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President Rouhani’s Interview Delayed

      On February 5, President Hassan Rouhani did a live interview that sparked controversy before it even started. Some Iranian media outlets reported that there had been a disagreement between state television and Rouhani’s office, which preferred different journalists for the interview. The president’s quasi-official Twitter blamed the delay on the conservative head of state television, Ezataollah Zarghami, who reportedly favored a hard-liner interviewer. The following are tweeted headlines from the interview.




Treasury Exempts Sanctions on Technology

            On February 7, the U.S. Treasury issued a general license allowing Iranians to purchase computers, cell phones, software, mobile applications and Internet services. “We are committed to promoting the free exchange of information in Iran and to enabling individuals in Iran to communicate with each other and with the outside world,” said a Treasury spokeswoman in an email, according to The Wall Street Journal. “We’ll continue to support our commitment to promoting freedom of information while continuing to aggressively enforce our Iran sanctions.”
The Paytakht Shopping Center in Tehran specializes in electronics.
            The amended license expanded allowances from May 2013 that that allowed Americans to export communications technology “persons in Iran.” But now foreigners and Americans can export “to Iran” more broadly.
The following Treasury release explains the change in licenses.

337. What are key changes made by amended General License D-1?    
First, GL D-1 expands the authorization in GL D to permit the exportation, reexportation, or provision, directly or indirectly, to Iran of certain personal communications software, hardware, and related services subject to the Export Administration Regulations, 15 C.F.R. parts 730 through 774 (“EAR”) (rather than just the exportation or reexportation from the United States or by a U.S. person of such software, hardware, and services).  See GL D-1, paragraphs (a)(2)(i) & (a)(3).  For purposes of GL D-1, the term “provision” could include, for example, an in-country transfer of covered software or hardware.  The general license now authorizes, for example, a non-U.S. person located outside the United States to export certain hardware and software subject to the EAR to Iran.  See FAQ #341
Second, GL D-1 adds new authorizations for the exportation, reexportation, or provision, directly or indirectly, by a U.S. person located outside the United States to Iran of certain software and hardware not subject to the EAR.  See GL D-1, paragraphs (a)(2)(ii) & (a)(3).  The general license now authorizes, for example, a U.S. company to export to Iran, from a location outside the United States, certain hardware or software that is not subject to the EAR (including foreign-origin hardware or software containing less than a de minimis amount of U.S. controlled content).  See FAQ #342
Third, a new Note has been added to paragraphs (a)(2) and (a)(3) clarifying that the authorization in those paragraphs includes the exportation, reexportation, or provision, directly or indirectly, of the authorized items by an individual leaving the United States for Iran.  GL D-1 also adds a new authorization for the importation by an individual into the United States of certain hardware and software previously exported by the individual to Iran pursuant to other provisions of GL D-1 or 31 C.F.R. § 560.540.  See GL D-1, paragraph (a)(5).  The general license now authorizes, for example, an individual to carry a smartphone that falls within the scope of the GL D-1 authorization while traveling to and from Iran.  See FAQ #343
Finally, to further ensure that the sanctions on Iran do not have an unintended chilling effect on the willingness of companies to make available certain publicly available, no cost personal communications tools to persons in that country, GL D-1 adds a new authorization related to the potential recipients of certain publicly available, no cost services and software.  See GL D-1, paragraph (a)(6).
Notwithstanding these changes, nothing in this general license relieves an exporter from compliance with the export license requirements of another Federal agency. [02-07-2014]
Click here for the full license.
Photo credit: Robin Wright

Treasury Targets Sanctions Evaders

            On February 6, the Treasury announced sanctions targeting entities and individuals across Europe and the Middle East for evading U.S. sanctions on Iran. Some allegedly aided Tehran’s nuclear and missile programs or supported terrorism. “The global targets designated today play key roles in supporting Iran’s nuclear program and active support for terrorism. The United States has made clear that as it implements the Joint Plan of Action [interim nuclear agreement], contingent on Iran satisfying its own commitments, the overwhelming majority of sanctions remain in effect and will continue to be vigorously enforced,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen.  The following are excerpts from the press release.

