Government and Politics

A bas-relief of a bearded sphinx, ca. 500 B.C., from Persepolis

The Iranian Islamic revolution of 1979 resulted in the replacement of the monarchy by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The inspiration for the new government came from Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, who first began formulating his concept of an Islamic government in the early 1970s, while in exile in the Shia Islam learning and pilgrimage center of An Najaf in Iraq. Khomeini's principal objective was that government should be entrusted to Islamic clergy who had been appropriately trained in Islamic theology and jurisprudence. He referred to this ideal government as a velayat-e faqih, or the guardianship of the religious jurist. Khomeini did not, however, elaborate concrete ideas about the institutions and functions of this ideal Islamic government. The translation of his ideas into a structure of interrelated governmental institutions was undertaken by the special Assembly of Experts, which drafted the Constitution of the Islamic Republic during the summer and fall of 1979. Subsequently, this Constitution was ratified by popular vote in December 1979.

The political institutions established under the Constitution have been in the process of consolidation since 1980. These institutions have withstood serious challenges, such as the impeachment and removal from office of the first elected president and the assassination of the second one; the assassination of a prime minister, several members of the cabinet, and deputies of the parliament, or Majlis; an effort to overthrow the government by armed opposition; and a major foreign war. By 1987 the constitutional government's demonstrated ability to survive these numerous crises inspired confidence among the political elite.

At the top of the government structure is the faqih, the ultimate decision maker. The Constitution specifically names Khomeini as the faqih for life and provides a mechanism for choosing his successors. The role of the faqih has evolved into that of a policy guide and arbitrator among competitive views. Below the faqih a distinct separation of powers exists between the executive and legislative branches. The executive branch includes an elected president, who selects a prime minister and cabinet that must be approved by the elected legislative assembly, the Majlis. The judiciary is independent of both the executive and the Majlis.

Until 1987 the government was dominated by a single political party, the Islamic Republican Party (IRP). Other political parties were permitted as long as they accepted the Constitution and the basic principles of velayat-e faqih. In practice, however, few other political parties have been permitted to operate legally since 1981. Most of the political parties that were formed in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution have disbanded, gone underground, or continued to operate in exile.

The Constitution stipulates that the government of the Republic derives its legitimacy from both God and the people. It is a theocracy in the sense that the rulers claim that they govern the Muslim people of Iran as the representatives of the divine being and the saintly Twelve Shia Imams. The people have the right to choose their own leaders, however, from among those who have demonstrated both religious expertise and moral rectitude. At the national level this is accomplished through parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled at four-year intervals. All citizens who have attained sixteen years of age are eligible to vote in these elections. There are also local elections for a variety of urban and rural positions.


The government is based upon the Constitution that was approved in a national referendum in December 1979. This republican Constitution replaced the 1906 constitution, which, with its provisions for a shah to reign as head of state, was the earliest constitution in the Middle East. Soon after the Revolution, however, on March 30 and 31, 1979, the provisional government of Mehdi Bazargan asked all Iranians sixteen years of age and older to vote in a national referendum on the question of whether they approved of abolishing the monarchy and replacing it with an Islamic republic. Subsequently, the government announced that a 98- percent majority favored abrogating the old constitution and establishing such a republic. On the basis of this popular mandate, the provisional government prepared a draft constitution drawing upon some of the articles of the abolished 1906 constitution and the French constitution written under Charles de Gaulle in 1958. Ironically, the government draft did not allot any special political role to the clergy or even mention the concept of velayat-e faqih.

Although the provisional government initially had advocated a popularly elected assembly to complete the Constitution, Khomeini indicted that this task should be undertaken by experts. Accordingly the electorate was called upon to vote for an Assembly of Experts from a list of names approved by the government. The draft constitution was submitted to this seventy-three member assembly, which was dominated by Shia clergy. The Assembly of Experts convened in August 1979 to write the constitution in final form for approval by popular referendum. The clerical majority was generally dissatisfied with the essentially secular draft constitution and was determined to revise it to make it more Islamic. Produced after three months of deliberation, the final document, which was approved by a two- thirds majority of the Assembly of Experts, differed completely from the original draft. For example, it contained provisions for institutionalizing the office of supreme religious jurist, or faqih, and for establishing a theocratic government.

The first presidential elections took place in January 1980, and elections for the first Majlis were held in March and May of 1980. The Council of Guardians, a body that reviews all legislation to ensure that laws are in conformity with Islamic principles, was appointed during the summer of 1980. Presidential elections were held again in 1981 and 1985. The second Majlis was elected in 1984.

The Faqih

The preamble to the Constitution vests supreme authority in the faqih. According to Article 5, the faqih is the just and pious jurist who is recognized by the majority of the people at any period as best qualified to lead the nation. In both the preamble and Article 107 of the Constitution, Khomeini is recognized as the first faqih. Articles 108 to 112 specify the qualifications and duties of the faqih. The duties include appointing the jurists to the Council of Guardians; the chief judges of the judicial branch; the chief of staff of the armed forces; the commander of the Pasdaran (Pasdaran-e Enghelab-e Islami, or Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, or Revolutionary Guards); the personal representatives of the faqih to the Supreme Defense Council; and the commanders of the army, air force, and navy, following their nomination by the Supreme Defense Council. The faqih also is authorized to approve candidates for presidential elections. In addition, he is empowered to dismiss a president who has been impeached by the Majlis or found by the Supreme Court to be negligent in his duties.

Articles 5 and 107 of the Constitution also provide procedures for succession to the position of faqih. After Khomeini, the office of faqih is to pass to an equally qualified jurist. If a single religious leader with appropriate qualifications cannot be recognized consensually, religious experts elected by the people are to choose from among themselves three to five equally distinguished jurists who then will constitute a collective faqih, or Leadership Council.

In accordance with Article 107, an eighty-three-member Assembly of Experts was elected in December 1982 to choose a successor to Khomeini. Even before the first meeting of the Assembly of Experts in the spring of 1983, some influential members of the clergy had been trying to promote Ayatollah Hosain Ali Montazeri (born 1923), a former student of Khomeini, as successor to the office of faqih. As early as the fall of 1981, Khomeini himself had indicated in a speech that he considered Montazeri the best qualified to be faqih. Hojjatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who as of late 1987 had been the speaker of the Majlis since its formation in 1980, also supported Montazeri's succession. Rafsanjani, in fact, nominated him at the first deliberations of the Assembly of Experts, as well as at subsequent conventions in 1984 and 1985. At the third meeting, Montazeri was designated "deputy" rather than "successor," but this put him in line to be Khomeini's successor. Since November 1985, the press and government radio and television broadcasts have referred to Montazeri as the faqih-designate.

The Presidency

The Constitution stipulates that the president is "the holder of the highest official power next to the office of faqih." In effect, the president is the head of state of the Islamic Republic. Articles 113 to 132 of the Constitution pertain to the qualifications, powers, and responsibilities of the president. The president is elected for a four- year term on the basis of an absolute majority vote of the national electorate and may be reelected for one additional term. The president must be a Shia Muslim and a man "of political and religious distinction." He is empowered to choose the prime minister, approve the nominations of ministers, sign laws into force, and veto decrees issued by the Council of Ministers, or cabinet.

Elected in January 1980, Abolhasan Bani Sadr was Iran's first president under the Constitution of 1979. His tenure of office was marked by intense rivalry with the IRP-dominated Majlis. Within one year of his election, relations between the president and his opponents in the Majlis had deteriorated so severely that the Majlis initiated impeachment proceedings against Bani Sadr. In June 1981, a majority of Majlis deputies voted that Bani Sadr had been negligent in his duties and requested that Khomeini dismiss him from office as specified under the Constitution.

Iran's second president, Mohammad Ali Rajai, was elected in July 1981 but served only a brief term before being assassinated in a bombing at the prime minister's office on August 30, 1981. The third president, Hojjatoleslam Ali Khamenehi, was elected in October 1981 and re- elected to a second term in 1985. During his tenure, relations between the presidency and the Majlis have been relatively cooperative. Not only was Khamenehi an important religious figure but he also was secretary general of the IRP until its dissolution in 1987.

The Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers

The prime minister is chosen by the president and must be approved by the Majlis. According to Article 135 of the Constitution, the prime minister may remain in office as long as he retains the confidence of the Majlis, but he must submit a letter of resignation to the president upon losing a confidence vote. The prime minister is responsible for choosing the ministers who will constitute his cabinet, known as the Council of Ministers (also known as the cabinet). In 1987 the Council of Ministers totaled twenty-five members. Each minister had to be approved by both the president and the Majlis. The prime minister and his cabinet establish government policies and execute laws.

Following each of his elections, President Khamenehi chose Mir-Hosain Musavi as prime minister. Musavi generally had consistent support in the Majlis, although a vocal minority of deputies opposed many of his economic policies. Policies pertaining to the nationalization of large industries and foreign trade and the expropriation of large-scale agricultural landholdings for redistribution among peasants were especially controversial in the years 1982 to 1987.

