Country Profile

Iran

Summary

A regime of contradictions and paradoxes, Iran's front of radical Islamism and revolutionary tendencies belies a deeply pragmatic streak of political self-interest. Political developments in the country can usually be tied to inherent tensions between popular and theocratic sovereignty, and Iran's multihued relations with the world and the region.

1Iran’s unique Shia Islamic heritage is enshrined in a theocratic and revolutionary state, which is nonetheless democratic. Traditionally a politically quietest branch of Islam, Shiism became a symbol of resistance against Western influence, leading to Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution of 1979.

2The politico-religious philosophy of velayat-e faqih (governance of the jurist), enshrined in the constitution, envisions an active political role for the ulema in the affairs of state, in which political and religious duties are combined in the form of the rahbar, the ‘Supreme Leader.’

3Iran’s proactive foreign policy represents its desire to be regarded as the major global Islamic power. In a region where conflict is increasingly drawn along sectarian lines, Iran is clinging on to its sphere of influence, which includes four regional capitals, through material and financial support for governments and proxy forces.

Situation Report

The Islamic Republic of Iran, a unique case study in the evolution of Shia Islamic political ideas, is a theocratic, democratic state brought into being by a broad based revolution and Ayatollah Khomeini's controversial politico-religious philosophy of velayat-e faqih (governance of the jurist). It is a regime of contradictions and paradoxes, with its front of radical Islamism and revolutionary tendencies belying a deeply pragmatic streak of political self-interest; One instance among many illustrating Iranian political and diplomatic pragmatism can be seen in Iran's comparative silence on the issue of Russian persecution of Chechen Islamist separatist fighters; maintaining the regime's good standing with Moscow is of more importance than showing any visible concern for their co-religionists in Chechnya. a state ostensibly governed by immutable laws of Sharia and a Supreme Leader, but a largely democratic republic in which elections can throw up surprise results at the ballot box, as seen in the 1997 victory of moderate reformist, President Khatami.

Two major themes have dominated Iran's political development over the last century: relations with the world and the region, and inherent tensions between popular and theocratic sovereignty. These two themes currently manifest themselves in internal debate on the constitutional evolution of the Islamic Republic, especially with the possibility of Iran needing to find a suitable candidate to replace Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the event of his death, and in Iran's foreign policy in the region, with regards to conflict in Iraq and Syria. In this respect, Iran's attitude to Iraq echoes Pakistan's desire to marshall the chaos in Afghanistan through the use of proxies. However, whereas Pakistan's proxies are, largely, without the government, Iran has been directly influencing Baghdad since the election of Nouri al-Maliki in 2006. The former reveals a regime with more flexibility than might initially appear, and the latter reveals the deep entrenchment of sectarian divisions in the region. Issues of nuclear tensions and Iran's relations with the West can be understood through the prism of these two major themes at home and abroad.

  • Counter-Extremism
  • Counter-Extremism Incidents: September 2016 4
  • State Counter-Extremism: Arrests: September 2016 2
  • State Counter-Extremism: Statements: September 2016 2
  • State Counter-Extremism: Use of Force: September 2016 1