Today’s actions target entities and individuals located across the world, operating in Turkey, Spain, Germany, Georgia, Afghanistan, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, and Liechtenstein.
The actions under Executive Orders (E.O.) 13224 and 13382 generally prohibit transactions between the designated entities and individuals and any U.S. person, and block any property and interests in property under U.S. jurisdiction of the designated entities and individuals.  In addition, any foreign financial institution or person that facilitates significant transactions or provides material support to the designated entities or individuals may have their access to the U.S. financial system severed or their property and interests in property under U.S. jurisdiction blocked. 
The actions under E.O. 13608 generally prohibit transactions involving the sanctioned persons that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction, including transactions by U.S. persons, wherever located.
Foreign Sanctions Evaders
Pourya Nayebi, Houshang Hosseinpour, and Houshang Farsoudeh
Pursuant to E.O. 13608, which targets foreign persons engaged in activities intended to evade U.S. economic and financial sanctions with respect to Iran and Syria, the Department of the Treasury sanctioned Georgia-based Pourya Nayebi, Houshang Hosseinpour, and Houshang Farsoudeh and eight companies owned or controlled by these individuals.  These three individuals have established companies and financial institutions in multiple countries, and have used these companies to facilitate deceptive transactions for or on behalf of persons subject to U.S. sanctions concerning Iran.  In 2011, they acquired the majority shares in a licensed Georgian bank with direct correspondent ties to other international financial institutions through a Liechtenstein-based foundation they control.  They then used the Georgian bank to facilitate transactions worth the equivalent of tens of millions of U.S. dollars for multiple designated Iranian banks, including Bank Melli, Mir Business Bank, Bank Saderat, and Bank Tejarat.
Nayebi, Hosseinpour, and Farsoudeh deceived the financial regulatory authorities of the Republic of Georgia by withholding required reports of transactions involving Iranian banks.  The Government of Georgia has worked closely with the United States to detect and address illicit and deceptive Iranian behavior in Georgia, and it has taken steps to ensure that Iranian entities under U.S. and international sanctions are prevented from exploiting the Georgian financial system.
Treasury is also imposing sanctions on eight companies located in multiple countries that are owned and/or controlled by Nayebi, Hosseinpour, and Farsoudeh (acting individually or together), including: Caucasus Energy (Georgia), Orchidea Gulf Trading (UAE and/or Turkey), Georgian Business Development (Georgia and/or UAE), Great Business Deals (Georgia and/or UAE), KSN Foundation (Liechtenstein), New York General Trading (UAE), New York Money Exchange (UAE and/or Georgia), and European Oil Traders (Switzerland).  KSN Foundation was used to disguise the control of the Georgian bank by Nayebi, Hosseinpour, and Farsoudeh, and the other entities were involved in the transactions for designated Iranian banks discussed above.  On multiple occasions, these front companies deceived the international financial community, including by generating false invoices in connection with transactions involving designated Iranian banks.
Iran’s Nuclear and Weapons Proliferation Activities
The following entities and individuals are sanctioned pursuant to E.O. 13382, which, among other things, targets weapons of mass destruction proliferators and their supporters. 
Ali Canko and the Tiva Sanat Group
Turkish citizen Ali Canko assisted the Iran-based Tiva Sanat Group in its attempts to procure and reverse engineer a weapons-capable fast boat to be used by the IRGC-Navy.  The Tiva Sanat Group is comprised of Tiva Kara, Tiva Darya, and Tiva Polymer.  Tiva Sanat Group uses front companies to acquire foreign technology and components, with at least one intermediary expressing concern that a payment would be interdicted by the U.S. Treasury because the intermediary falsely claimed to be the end-user for equipment that was intended for Tiva Sanat. Ali Canko has served as a financial intermediary for payments from the Tiva Sanat Group to various international suppliers.  The IRGC was designated pursuant to E.O. 13382 in October 2007 for having engaged, or attempted to engage, in proliferation-related activities.
Advance Electrical and Industrial Technologies SL and Pere Punti
Advance Electrical and Industrial Technologies SL (AEIT), located in Spain, procures items from foreign suppliers and facilitates financial transactions for the previously E.O. 13382-designated Neka Novin.  Spanish citizen Pere Punti is AEIT’s sole shareholder and also arranges to facilitate payments on behalf of Neka Novin.  Neka Novin was designated pursuant to E.O. 13382 in November 2011 for its involvement in the procurement of specialized equipment and materials that have direct application to Iran’s nuclear program.
Ulrich Wippermann, DF Deutsche Forfait Aktiengesellschaft, DF Deutsche Forfait Americas Inc.