The Majlis

Articles 62 through 90 of the Constitution of 1979 invest legislative power in the Islamic Consultative Assembly, the parliament, or Majlis. Deputies are elected by direct, secret ballot once every four years. Each deputy represents a geographic constituency, and every person sixteen years of age and older from a given constituency votes for one representative. The Majlis cannot be dissolved: according to Article 63, "elections of each session should be held before the expiration of the previous session, so that the country may never remain without an assembly." Article 64 establishes the number of representatives at 270, but it also provides for adding one more deputy, at 10-year intervals, for each constituency population increase of 150,000. Five of the 270 seats are reserved for the non-Muslim religious minorities: one each for Assyrian Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians, and two for Armenian Christians.

The Constitution permits the Majlis to draft its own regulations pertaining to the election of a speaker and other officers, the formation of committees, and the holding of hearings. When the first Majlis convened in the summer of 1980, the deputies voted to have annual elections for the position of speaker. Rafsanjani was elected as speaker of the first Majlis; he was reelected six times through the beginning of 1987. The speaker is assisted by deputy speakers and the chairmen of various committees.

The Majlis not only has the responsibility of approving the prime minister and cabinet members but also has the right to question any individual minister or anyone from the government as a whole about policies. Articles 88 and 89 require ministers to appear before the Majlis within ten days to respond to a request for interpellation. If the deputies are dissatisfied with the information obtained during such questioning, they may request the Majlis to schedule a confidence vote on the performance of a minister or the government.

Article 69 stipulates that Majlis sessions be open to the public, that regular deliberations may be broadcast over radio and television, and that minutes of all meetings be published. Since 1980 sessions of the Majlis have been broadcast regularly. The public airing of Majlis meetings has demonstrated that the assembly has been characterized by raucous debate. Economic policies, with the notable exception of oil policy, have been the most vigorously debated issues.

The Council of Guardians

The Constitution also provides for the Council of Guardians, which is charged with examining all legislation passed by the Majlis to ensure that it conforms to Islamic law. According to Article 91, the Council of Guardians consists of twelve members; six of them must be "just and pious" clergymen who are chosen by the faqih or the Leadership Council. The other six must be Muslim lawyers who are first selected by the High Council of Justice, then approved by a majority vote of the Majlis. The members of the Council of Guardians serve six-year terms, with half the members being changed every three years.

The responsibilities of the Council of Guardians are delineated in Articles 94 through 99. The members must review each law voted by the Majlis and determine, no later than ten days after the assembly has submitted a bill for consideration, whether or not it conforms with Islamic principles. If ten days are insufficient to study a particular piece of legislation, the Council of Guardians may request a ten-day extension. A majority of the clerical members of the Council of Guardians must agree that any given law does not violate religious precepts. If the Council of Guardians decides that a law contradicts Islam, the bill is returned to the Majlis for revision. If the Council of Guardians decides that a law conforms with Islam, that law is ratified.

During its first two years of operation, the Council of Guardians did not challenge Majlis bills and generally played a passive role in the political process. In May 1982, however, the Council of Guardians established its independent role by vetoing a law to nationalize all foreign trade. Since that time, the Council of Guardians has refused to ratify several pieces of legislation that would restrict property rights. In particular, the Council of Guardians has opposed the efforts of the Majlis to enact comprehensive land reform statutes.

The Judiciary

Article 156 of the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. According to Articles 157 and 158, the highest judicial office is the High Council of Justice, which consists of five members who serve five-year, renewable terms. The High Council of Justice consists of the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the attorney general (also seen as State Prosecutor General), both of whom must be Shia mujtahids (members of the clergy whose demonstrated erudition in religious law has earned them the privilege of interpreting laws), and three other clergy chosen by religious jurists. The responsibilities of the High Council of Justice include establishing appropriate departments within the Ministry of Justice to deal with civil and criminal offenses, preparing draft bills related to the judiciary, and supervising the appointment of judges. Article 160 also stipulates that the minister of justice is to be chosen by the prime minister from among candidates who have been recommended by the High Council of Justice. The minister of justice is responsible for all courts throughout the country.

Article 161 provides for the Supreme Court, whose composition is based upon laws drafted by the High Council of Justice. The Supreme Court is an appellate court that reviews decisions of the lower courts to ensure their conformity with the laws of the country and to ensure uniformity in judicial policy. Article 162 stipulates that the chief justice of the Supreme Court must be a mujtahid with expertise in judicial matters. The faqih, in consultation with the justices of the Supreme Court, appoints the chief justice for a term of five years.

In 1980 Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti was appointed by Khomeini as the first chief justice. Beheshti established judicial committees that were charged with drafting new civil and criminal codes derived from Shia Islamic laws. One of the most significant new codes was the Law of Qisas, which was submitted to and passed by the Majlis in 1982, one year after Beheshti's death in a bomb explosion). The Law of Qisas provided that in cases of victims of violent crime, families could demand retribution, up to and including death. Other laws established penalties for various moral offenses, such as consumption of alcohol, failure to observe hejab, adultery, prostitution, and illicit sexual relations. Punishments prescribed in these laws included public floggings, amputations, and execution by stoning for adulterers.

The entire judicial system of the country has been desecularized. The attorney general, like the chief justice, must be a mujtahid and is appointed to office for a five-year term by the faqih (Article 162). The judges of all the courts must be knowledgeable in Shia jurisprudence; they must meet other qualifications determined by rules established by the High Council of Justice. Since there were insufficient numbers of qualified senior clergy to fill the judicial positions in the country, some former civil court judges who demonstrated their expertise in Islamic law and were willing to undergo religious training were permitted to retain their posts. In practice, however, the Islamization of the judiciary forced half of the former civil court judges out of their positions. To emphasize the independence of judges from the government, Article 170 stipulates that they are "duty bound to refrain from executing governmental decisions that are contrary to Islamic laws."


As of 1987, Iran was divided into twenty-four provinces (ostans). Each province was subdivided into several counties (shahrestans). Shahrestans numbered 195, each of which was centered on the largest town within its boundaries. Most shahrestans took their names from those towns that served as county seats. All of the shahrestans consisted of two or more districts, or bakhshs. The 498 bakhshs were further subdivided into rural subdistricts (dehestans). Each dehestan consisted of several villages dispersed over an average area of 1,600 square kilometers.

The prerevolutionary provincial administrative structure was still employed in 1987. Thus, each province was headed by a governor general (ostandar), who was appointed by the minister of interior. Each county was headed by a governor (farmandar), also appointed by the minister of interior. Local officials, such as the chiefs of districts (bakhshdars), rural subdistricts (dehyars), and villages (kadkhudas), were appointed by the provincial governors general and county governors; these local officials served as representatives of the central government.

Prior to the Revolution, the governor general was the most powerful person in each province. Since 1979, however, the clerical imam jomehs, or prayer leaders, have exercised effective political power at the provincial level. The imam jomeh is the designated representative of the faqih in each county. Until 1987 each imam jomeh was appointed from among the senior clergy of the county. In June 1987, Khomeini approved guidelines for the election of imam jomehs. The imam jomehs have tended to work closely with the komitehs (revolutionary committees) and the Pasdaran, and in most counties these organizations are subordinate to the imam jomehs.


The shah and his family, with eldest son, Reza, Cyrus Pahlavi standing in rear. (Photo taken in the mid-1970s)

The Revolution replaced the old political elite, which had consisted of the Pahlavi family, wealthy families of the former Qajar dynasty, and wealthy industrialists and financiers, with a new political elite of Shia clergy and lay politicians of middle and lower middle class origin. The roots of most members of this new elite lay in the bazaar middle class. Thus, the values of the new elite and the attitudes they professed were the ones most esteemed by the bazaar: respect for entrepreneurial skill, distrust of capitalist methods, and religious conservatism. Since the Revolution, they have striven to create a political order that incorporates their shared vision of an ideal society based upon Islamic principles.

Although the new political elite has been relatively united as to the overall goals envisaged for the Islamic Republic, its members have been deeply divided over various political, social, and economic policies deemed appropriate for achieving long-term objectives. These divisions have been manifested in political developments and struggles in the years since 1979. This period has been characterized by four phases, each dominated by distinct political issues. The first phase coincided with the provisional government of Prime Minister Bazargan, from February to November 1979. The next phase, which lasted until June 1981, was marked by the political rise and fall of Bani Sadr. During the third phase, which ended in December 1982, the government survived a major armed insurrection. During the next phase, which began in 1983, the political elite has been involved in the process of consolidating the theocratic regime, and that process was continuing in late 1987.

The Provisional Government

The government under the monarchy had been highly centralized. Although in theory the shah was a constitutional monarch, in practice he wielded extraordinary power as head of state, chief executive, and commander in chief of the armed forces. The shah was actively involved in day-to-day decision making and played a pivotal role as the most important formulator of national goals and priorities.

