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Iranian Politics

The Revolution of 1979 brought about a fundamental change in Iranian attitudes toward politics. Under the monarchy the political culture had been elitist in the sense that all major governmental decisions were made by the Shah and his ministers. Most of the population acquiesced in this approach to politics. The fusion of traditional Shia Islamic ideals with political values during the Revolution resulted in the emergence of a populist political culture. The principal characteristics of this political culture are pervasive feelings that the government was obligated to ensure social justice and that every citizen should participate in politics. These feelings are acknowledged by the political leadership, which constantly expresses its concern for the welfare of the mostazafin (disinherited) and persistently praises the people's work in a host of political and religious associations.

The transformation of the political culture owed much to the charisma of Ayatollah Khomeini. He was determined not simply to overthrow the monarchy, but also to replace it with a new society that derived its values from Islam. Khomeini believed that the long-term success of such an ideal Islamic government was dependent on the commitment and involvement of the masses. He envisaged the clergy as responsible for providing religious guidance, based on their expertise in Islamic law, to the people as they worked to create a new society in which religion and politics were fused. Khomeini's reputation for piety, learning, and personal integrity, as well as his forceful personality, were important factors in the mobilization of thousands of committed followers to carry out the desecularization of the country's political institutions.

Mass political involvement was both an objective and a characteristic of post-revolutionary Iran. Political participation, however, was not through political parties, but through religious institutions. The mosque became the single most important popular political institution. Participation in weekly congregational prayers, at which a political sermon was always delivered, was considered both a religious and a civic duty. For political aspirants, attendance at the weekly prayers was mandatory. Numerous religiopolitical associations are centered on the mosques. These organizations undertook a wide variety of activities, such as distributing ration coupons, investigating the religious credentials of aspirants for local offices, conducting classes in subjects ranging from the study of Arabic to superpower imperialism, and setting up teams to monitor shop prices and personal behavior. These organizations tended to be voluntary associations whose members devote several hours per week to their activities. Although most of these voluntary associations were for men, several were specifically for women.

Religious, rather than secular, organizations thus had the most important political roles. Factories, schools, and offices also had Islamic associations that undertook functions similar to those of the mosque voluntary associations. Although many secular groups exist, the majority of such associations as industrial and professional unions, university clubs, and mercantile organizations had acquired religious overtones. These private organizations generally had religious advisers who provided guidance to members on prayer ritual, Islamic law, and Shia history. Associations that tried to avoid mixing religion with business were often suspected of being anti-Islamic and risked having their articles of incorporation revoked.

The Iranians who accepted the dominant role of religion referred to themselves as hezbollahis. They tend to be fervent both in their profession of religious belief and in their loyalty to the Islamic Republic. Self-identified hezbollahis often joinned the numerous mosque-related voluntary associations, the Pasdaran, and the personal staffs of the leading ayatollahs. Given their strong commitment to the regime, it was inevitable that hezbollahis would resent those whom they perceived as critical of the government. By 1987, however, it was still not possible, owing to the lack of field research in Iran from the time of the Revolution, to estimate what percent of the adult population considered themselves true hezbollahis, what percent was generally indifferent and simply acquiesced to regime policies, or what percent strongly disapproved of the government.

Suffrage was universal at age 16. Direct elections every four years choose the Majlis, president, and local councils. Because these elections are not held simultaneously, Iranians generally vote in a national election every year. Each of the 290 seats of the Majlis nominally represents constituencies of about 200,000, but distribution favors urban areas. The city of Tehran, for example, had 30 at-large constituencies. Candidates for office at any level may simply declare themselves by filing a registration form and paying a nominal fee. The Ministry of Interior and the Central Oversight Committee of the Guardians Council vet candidates for the presidency, parliament, and Assembly of Experts. Local boards supervise elections at the lowest governmental levels.

Important qualifications for candidacy are a history of participating in the 1978-79 Revolution and a reputation for being a devout Muslim and observer of Islamic law. Post-secondary education also was relevant for national office. Candidates for the Assembly of Experts must be senior Islamic clergymen. The Guardians Council had used its vetting capacity to disqualify a high percentage of reformist candidates.

Three forms of alliances have arisen from the interactions between these groups: the clergy-military, the clergy-technocrats and the military-technocrats. In the 1980s, the clergy-military alliance was the dominant axis, and the clergy had the upper hand therein. In the 1990s, power shifted in favor of the technocrats and against the Revolutionary Guard.

