesi has already spoiled his chances by contesting in the last election, and Shahroudi appears to be physically unfit as well. Therefore, Larijani has found himself in an ideal position and is quite optimistic about his chances.
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