During the Revolution, the authority that had been concentrated in the shah and exercised through the bureaucracy based in Tehran was severely eroded; many governmental functions were usurped by several hundred komitehs that sprang up in urban neighborhoods, towns, and villages throughout the country. By the time the provisional government of Bazargan had acceded to power, these komitehs, usually attached to local mosques, were reluctant to surrender to the central government any of the wide-ranging powers they had assumed. Their determination to retain substantial power was supported by most members of the Revolutionary Council, a body formed by Khomeini in January 1979 to supervise the transition from monarchy to republic. The Revolutionary Council remained independent of the provisional government and undertook actions, or sanctioned those actions carried out by the revolutionary committees, that were in conflict with the policies pursued by the Bazargan cabinet. Inevitably, the provisional government, which wanted to reestablish the authority of the central government, would come into conflict with the komitehs and the proliferation of revolutionary organizations.

Bazargan's lack of essential backing from the Revolutionary Council, and ultimately from Khomeini, made it virtually impossible for his government to exercise effective control over arrests, trials, the appointment of officials, military-civilian relations, and property confiscations. Consequently, the various revolutionary organizations and the komitehs persistently challenged the authority of the provisional government throughout its brief tenure. Bazargan's apparent powerlessness even extended to the realm of foreign policy. When a group of college students overran the United States embassy in downtown Tehran, Bazargan and his cabinet were unable to prevent American personnel from being held as hostages. Acknowledging the impotence of his administration, Bazargan resigned after only nine months in office.

The issue of central versus local control that had plagued the Bazargan government continued to be a matter of political contention in 1987. Although the extreme diffusion of power that characterized the Bazargan government no longer prevailed in 1987, in comparison with the pre- revolutionary situation, political power in Iran was relatively decentralized. This arrangement represented a balance between two vocal factions within the political elite. A procentralization faction has argued that the goals of an Islamic republic can best be achieved and maintained only if the institutions of government are strong. In contrast, a decentralization faction has insisted that bureaucratization is inherently destructive of long-term objectives and that the future of the Revolution can only be ensured through extensive popular participation in numerous revolutionary organizations.

The Rise and Fall of Bani Sadr

Bani Sadr was the first popularly elected president of the Islamic Republic. He assumed office with a decisive electoral vote -- 75 percent -- and with the blessing of Khomeini. Within seventeen months, however, he had been impeached by the Majlis, and dismissed from office. Bani Sadr was destroyed, at least in part, by the same issue that had brought down Bazargan, that is, the efforts of the government to reestablish its political authority. Ironically, prior to his election as president, Bani Sadr had advocated decentralization of political power and had even helped to undermine the Bazargan government. As president, Bani Sadr became a convert to the principle that centralization of power was necessary; soon, he was embroiled in a bitter political dispute with his former allies. The downfall of Bani Sadr, however, also involved a more fundamental issue, namely, the distribution of power among the new political institutions of the Republic. The fate of Bani Sadr demonstrated that the legislature was independent from and at least equal to the executive, the reverse situation of the Majlis under the Pahlavi shahs.

The conflict between Bani Sadr and the Majlis, which was dominated by the IRP, began when the assembly convened in June 1980. The first issue of controversy concerned the designation of a prime minister. Although the Constitution provides for the president to select the prime minister, it also stipulates that the prime minister must have the approval of the Majlis. After a protracted political struggle, the Majlis forced Bani Sadr to accept its own nominee, Rajai, as prime minister. The president, who had aspired to serve as a strong figure similar to de Gaulle when he was president of France, was unable to reconcile his differences with the prime minister, who preferred to formulate government policies in consultation with the Majlis. As Bani Sadr continued to lose influence over political developments to the Majlis, his own credibility as an effective leader was undermined. The Majlis also frustrated Bani Sadr's attempts to establish the authority of the presidency in both domestic and foreign affairs. For example, the leaders of the IRP in the Majlis manipulated Bani Sadr's efforts to deal with Iran's international crises, the dispute with the United States over the hostages, and the war with Iraq that began in September 1980 in order to discredit him. When Bani Sadr tried to ally himself with the interests of the disaffected, secularized middle class, the IRP mobilized thousands of supporters, who were incited to assault persons and property derisively identified as "liberal," the euphemism used for any Iranian whose values were perceived to be Western. Bani Sadr attempted to defend his actions by writing editorials in his newspaper, Enqelab-e Islami, that criticized IRP policies and denounced the Majlis and other IRP-dominated institutions as being unconstitutional. Eventually, the leaders of the IRP convinced Khomeini that Bani Sadr was a danger to the Revolution. Accordingly, in June 1981 the Majlis initiated impeachment proceedings against the president and found him guilty of incompetence. Bani Sadr went into hiding even before Khomeini issued the decree dismissing him from office. At the end of July, he managed to flee the country in an airplane piloted by sympathetic air force personnel.

The Reign of Terror

The dismissal of Bani Sadr on June 21, 1981, brought to a head the underlying conflicts within the political elite and between its members and other groups contesting for power. In the final three months of Bani Sadr's presidency, political violence had intensified as organized gangs of hezbollahis attacked individuals and organizations considered to be enemies of the Revolution. One of the main opposition parties, the Mojahedin (Mojahedin-e Khalq, or People's Struggle), rose up in a nationwide armed rebellion. Although the Mojahedin's uprising was quickly contained, during the following eighteen months the country was in a virtual state of siege as the government used extraordinary measures to suppress not only the Mojahedin but also other opposition movements. The government's fears of the opposition's capabilities were exacerbated by several sensational acts of terrorism directed at regime officials. These included the bombing of the IRP headquarters on June 28, 1981, which killed at least seventy top leaders of the party, including Beheshti, the secretary general of the party, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court; the bombing at the prime minister's office on August 30, which killed several more leaders including former prime minister Rajai, who had replaced Bani Sadr as president, and the cleric Mohammad Javad Bahonar, who was Rajai's prime minister; and the assassinations of several key officials in Tehran and important provincial cities. The government responded to the Mojahedin challenge by carrying out mass arrests and executions. At the height of the confrontation, an average of 50 persons per day were executed; on several days during September 1981, the total number executed throughout the country exceeded 100. Although the government dramatized its resolve to crush the uprising by conducting many of these mass executions in public, officials showed little interest in recording the names and numbers of the condemned. Thus, no statistics exist for the total number executed. Nevertheless, by the end of 1982 an estimated 7,500 persons had been executed or killed in street battles with the Pasdaran. Approximately 90 percent of the deaths had been associated with the Mojahedin, and the rest with smaller political groups that had joined the Mojahedin in the attempt to overthrow the government by armed force.

The efforts to root out the Mojahedin were accompanied by a general assault on procedural rights. The Pasdaran and specially recruited gangs of hezbollahis patrolled urban neighborhoods, ostensibly looking for the safe houses in which supporters of the Mojahedin and other opposition groups were suspected of hiding. They invaded such homes and arrested occupants without warrants. Persons suspected of insufficient loyalty to the regime were harassed and often subjected to arbitrary arrest and expropriation of their property. Extensive purges were initiated within all government ministries, and thousands of employees who failed loyalty tests were dismissed. Complaints were voiced that government agents eavesdropped on telephone conversations and opened private mail to collect information to use against citizens. The courts generally failed to protect individuals against violations of due process during this period.

The reign of terror officially ended in December 1982 when Khomeini issued an eight-point decree that effectively instructed the courts to ensure that the civil and due process rights of citizens be safeguarded. The decree forbade forcible entry of homes and businesses, arrest and detention without judges' orders, property expropriation without court authorization, and all forms of government spying on private persons. Special councils were to be established to investigate all complaints about court violations of individual rights.

Voters cast their ballots in presidential election in January 1980

The Consolidation of Theocracy

By the time Khomeini issued his judicial decree, the armed opposition had been suppressed. Although isolated acts of terrorism continued to take place after December 1982, the political elite no longer perceived such incidents as threatening to the regime. Both religious and lay leaders remained generally intolerant of dissent, but a gradual decline was noted in government abuses of civil liberties in line with the provisions of the eight-point decree. As preoccupation with internal security abated, the leaders began to establish consensus on the procedures that they believed were necessary to ensure the continuity of the new political institutions. Accordingly, elections were held for the Assembly of Experts, which chose a successor to Khomeini, and regulations were promulgated for the smooth functioning of the ministerial bureaucracies. The politicians also were determined to restore relative normalcy to society, albeit within prescribed Islamic bounds. Thus, they permitted the universities, which had been closed in 1980, to reopen, and they tried to control the excesses of the hezbollahis.