During the Hashemi Rafsanjani period (19891997), the clergy-technocrats alliance was dominant, and the clerics had more weight. However, during Khatami's presidency (1997-2005), this alliance changed to a technocrat-clergy alliance in which the bureaucrats had the upper hand. The power shifted again under Ahmadinejad as the IRGC-bureaucrats alliance became the most influential group and political base of his hardliner administration (2005-2012). Under Rouhani's presidency, technocrats returned to power and are responsible for shaping government policy, while the IRGC became marginalised, at least in the administration.

Expectations were raised around the 2015 nuclear deal, and it didnt produce the anticipated peace dividends. A protest movement, Iran's largest since a disputed election sent millions into the streets in 2009, spread across Iran in December 2017 and early January 2018, resulting in the death of at least 25 and arrest of over 3,700 people. Anti-government demonstrations in Iran initially broke out against the weak economy and a rise in food prices, but they also drew opponents of the country's religious establishment. The demonstrations started out of economic grievances, but quickly , spread to more than 80 Iranian cities and towns, and transformed into dissent against Iran's political and religious elite.

Khamenei was singled out by antigovernment protesters across Iran who have chanted slogans like "Down with the dictator" and "Khamenei, time to step down," and were disillusioned with economic hardship and the lack of political and social freedoms. Some Iranians envisaged rising prosperity two years after an international deal traded sanctions relief for checks on Tehran's nuclear program, and Rohani campaigned for election in 2013 and reelection last year pledging mild reforms and more jobs.

Protests were unleashed in more than 90 cities and towns after a December 28 demonstration in Mashhad, the country's second-largest city, over rising prices and other grievances. The demonstrations tapered off amid a pushback by authorities that included harsh warnings and a conspicuous show of force by security troops, the blocking of Internet access and social media, and reports of three deaths in custody and thousands of arrests.

Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said that the people and security forces had ended the unrest, which it said was fomented by Iran's foreign enemies. Iranian officials continued to block many social-media networks and other sources of information, including Western radio and television. The geographical scope of these protests were unprecedented in Iran's recent history.

There was a flare up of protests over economic concerns throughout the country. Vendors in Tehrans central market staged a series of protests in June 2018. They were upset about the rials collapse, which was havoc for businesses as the price of imports rises. Demonstrations over the rising prices of everyday goods and the free-falling value of the Iranian rial, the national currency, broke out in Tehran on 24 June 2018. Since then shopkeepers went on strike, traders massed outside parliament, and protesters clashed with riot police as the demonstrations expanded to other cities.

Protests erupted around the southern city of Khorramshahr over a shortage of clean water. The problem had been exacerbated in the summer when temperatures in the southern region can reach up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius). The protests were initially peaceful but became violent when police and protesters clashed, resulting in at least one death. Protesters in Tehran shouted surprising slogans as they decried the countrys economic malaise. Videos posted to social media showed them chanting: Death to Palestine, No to Gaza, no to Lebanon, and Leave Syria and think of us. Others chanted We dont want the ayatollahs.

Anti-government protests by Iranians fed up with their nation's economic woes spread to 10 major cities on 02 August 2018, posing the biggest challenge to Iran's Islamist rulers since January's nationwide demonstrations. One reason the protests were not happening in more cities was a strong security presence in many places. The security forces in some areas used social media to find out where protests were being planned and then deployed to those locations ahead of time as a way of deterring demonstrators from showing up.

In a sign of Iranians' frustrations intensifying, the early August 2018 protesters chanted slogans explicitly calling for an end to the rule of Iran's Islamist clerics, who took power in a 1979 revolution. A large crowd in the southwestern city of Ahvaz chanted: "Our enemy is here; they (Iran's leaders) lie when they say it is America." The IRNA news agency reported scattered protests in several cities and said police dispersed them early in the evening.

The demonstrators were, apparently, mostly lower and working class folks, along with university students. They are reacting against high unemployment and inflation; a sense of having no economic future. The demonstrations, at least in part, reflected an internal conflict between factions within the government. For instance, there is disagreement over the governments investment in helping the Assad regime in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. This cost a lot of money that some groups feel should be spent at home. Most Iranians were willing to support their theocratic regime as long as it can fulfill moderate economic expectations and avoid widespread corruption. At present there is some doubt that the government is doing so, and popular support may be slipping.

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