The refocusing of political energies on consolidating the regime also brought into the open the debate among members of the political elite over government policies. Two main issues dominated this debate: the role of the revolutionary organizations that operated fairly autonomously of the central government; and government intervention in the economy. The government of Prime Minister Mir-Hosain Musavi, which was approved by the Majlis in October 1981 and won a second parliamentary mandate in October 1985, tried to restrain the revolutionary organizations and advocated broad regulatory economic control. The Majlis served as the principal arena in which these issues were debated. Opposition from the Majlis blocked some laws outright and forced the government to accept compromises that diluted the effects of other policies.


While adults pray, a boy holds up a picture of Ayatollah Khomeini

During the final years of the Pahlavi monarchy, only a single, government-sponsored political party, the Rastakhiz, operated legally. Nevertheless, several legally proscribed political parties continued to function clandestinely. These included parties that advocated peaceful political change and those that supported the armed overthrow of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Among the former parties were the National Front, which actually was a coalition of democratically inclined political parties and other organizations that originally had been founded in 1949; the Nehzat-e Azadi-yi Iran, or the Iran Freedom Movement (IFM), established in 1961 by democratically inclined clergy and laymen; and the Tudeh Party, a Marxist party that had been founded in 1941. The two most important guerrilla organizations were the Islamic Mojahedin and the Marxist Fadayan (Cherikha-ye Fadayan-e Khalq, or People's Guerrillas), both of which had been largely suppressed after carrying out several sensational terrorist actions in the early 1970s.

The overthrow of the Pahlavi monarchy allowed a full spectrum of Islamic, leftist, and secular ideas supporting the Revolution to flourish. With the exception of the monarchist Rastakhiz, which had dissolved, the prerevolutionary parties were reactivated, including the Mojahedin and Fadayan. In addition, several new parties were organized. These included secular parties, such as the National Democratic Front and the Radical Party; religious parties, such as the IRP and the Muslim Peoples' Republican Party; and leftist parties, such as the Paykar. All these parties operated openly and competitively until August 1979, when the Revolutionary Council forced the provisional government to introduce regulations to restrict the activities of most political parties.

The Domination of the Islamic Republican Party

Created in February 1979 by clergy who had been students of Khomeini before his exile from the country in 1964, the IRP emerged as the country's dominant political force. Core members included ayatollahs Beheshti, Abdol-Karim Musavi-Ardabili, and Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani and hojjatoleslams Khamenehi, Rafsanjani, and Bahonar. All had been active in mobilizing large crowds for the mass demonstrations during the Revolution. Following the overthrow of the shah, the IRP leaders continued to use their extensive contacts with religious leaders throughout the country to mobilize popular support. The IRP leaders perceived the secular, leftist, and more liberal Islamic parties as threats to their own political goals. As early as the summer of 1979, the IRP encouraged its supporters to attack political rallies and offices of these other parties.

Although Khomeini himself never became a member of the IRP, the party leaders exploited their close association with him to project a popular image of the IRP as the party following the line of the imam Khomeini. This implicit identification helped IRP candidates win a majority of seats in the elections for the Assembly of Experts that drafted the Constitution. During the 1980 elections for the first Majlis, IRP candidates and independents sympathetic with most IRP positions again won a majority of the seats. The party's effective control of the Majlis emboldened the IRP in its harassment of opponents. Throughout 1980 IRP-organized gangs of hezbollahis used intimidation tactics against supporters of other political parties, and consequently, most of the secular parties were cowed into silence as their leaders fled to foreign exile.

By 1981 the only political party that could seriously challenge the IRP was the Mojahedin. This Islamic organization had grown rapidly in two years from a few hundred supporters to a membership of 150,000, mostly educated young men and women in the cities, who were attracted by the Mojahedin's liberal, even radical, interpretations of traditional Shia concepts. The ideological conflict between the Mojahedin and the IRP was serious because the former rejected the IRP argument of a religious basis for the political principle of velayat-e faqih. In fact, in June 1980 Khomeini denounced the Mojahedin on account of the organization's insistence that laymen were as qualified as clergy to interpret religious doctrines. Although the Mojahedin closed most of its branch offices following this verbal assault, unlike the secular political parties it was not easily intimidated by IRP-organized political violence. On the contrary, Mojahedin members engaged in armed clashes with hezbollahis. Tensions between Mojahedin and IRP partisans intensified during the political conflict between Bani Sadr and the IRP leaders. The Mojahedin lent its support to the beleaguered president; after Bani Sadr was impeached, the organization rose in armed rebellion against the IRP-dominated government.

Several of the small leftist parties joined the Mojahedin uprising. These included the Paykar, a prerevolutionary Marxist splinter from the Mojahedin, and the Fadayan Minority. The latter had split from the main Fadayan (thereafter referred to as the Fadayan Majority) in 1980 after a majority of the party's Central Committee had voted to support the government. Both the Paykar and the Fadayan Minority shared the view of the Mojahedin that the IRP was "merely a group of fascist clerics blocking a true revolution." The Mojahedin had a much broader base of support than did either of its allies, but the combined strength of all the parties could not match the capabilities of the IRP in terms of mobilizing masses of committed supporters. Thus, the government eventually was able to break the back of the armed opposition. The Mojahedin survived largely because its leader, Masud Rajavi, escaped to France, where he reorganized the party while in exile.

Not all of the leftist parties supported the Mojahedin's call to arms. Significantly, both the Tudeh and the Fadayan Majority condemned the insurrection and proclaimed their loyalty to the constitutional process. Even though these parties were permitted to function within narrowly circumscribed limits, the IRP leaders remained deeply suspicious of them. Both parties were distrusted because of their espousal of Marxist ideas. In addition, a widespread perception prevailed that the Tudeh was subservient to the Soviet Union, an attitude derived from the Tudeh's historic practice of basing its own foreign policy stances upon the line of the Soviet Union. In the autumn of 1982, toleration for the Tudeh dissipated quickly once the party began to criticize the decision to take the Iran-Iraq War into Iraqi territory. In February 1983, the government simultaneously arrested thirty top leaders of the Tudeh and accused them of treason. The party was outlawed, its offices closed, and members rounded up. Subsequently, Tudeh leaders were presented on television, where they confessed to being spies for the Soviet Union.

After the spring of 1983, the only nonreligious political party that continued to operate with legal sanction was the IFM. Prominent members included the former prime minister, Bazargan, and the former foreign minister, Ibrahim Yazdi, both of whom were elected to the first Majlis in 1980. The IFM opposed most of the policies of the IRP. Whenever Bazargan or another IFM member dared to speak out against IRP excesses, however, gangs of hezbollahis ransacked party offices. Bazargan was subjected to verbal abuse and even physical assault. He was powerless to protect one of his closest associates from being tried and convicted of treason for actions performed as an aide in the provisional government. Although Bazargan was reelected to the Majlis in 1984, he was barred from being a candidate in the 1985 presidential elections. In practice, the IFM has been intimidated into silence, and thus its role as a loyal opposition party has been largely symbolic.

The IRP's success in silencing or eliminating organized opposition was directed not only at political parties but also was extended to other independent organizations. Even religious associations were not exempt from being forcibly disbanded if they advocated policies that conflicted with IRP goals. Although it emerged as the dominant political party, the IRP leadership failed to institutionalize procedures for developing the IRP into a genuine mass party. IRP offices were set up throughout the country, but in practice these did not function to recruit members. Rather, the offices served as headquarters for local clergy who performed a variety of political roles distinct from purely party functions. At both the national and the local levels, the IRP's clerical leaders perceived themselves as responsible for enforcing uniform Islamic behavior and thought. Thus, they generally viewed the party as a means of achieving this goal and not as a means of articulating the political views of the masses. In actuality, therefore, the IRP remained essentially an elitist party.

The debate within the political elite on power distribution and economic policy also adversely affected the IRP. Intensified dissent over economic programs, beginning in 1986, virtually paralyzed the party. Consequently, President Khamenehi, who had become the IRP's secretary general in 1981 following the death of Beheshti and several other key party leaders, decided it would be politically expedient to disband the IRP. Khamenehi and Rafsanjani jointly signed a letter to Khomeini in June 1987, in which they notified him of the party's polarization and requested his consent to dissolve the party. The faqih agreed, and the political party that had played such an important role during the first eight years of the Republic ceased to exist.

Opposition Political Parties in Exile

Many of the opposition parties that were suppressed inside the country were reorganized abroad. In 1987 more than a dozen political parties were active among the Iranian exile communities in Western Europe, the United States, and Iraq. All of these parties belonged to one of four broad ideological groups: monarchists, democrats, Islamicists, and Marxists. With the notable exception of the Mojahedin and the ethnic Kurdish parties, the expatriate opposition parties eschewed the use of political violence to achieve their shared goal of overthrowing the regime in Tehran.


The several monarchist political parties supported the restoration of a royalist regime in Iran. With varying degrees of enthusiasm the monarchists contended that Reza Cyrus Pahlavi, the eldest son (born 1960) of the last shah, was the legitimate ruler of the country. The former crown prince proclaimed himself Shah Reza II in 1980 following his father's death. Subsequently, he announced that he wanted to reign as a constitutional monarch and have a role similar to the role of the king of Spain. The most active monarchist group has been the Paris- based National Resistance Movement of Iran under the leadership of Shahpour Bakhtiar, the last royalist prime minister. The National Resistance Movement's official position was to restore the 1906 constitution as its original drafters intended, with a shah that reigns rather than rules. In 1983 Bakhtiar's group agreed to cooperate with another Paris-based party, the Iran Liberation Front, which was led by elder statesman and former royalist prime minister Ali Amini. In general, the monarchist parties have been weakened by personality conflicts among the several leaders. When Manuchehr Ganji, a former royalist cabinet officer, broke with Amini in 1986, many Iran Liberation Front followers joined him in forming a new rival party called the Banner of Kaveh, after the legendary pre-Islamic blacksmith hero who defeated an evil tyrant and restored the rule of ancient Iran to a just shah.

Democratic Parties

The democratic parties also consisted of several groups, all of which supported a republican form of government; some of them, such as the National Democratic Front and the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDP), also espoused varying forms of socialism. The National Front, under the nominal leadership of Karim Sanjabi, and the National Democratic Front of Hedayatollah Matin-Daftari were both headquartered in Paris. Neither the National Front nor the National Democratic Front has engaged in significant political activity since 1982, although the latter party joined the Mojahedin-dominated National Council of Resistance in that year and was still a member in 1987. In contrast, the KDP, which advocated political and cultural rights for the Kurdish ethnic minority within a federally organized government, has been fighting against the Islamic Republic since 1979. By the beginning of 1986, however, KDP forces had been driven out of Iranian Kordestan, although they continued to conduct sporadic hit-and-run operations against units of the army and Pasdaran from bases in Iraqi and Turkish Kurdistan.

Islamic Groups

In 1987 the principal Islamic party in opposition to the government of Iran was the Mojahedin, which had been founded in 1965 by a group of religiously inspired young Shias. All were college graduates who believed that armed struggle was the only way to overthrow the shah. In the early 1970s, the Mojahedin engaged in armed confrontations with the military and carried out acts of terrorism, including the assassination of an American military adviser. The Mojahedin was crushed for the most part by 1975, but it reemerged in early 1979 and revitalized itself. Its interpretations of Islam, however, soon brought the organization into conflict with the IRP. During the summer of 1981, the Mojahedin unsuccessfully attempted an armed uprising against the government. More than 7,500 Mojahedin followers were killed during the conflict, and within one year the organization had once again been crushed.

Rajavi, the leader of the Mojahedin, managed to escape from Iran with Bani Sadr in July 1981. In France he reorganized the Mojahedin and tried to broaden its appeal by inviting all nonmonarchist parties to join the National Council of Resistance, which he and Bani Sadr established to coordinate opposition activities. Although most of the political parties refrained from cooperating with the Mojahedin, it nevertheless was most successful in recruiting new members and establishing a loyal following in United States and West European cities with sizable Iranian communities. From the perspective of the other political parties, one of the Mojahedin's most controversial positions was its public endorsement of direct contacts with Iraq, beginning in 1983. This was a contentious issue even within the National Council of Resistance and eventually led to Bani Sadr's break with Rajavi in 1984.

The Mojahedin maintained clandestine contact with sympathizers in Iran, and these underground cells regularly carried out isolated terrorist acts. For this reason, Tehran was more concerned about the Mojahedin than any other opposition group based abroad. The freedom of operation that the Mojahedin enjoyed in France became one of the issues that led to increasingly strained relations between the Iranian and French governments after 1982. When Paris actively sought to improve relations in late 1985, Prime Minister Musavi set restrictions on the Mojahedin as one of the conditions for normalizing relations. In June 1986, France pressured the Mojahedin to curtail its activities. This move prompted Rajavi to accept an invitation from President Saddam Husayn of Iraq for the Mojahedin to establish its headquarters in Baghdad. Following the move to Iraq, the Mojahedin set up military training camps near the war front and periodically claimed that its forces had crossed into Iran and successfully fought battles against the Pasdaran. In June 1987, Rajavi announced the formation of the newly reorganized and expanded National Army of Liberation, open to non-Mojahedin members, to help overthrow the government of Iran.


Like the Mojahedin, several Marxist political parties have maintained clandestine cells inside the country. Tudeh leaders, who managed to escape the government's mass arrests and forcible dissolution of their party in early 1983, reestablished the Tudeh in exile in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The Fadayan Majority, which later in 1983 suffered the same fate as the Tudeh, was decimated by government persecution; its surviving members eventually joined the Tudeh. The Komala (Komala-ye Shoreshgari-ye Zahmat Keshan-e Kordestan-e Iran, or Committee of the Revolutionary Toilers of Iranian Kordestan), a predominantly, but not exclusively, Kurdish party, had rejected as early as 1979 the Tudeh and Fadayan Majority policy of cooperation with the regime and continued to fight against central government forces up to the end of 1985, when it was forced to retreat to Iraqi Kurdistan. The Fadayan Minority had joined the Mojahedin uprising in 1981 and consequently lost most of its cadres in the ensuing confrontation with the regime. It has party offices in several West European cities and on university campuses in the United States. The Paykar, which also joined the Mojahedin's unsuccessful rebellion, was largely destroyed by 1982, although secret cells were believed still to exist in 1987.


A street vendor sells photographs of political leaders in the early 1980s

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 is 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 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, have been important factors in the mobilization of thousands of committed followers to carry out the desecularization of the country's political institutions.

Mass political involvement has been both an objective and a characteristic of postrevolutionary Iran. Political participation, however, is not through political parties but through religious institutions. The mosque has become the single most important popular political institution. Participation in weekly congregational prayers, at which a political sermon is always delivered, is considered both a religious and a civic duty. For political aspirants, attendance at the weekly prayers is mandatory. Numerous religiopolitical associations are centered on the mosques. These organizations undertake 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 tend to be voluntary associations whose members devote several hours per week to their activities. Although most of these voluntary associations are for men, several are specifically for women.

Religious, rather than secular, organizations thus have the most important political roles. Factories, schools, and offices also have Islamic associations that undertake 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 have acquired religious overtones. These private organizations generally have religious advisers who provide guidance to members on prayer ritual, Islamic law, and Shia history. Associations that try to avoid mixing religion with business are suspected of being anti-Islamic and risk having their articles of incorporation revoked.

The Iranians who accept the dominant role of religion refer 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 join 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.


The Constitution provides for freedom of the press as long as published material accords with Islamic principles. The publisher of every newspaper and periodical is required by law to have a valid publishing license. Any publication perceived as being anti-Islamic is not granted a publication license. In practice, the criteria for being anti-Islamic have been broadly interpreted to encompass all materials that include an antigovernment sentiment. In 1987 all the papers and magazines in circulation supported the basic political institutions of the Islamic Republic.

The major daily newspapers for the country are printed in Tehran. The leading newspapers include Jumhori-yi Islami, Resalat, Kayhan, Abrar, and Ettelaat. The Tehran Times and Kayhan International are two English-language dailies in Tehran. While all these newspapers are considered to be appropriately Islamic, they do not endorse every program of the central government. For example, Jumhori-yi Islami, the official organ of the IRP before its dissolution in 1987, presents the official government line of prime minister Musavi. In contrast, Resalat is consistently critical of government policies, especially those related to the economy. The other newspapers criticize various aspects of governmental policies but do not have a consistent position.

No prior censorship of nonfiction exists, but any published book that is considered un-Islamic can be confiscated, and both the author and the publisher are liable for attempting to offend public morals or Islam. Private publishing companies thus tend to restrict their titles to subjects that will not arouse official ire. Numerous new books in history, science, geography, and classical poetry and literature have been published since 1987, including many manuscripts that had been banned under the shah. Virtually no new works of contemporary fiction, however, have appeared in print.

All radio and television broadcasting is controlled by the government. Television and radio stations exist in Tehran and the major provincial cities. Stations in Azerbaijan and Kordestan are permitted to broadcast some programs in Azeri Turkish and Kurdish. Several of the banned opposition groups broadcast into Iran from stations in Iraq or the Caucasus republics of the Soviet Union. Both the British Broadcasting Company and the Voice of America broadcast Persian-language news and feature programs to FM radio channels in Iran.


Iran's foreign policy was dramatically reversed following the Revolution. After World War II, Iranian leaders considered their country to be part of the Western alliance system. They actively cultivated relations with the United States, both as a means of protecting their country from perceived political pressures emanating from the Soviet Union and as a matter of genuine ideological conviction.

The Revolution, which was laden with anti-American rhetoric, brought new leaders to power who disapproved of Iran's relationship with the United States. The new leaders were convinced that Washington had tried to maintain the shah in power, despite the mass demonstrations calling for his downfall, and were deeply suspicious of American intentions toward their Revolution. These leaders believed that the United States was plotting to restore the shah to power and were unresponsive to persistent efforts by American diplomats to persuade them that the United States had no ill intentions toward the new regime.

The more radical revolutionaries were determined to eradicate all traces of American influence from Iran. Fearing that the provisional government was seeking an accommodation with the United States, some of these radicals precipitated the seizure of the American embassy in November 1979. Subsequently, they exploited the protracted hostage crisis between Tehran and Washington to achieve their objective of terminating normal relations with the United States. The severing of ties with the United States was regarded not only as essential for expunging American influence from the country but also was considered a prerequisite for implementing their revolutionary foreign policy ideology. This new ideology consisted of two concepts: export of revolution and independence from both the East and the West. By the time the hostage crisis was finally resolved in January 1981, these ideas were embraced by the entire political elite.

Concept of Export of Revolution

The concept of exporting the Islamic Revolution derives from a particular worldview that perceives Islamic revolution as the means whereby Muslims and non-Muslims can liberate themselves from the oppression of tyrants who serve the interests of international imperialism. Both the United States and the Soviet Union are perceived as the two principal imperialist powers that exploit Third World countries. A renewed commitment to Islam, as the experience of Iran in overthrowing the shah demonstrated, permits oppressed nations to defeat imperialism. According to this perspective, by following Iran's example any country can free itself from imperialist domination.

Although the political elite agrees upon the desirability of exporting revolution, no unanimity exists on the means of achieving this goal. At one end of the spectrum is the view that propaganda efforts to teach Muslims about the Iranian example is the way to export revolution. Material assistance of any form is not necessary because oppressed people demonstrate their readiness for Islamic revolution by rising against dictatorial governments. Those who subscribe to this line of reasoning argue that Iranians received no external assistance in their Revolution but were successful as a result of their commitment to Islam. Furthermore, they cite Khomeini's often stated dictum that Iran has no intention of interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. This view is compatible with the maintenance of normal diplomatic relations between Iran and other countries.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the view of Iran as the vanguard of a world revolutionary movement to liberate Muslim countries specifically, and other Third World countries generally, from imperialist subjugation. This activist perspective contends that the effective export of revolution must not be limited to propaganda efforts but must also include both financial and military assistance. Advocates of this view also cite Khomeini to justify their position and frequently quote his statements on the inevitability of the spread of Islamic revolution throughout the world.

Although various viewpoints fall between these two perspectives, since 1979 the two extreme views have been in contention in the formulation of foreign policy. In general, those who advocate exporting revolution solely through education and example have dominated the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while those who favor active assistance to nonstate revolutionary groups have not served in important government positions relating to foreign policy. Nevertheless, because the supporters of an activist approach include some prominent political leaders, they have been able to exercise influence over certain areas of foreign relations. This has been especially true with respect to policy toward Lebanon and, to a lesser degree, policy in the Persian Gulf.

The earliest organization promoting the active export of revolution was Satja, established in the spring of 1979 by Mohammad Montazeri and his close associate, Mehdi Hashemi. Satja's contacts with numerous nonstate groups throughout the Arab Middle East soon brought the organization into direct conflict with both the IRP leadership and the provisional government. Ayatollah Hosain Ali Montazeri, the father of Mohammad Montazeri, rebuked his son publicly, saying his son had been suffering illusions since being tortured by the former shah's secret police. Satja was forced to disband, but Mohammad Montazeri and Hashemi then joined the Pasdaran, where they eventually set up within that organization the Liberation Movements Office. Mohammad Montazeri was subsequently killed in the June 1981 bombing of the IRP headquarters that claimed the lives of over seventy prominent politicians. Following that development, Hashemi emerged as the principal leader of those advocating both moral and material support for revolutionaries around the world.

Under Hashemi's direction, the Liberation Movements Office operated autonomously of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and maintained contact with opposition movements in several countries. Inevitably, its goal of promoting revolution abroad conflicted with the government's objective of normalizing relations with at least some of the governments that the Liberation Movements Office was helping to overthrow. Control over the direction of foreign policy was eventually resolved in favor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1984 the Liberation Movements Office was removed from the jurisdiction of the Pasdaran, and its functions were transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Information and Security. Dissatisfied with these arrangements, Hashemi resigned from his posts and went to Qom. There he obtained a position within the large bureaucracy of Ayatollah Montazeri, who supervised six seminaries, several charitable organizations, a publishing house, and numerous political offices. Having lost none of his zeal for exporting revolution, Hashemi succeeded in setting up the Office for Global Revolution, which, although nominally part of Montazeri's staff, actually operated independently. By 1986 Hashemi's activities had once again brought him into conflict with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In October he and several of his associates were arrested, and the Office for Global Revolution was closed. During the summer of 1987, Hashemi and some of his colleagues were tried for "deviating from Islam"; Hashemi was found guilty and subsequently executed.

Concept of Neither East nor West

During the Revolution, Khomeini and his associates condemned both the United States and the Soviet Union as equally malevolent forces in international politics. They believed the United States, because of its close relationship with the regime of the shah, was the superpower that posed the most immediate danger to their revolution. Thus, they referred to the United States as the "Great Satan," a term that continued to be used in 1987. In contrast, they regarded the Soviet Union, because it had not been as closely involved with the shah, as the "Lesser Satan." The United States represented the West, or capitalism, while the Soviet Union represented the East, or socialism. The revolutionaries embraced Khomeini's view that these materialist ideologies were ploys to help maintain imperialist domination of the Third World, and thus they were inherently inimical to Islam. Consequently, a major foreign policy goal from the time of the Revolution has been to preclude all forms of political, economic, and cultural dependence on either Western capitalism or Eastern socialism and to rely solely upon Islam.

The most dramatic symbol of the revolutionary determination to assert independence of both the East and the West was the hostage crisis between Iran and the United States. Although the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran in November 1979 initially had been undertaken by nongovernmental groups to demonstrate their anger at the admission of the shah into the United States, this incident rapidly developed into a major international crisis when Khomeini and the Revolutionary Council gave their ex post facto sanction to it. The crisis lasted for 444 days, during which time those political leaders who were most hostile to Western influences used it to help achieve their aim of severing diplomatic and other ties between Tehran and Washington.

After 1980 Iran adopted positions opposed to those of the United States on a wide variety of international issues. Although officials in both countries eventually approved of some secret contacts, most notably those involving clandestine arms shipments to Iran from Israel and the United States during 1985 and 1986, the bitterness that the hostage crisis left on both sides made it difficult for either country to consider normalizing relations as late as the end of 1987.

The West European allies of the United States are also viewed with suspicion. France, in particular, has been singled out as a "mini-Satan" that collaborates with the United States in the oppression of Muslims. Although initially Iran's political elite were favorably disposed toward France because Paris had provided refuge to Khomeini when he was expelled from Iraq in 1978, relations between the two countries steadily deteriorated after 1980. Two issues have been the source of the Iranian hostility: France's support of Iraq, especially its provision of weapons, and the fact that since 1981 France has been the headquarters for most of the expatriate opposition groups. France and Iran also had opposing perspectives on several international issues, most notably developments in Lebanon. In the spring of 1986, the French government initiated a policy of trying to reduce tensions with the Islamic Republic. As part of this effort, France pressured the Mojahedin to close its Paris headquarters and agreed to repay the Iranian government part of a US$1 billion loan that had been extended to a French nuclear energy consortium during the reign of the shah. France was unwilling, however, to accede to Iran's demand that it cease arms sales to Iraq. Consequently, relations between Paris and Tehran vacillated between correctness and tension.

This was dramatically illustrated in July 1987, when the two countries became involved in a major diplomatic confrontation. The Iranian embassy in Paris provided haven to an Iranian national who had been summoned to appear in court in connection with a series of terrorist bombings in the French capital. Although France broke diplomatic relations with Iran over this issue and a series of related incidents, both countries seemed determined to salvage their rapprochement policy. In December France agreed to expel more Iranian Mojahedin activists and to repay Iran a second installment on its outstanding loan, in return for Iranian mediation efforts in obtaining the release of French citizens being held as hostages in Lebanon. Diplomatic relations were restored as of the end of 1987.

Iran's postrevolutionary relations with the Soviet Union and its allies have been significantly less dramatic. Tehran has expressed its opposition to numerous Soviet international policies. For example, Iran severely criticized the Soviet Union for dispatching its troops into Afghanistan at the end of 1979 and took the lead several months later in denouncing Moscow at a conference of foreign ministers of Islamic countries. Soviet support for the Marxist-Leninist regime in Kabul continued to be a source of friction between the two countries in 1987. Soviet support of Iraq, especially the provision of weapons, has been another area of contention between Moscow and Tehran. Iran also has accused the Soviet Union of assisting Iranian opposition groups, especially the Tudeh. Nevertheless, Iran and the Soviet Union have maintained diplomatic relations, and the two countries have striven to keep their relations correct, if not always cordial.

Although Iran remained distrustful of the Soviet Union's international policies, it generally avoided injecting its anti-imperialist ideology into economic relations. Thus, trade with the Soviet Union became relatively important after 1979. This included not only direct trade between Iran and the Soviet Union but also transit trade from Iran through the Soviet Union to markets in Europe. Tensions over economic matters continued, however, particularly over the issue of natural gas shipments to the Caucasus republics via the pipeline that had been constructed before the Revolution. When in 1980 Moscow resisted Tehran's attempt to raise the price charged for this natural gas, the pipeline was closed. In the summer of 1986, the two countries worked out a new agreement but as of December 1987 natural gas shipments had not been resumed.

The Iran-Iraq War

One of the earliest focuses of Iran's interest in exporting revolution was the Persian Gulf area. The revolutionary leaders viewed the Arab countries of the Gulf, along with Iraq, as having tyrannical regimes subservient to one or the other of the superpowers. Throughout the first half of 1980, Radio Iran's increasingly strident verbal attacks on the ruling Baath (Arab Socialist Resurrection) Party of Iraq irritated that government, which feared the impact of Iranian rhetoric upon its own Shias, who constituted a majority of the population. Thus, one of the reasons that prompted Iraqi President Saddam Husayn to launch the invasion of Iran in the early autumn of 1980 was to silence propaganda about Islamic revolution. Baghdad believed that the postrevolutionary turmoil in Iran would permit a relatively quick victory and lead to a new regime in Tehran more willing to accommodate the interests of Iran's Arab neighbors. This hope proved to be a false one for Iraq.

From the point of view of foreign relations, Iran's war with Iraq had evolved through four phases by 1987. During the first phase, from the fall of 1980 until the summer of 1982, Iran was on the defensive, both on the battlefield and internationally. The country was preoccupied with the hostage crisis at the outbreak of the war, and most diplomats perceived its new government as generally ineffective. During the second phase, from 1982 to the end of 1984, the success of Iran's offensives alarmed the Arab states, which were concerned about containing the spread of Iran's Revolution. The third phase, 1985 to 1987, was characterized by Iranian efforts to win diplomatic support for its war aims. The fourth phase began in the spring of 1987 with the involvement of the United States in the Persian Gulf.

The Iraqi invasion and advance into Khuzestan during phase one surprised Iran. The Iraqis captured several villages and small towns in the provinces of Khuzestan and Ilam and, after brutal hand-to-hand combat, captured the strategic port city of Khorramshahr. The nearby city of Abadan, with its huge oil-refining complex, was besieged; Iraqi forces moved their offensive lines close to the large cities of Ahvaz and Dezful. Although the Iranians stemmed the Iraqi advance by the end of 1980, they failed to launch any successful counteroffensives. Consequently, Iraq occupied approximately one-third of Khuzestan Province, from which an estimated 1.5 million civilians had fled. Property damage to factories, homes, and infrastructure in the war zone was estimated in the billions of dollars.

Although the war had settled into a stalemate by the end of 1980, during the following eighteen months Iranian forces made gradual advances and eventually forced most of the Iraqi army to withdraw across the border. During this period, Iran's objectives were to end the war by having both sides withdraw to the common border as it had existed prior to the invasion. Baghdad wanted Tehran's consent to the revision of a 1975 treaty that had defined their common riparian border as the middle channel of the Shatt al Arab (which Iranians call the Arvand Rud). Baghdad's proclaimed reason for invading Iran, in fact, had been to rectify the border; Iraq claimed that the international border should be along the low water of the Iranian shore, as it had been prior to 1975. In international forums, Iran generally failed to win many supporters to its position.

The second phase of the war began in July 1982, when Iran made the fateful decision, following two months of military victories, to invade Iraqi territory. The change in Iran's strategic position also brought about a modification in stated war aims. Khomeini and other leaders began to say that a simple withdrawal of all forces to the pre-September 1980 borders was no longer sufficient. They now demanded, as a precondition for negotiations, that the aggressor be punished. Iran's leaders defined the new terms explicitly: the removal from office of Iraqi president Saddam Husayn and the payment of reparations to Iran for war damages in Khuzestan. The Iranian victories and intransigence on terms for peace coincided with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon; consequently, Iran decided to dispatch a contingent of its own Pasdaran to Lebanon to aid the Shia community there. These developments revived fears of Iranian-induced political instability, especially among the Arab rulers in the Persian Gulf. In 1984 Iraq acquired French-made Exocet missiles, which were used to launch attacks on Iranian oil facilities in the Persian Gulf. Iran retaliated by attacking tankers loaded with Arab oil, claiming that the profits of such oil helped to finance loans and grants to Iraq. Iraq responded by attacking ships loaded with Iranian oil, thus launching what became known as the tanker war.

By the beginning of 1985, the third phase of the war had begun. During this phase, Iran consciously sought to break out of its diplomatic isolation by making overtures to various countries in an effort to win international support for its war objectives. The dramatic decline of international oil prices, beginning in the autumn of 1985, spurred the Iranian initiatives and led to significantly improved relations with such countries as Oman and Saudi Arabia.

Iraq responded to Iran's diplomatic initiatives by intensifying its attacks on Iran-related shipping in the Persian Gulf. Iranian retaliation increasingly focused on Kuwaiti shipping by early 1987. Iran's actions prompted Kuwait to request protection for its shipping from both the Soviet Union and the United States. By the summer of 1987, most European and Arab governments were blaming Iran for the tensions in the Gulf, and Iran again found itself diplomatically isolated.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati addressing the United Nations General Assembly in 1982

Relations with Regional Powers

The Persian Gulf States

Although the shah had been unpopular among the rulers of the six states on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf, the Revolution in Iran, nevertheless, was a shock to them. Iran under the shah had been the main guarantor of political stability in the region. Under the Republic, Iran was promising to be the primary promoter of revolution. All six countries -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) -- were ruled by hereditary monarchs who naturally feared the new rhetoric from Tehran. Indeed, during the first year following the Revolution, throughout the Gulf region numerous acts of political sabotage and violence occurred, claiming inspiration from the Iranian example. The most sensational of these was the assault by Muslim dissidents on the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Other clashes occurred between groups of local Shias and security forces in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain.

The outbreak of war between Iran and Iraq further alarmed the Persian Gulf Arab states. In 1981 they joined together in a collective defense alliance known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Although the GCC announced its neutrality with respect to the Iran-Iraq War, Iran perceived its formation as part of the Iraqi war effort and generally was hostile toward it. The GCC for its part suspected Iran of supporting antigovernment groups throughout the Persian Gulf. These concerns were heightened in December 1981, when authorities in Bahrain announced the discovery of a clandestine group that had plans to carry out sabotage and terrorist acts as part of an effort to overthrow the government; several of the plotters had links to Iranian clerics. In December 1983, a series of bombings occurred in Kuwait, including incidents at the American and French embassies; the Arab nationals who were captured and charged with these acts of terrorism were members of an Iraqi Shia movement, Ad Dawah, that was headquartered in Tehran. In May 1985, a suicide driver unsuccessfully tried to kill the ruler of Kuwait.

Despite GCC suspicions of Iranian involvement in subversive activities, until 1987 more cooperation than confrontation was found between Iran and the GCC members. In general, Iran avoided dealing with the GCC as an entity, preferring to ignore its existence and to treat each country separately. Iran's relations with the six component states varied from friendliness to hostility. For example, Iran and the UAE maintained relatively cordial relations. The political ties between the two countries were reinforced by economic ties. An Iranian mercantile community in the UAE was concentrated in Dubayy, a city that emerged -- following the destruction of Khorramshahr -- as an important transit center where international goods destined for Iran were offloaded into smaller boats capable of entering small Iranian fishing towns that served as ports of entry despite their lack of docking facilities. In Bahrain, where the ruling family was Sunni Muslim and a majority of the population was Shia, lingering suspicions of Iranian intentions did not inhibit the government from improving diplomatic relations with Tehran. Because there were no outstanding issues between Iran and Qatar, relations between them were generally correct.

Iran's relations with the other three GCC members -- Kuwait, Oman, and Saudi Arabia -- have been more complex and, throughout the early and mid-1980s, have been characterized by alternating periods of tension and mutual accommodation. For example, immediately after the Revolution, Iranian propaganda singled out the sultan of Oman as an example of the kind of "un-Islamic tyrant" who should be overthrown. This hostility sprang from the revolutionaries' perception of the Omani ruler as having been a close friend of the shah. Iran's view had developed in the 1970s when the shah sent military assistance, including an Iranian military contingent, to help the sultan crush a long-term rebellion. More significant, however, the Iranian leaders regarded the sultan as subservient to the United States. They denounced his policies of supporting the Camp David accords, providing facilities for American air crews who attempted the unsuccessful rescue of the hostages in April 1980, signing an agreement for American military use of the air base on Masirah Island, and discussing with the United States construction of an airfield on the Musandam Peninsula overlooking the Strait of Hormuz. Oman generally refrained from responding to Iranian charges and consequently avoided an escalation of the verbal barrages. Despite the many areas of friction, tensions between Iran and Oman gradually abated after 1981. The movement toward more correct diplomatic relations culminated in 1987 with a state visit of the Omani foreign minister to Iran. Iran's relations with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were strained because both of these countries provided major financial support to Iraq after the Iran-Iraq War began. In addition, Iran accused them of providing logistical assistance for Iraqi bombing raids on Iranian oil installations. For their part, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait believed that Iran supported subversive activities among their Shia minorities. They also resented Iranian attacks on their shipping. Saudi Arabia annually confronted embarrassing incidents during the pilgrimage season when Iranians tried to stage political demonstrations. Nevertheless, both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait made efforts to seek a rapprochement with Iran in 1985 and 1986. The Saudi efforts were more successful and resulted in an exchange of visits of the Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers in 1985. The Saudis and Iranians also began to cooperate in some areas of mutual interest, such as international oil policy. In contrast, relations between Kuwait and Iran did not improve significantly. In the fall of 1986, Iran began to single out Kuwait's ships for retaliatory attacks, and this led to a worsening of diplomatic relations.

Political tensions between Tehran and Kuwait increased significantly after the United States agreed to reflag Kuwaiti oil tankers. Iran accused Kuwait and its neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia, of being mere puppets of the "Great Satan." During the pilgrimage to Mecca in the summer of 1987, Iran encouraged the pilgrims -- 150,000 of whom had come from Iran -- to demonstrate against the United States and the corrupt rulers of the Gulf. More than 400 pilgrims, including at least 300 Iranians, were killed in a stampede in Mecca when Saudi security forces attempted to break up a demonstration.

Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan

Relations with Turkey and Pakistan since the Revolution generally have been amicable and without any major issues. Before the Revolution, Iran had joined both countries in a defensive alliance (that included Britain with the United States as an observer), the Central Treaty Organization, and in an economic agreement, the Regional Cooperation for Development. Iran withdrew from both agreements after the Revolution. Nevertheless, Iran's economic ties with Pakistan and Turkey have expanded significantly. Both countries have become important trade partners of Iran. Turkey also has become the major transit route for goods traveling by truck and rail between Europe and Iran. The increased volume of trade with Turkey and Pakistan has been facilitated both by their location and by the ideology of "neither East nor West," which advocates reducing imports from the industrialized nations in favor of importing more from Muslim and Third World countries.

Although Iran maintained diplomatic relations with Afghanistan in 1987, Iran was critical of both the Marxist-Leninist government in Kabul and the presence of Soviet troops in the country. Although distrustful of the ideologies of most groups, Iran's leaders generally supported the cause of the Afghan resistance. Iran provided financial and limited military assistance to those Afghan resistance forces whose leaders had pledged loyalty to the Iranian vision of Islamic revolution. Iran also hosted about 2.3 million refugees who had fled Afghanistan.

Israel and the Non-Gulf Arab States

Prior to the Revolution, Iran and Israel had been de facto allies in the Middle East. One of the very first acts of the provisional government was to denounce that relationship and to turn over the former Israeli mission in Tehran to the Palestine Liberation Organization. All trade with Israel was banned, especially the sale of oil. Iranian leaders contended that Israel's existence was illegitimate, because it came about as a result of the destruction of Palestine. Therefore, Iran advocated eradicating Israel and reconstituting Palestine. Those Arabs who advocated compromise with Israel, such as Anwar as Sadat of Egypt, were excoriated as traitors. In general, Iran's relations with the Arab states have been based on perceptions of each state's relations with Israel. Thus, Iran has been hostile toward those states it regarded as willing to accept Israel's existence -- Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia -- and friendly toward those it regarded as sharing Iranian views -- Algeria, Libya, and Syria. Despite its uncompromising position, however, Iran is known to have purchased weapons clandestinely from Israel as recently as 1985.

Syria has been revolutionary Iran's principal ally in the Middle East. This relationship involved both political and economic ties. The de facto alliance between the two countries emerged at the beginning of 1982. At that time, Iran supported the government of Hafiz al Assad against the Muslim Brotherhood, which had risen in rebellion against the secularizing policies of the ruling Baath Party. Iran's backing of the Syrian government was significant because the Muslim Brotherhood was the first Islamic political group to claim the Iranian Revolution as the primary inspiration for its rebellion. Soon after the Muslim Brotherhood had been crushed, Damascus shut down the pipeline through which Iraqi oil crossed Syria to reach Mediterranean ports. This action against another Arab state, which also was ruled by a Baath party, was an important gesture in support of the Iranian war effort. The action was also a hostile blow against Iraq because Iraqi Persian Gulf ports had been blockaded since the beginning of the war, and the only other exit route for its oil exports was through a smaller pipeline traversing Turkey. Iran had agreed to provide Syria 20,000 barrels of oil per day free of charge as compensation for the transit fees Syria would lose by closing the pipeline. Iran also agreed to sell Syria additional oil it required, at a heavily discounted price. In 1987 this agreement was again renewed. Syria also provided Iran arms from its own stock of Soviet- and East European-made weapons.

Iran's Role in Lebanon

The Shia clergy in Iran have long had an interest in the Shia population of Lebanon. Clergy for the Lebanese Shia communities were trained in Iran before the Revolution, and intermarriage between clerical families in both countries had been occurring for several generations. Lebanon's most prominent Shia cleric, Imam Musa as Sadr, who mysteriously disappeared in 1978 while on a trip to Libya, was born in Iran into a clerical family with relatives in Lebanon, a fact that facilitated his acceptance in the latter country. Musa as Sadr was a political activist, like so many clerics of his generation trained in Qom and An Najaf, and he succeeded in politicizing the Lebanese Shias. Thus, it was natural that the Shia community of Lebanon should become one of the earliest to which Iranian advocates of exporting revolution turned their attention. Their analysis of the political situation in Lebanon in 1979 and 1980 convinced them that the country was ripe for achieving an Islamic revolution and that conditions were also favorable for eradicating Israel and recreating Palestine.

The main constraint on Iran's political involvement in Lebanon was Amal, the political organization established by Musa as Sadr. After Sadr's disappearance, Amal had fallen under the influence of secularized Shias who preferred the political integration of the Shia community within a pluralistic state and regarded the Iranian vision of Islamic revolution as inappropriate for Lebanon. The Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in 1982, however, provided Iran an opportunity to circumvent Amal's domination of the Shias. Syria permitted a contingent of several hundred Pasdaran members to enter Lebanon, ostensibly to help fight against Israel. The Pasdaran established posts in the eastern Biqa Valley and from there proselytized on behalf of Islamic revolution among poor and uprooted Shia young people. The ideas of Islamic revolution appealed to many of the Shias who were recruited by new political groups such as Islamic Amal and the Hizballah, both of which opposed the comparative moderation of Amal. The support of the Pasdaran provided these groups with a direct link to Tehran, and this permitted Iran to become one of the foreign powers exerting influence in Lebanon. In 1987 an estimated 500 member of the Pasdaran were in Lebanon.

Iran and International Organizations

Iran is a charter member of the United Nations (UN). Although it belongs to all UN specialized agencies, the Republic has not participated as actively as the monarchy in the world organization. Iran criticized the UN for nonsupport during the Iran-United States crisis over the hostages. Iran also criticized the UN for failing to condemn Iraq as an "aggressor" following the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980.

As a major oil producer and exporter, Iran is a founding member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Both under the monarchy and under the Republic the government has advocated that OPEC maintain high prices for the oil that members sell on the international market. Iran supported lower production quotas for members as a means of keeping international oil prices high. Between 1979 and 1985, Iran generally was regarded as uncooperative at the semi- annual OPEC ministerial conferences. Since 1985, however, Iran has worked with Saudi Arabia, the largest oil producer within OPEC, to draft production and pricing compromises acceptable to the whole OPEC membership.

The most detailed examination of the government of Iran during the first four years following the Revolution is Shaul Bakhash's The Reign of the Ayatollahs. Considerable detail about various policies pursued by the government can be found in Dilip Hiro's Iran under the Ayatollahs. A collection of essays that analyze the role of the clergy in politics, the postrevolutionary economy, the aspects of the "new" Islamic ideology, the opposition, and Iran's relations with the superpowers is found in The Iranian Revolution and the Islamic Republic, edited by Nikki Keddie and Eric Hooglund. Revolutionary Iran by Ruhollah Ramazani examines Iran's foreign policy in the Middle East since 1979. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)
  Data as of December 1987
  Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies

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