German firm DF Deutsche Forfait Aktiengesellschaft (Deutsche Forfait) and Deutsche Forfait board member Ulrich Wippermann facilitated oil deals in circumvention of oil sanctions for NIOC, an entity determined to be an agent or affiliate of the IRGC and designated under E.O. 13382.  DF Deutsche Forfait Americas Inc. is the U.S. subsidiary of Deutsche Forfait.  NIOC was designated pursuant to E.O. 13382 in November 2012 for providing or attempting to provide, financial, material, or other support for and services in support of the IRGC.
Terrorism – Entities and Individuals Affiliated with Mahan Air
The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced today the designation pursuant to E.O. 13224 of key Mahan Air officials and front companies in the UAE that have served as critical conduits for Mahan Air financial payments as well as intermediaries for the airline’s acquisition of aircraft, engines, and other parts.These front companies have served as part of the procurement backbone of Mahan Air, enabling the sanctioned airline to continue ferrying significant quantities of weapons and other illicit cargo into Syria on its own passenger aircraft to support the Assad regime’s violent crackdown against its own citizens.Mahan Air was previously designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 in October 2011 for its support to Iran’s IRGC-QF.  
Blue Sky Aviation Co FZE (BSA FZE)
BSA FZE is a UAE-based company that is owned or controlled by Mahan Air and acts for or on behalf of the airline.  BSA FZE’s primary function has been to serve as a payment channel for Mahan Air to obscure the origination of funds.  Mahan Air has used BSA to make payments to oil suppliers, and purchase aircraft, engines, and parts. 
Avia Trust FZE
Avia Trust FZE is another UAE-based company that is owned or controlled by Mahan Air and acts for or on behalf of the airline.  Mahan Air has used Avia Trust FZE to procure sanctioned aircraft parts and equipment, to include items that are of U.S.-origin. The IRGC has used Avia Trust FZE as a front to procure aviation-related items, some of which are subject to international sanctions.  In addition, the IRGC has used Avia Trust FZE as a front to assist with avoiding customs inspections in the UAE of cargo destined for Iran, some of which included items subject to international sanctions. 
Hamidreza Malekouti Pour
Hamidreza Malekouti Pour has served as the regional manager for Mahan Air in the UAE and the managing director of Sirjanco Trading LLC and BSA FZE.  Malekouti Pour, operating out of Mahan Air’s office in the UAE, has supplied equipment to the IRGC-QF. Sirjanco Trading LLC was designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 on May 31, 2013, for acting for or on behalf of Mahan Air.
Pejman Mahmood Kosarayanifard
Pejman Mahmood Kosarayanifard acts for or on behalf of Mahan Air through his actions as the owner of Avia Trust FZE and several other companies engaging in business on behalf of Mahan Air.  Kosarayanifard has established agreements with Mahan Air to have Avia Trust FZE serve as a cutout for the repair and overhaul of Mahan Air aircraft engines. Kosarayanifard has also established agreements with Mahan Air to manage the airline’s cargo shipments and is reportedly responsible for IRGC procurement activities in the UAE.
Gholamreza Mahmoudi 
Gholamreza Mahmoudi acts for or on behalf of Mahan Air as a senior official and corporate director at Mahan Air.  Mahmoudi has worked closely with Mahan Air Managing Director Hamid Arabnejad on sanctions evasion strategies to acquire U.S. aircraft.  Hamid Arabnejad was designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 on May 31, 2013 for acting for or on behalf of Mahan Air.
Terrorism – IRGC-QF in Afghanistan
Today the Department of the Treasury announced the designations pursuant to E.O. 13224 of three IRGC-QF officers and one IRGC-QF associate involved in Iranian efforts in Afghanistan.  This action underscores Tehran’s use of terrorism and intelligence operations as tools of influence against the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.  
IRGC-QF utilized now-detained Afghan associate, Sayyed Kamal Musavi, who was designated today, to plan and execute attacks in Afghanistan.  Two IRGC-QF officers also designated today, Alireza Hemmati and Akbar Seyed Alhosseini, provided logistical support to this associate.  Another IRGC-QF officer, Mahmud Afkhami, is being designated today to highlight his influence over Afghan political affairs and his efforts to advance Iranian interests with the Government of the Islamist Republic of Afghanistan.
In August 2010, Treasury similarly took action against two IRGC-QF leaders supporting terrorism in Afghanistan and funneling Iranian assistance to the Taliban.  Treasury then designated IRGC-QF General Hossein Musavi, the Commander of the IRGC-QF Ansar Corps, whose responsibilities include IRGC-QF activities in Afghanistan. Treasury also designated IRGC-QF Colonel Hasan Mortezavi.  Both Musavi and Mortezavi provided funding and material support to the Taliban as part of their official duties as IRGC-QF officers.
Sayyed Kamal Musavi
Sayyed Kamal Musavi is being designated for acting for or on behalf of the IRGC-QF as a facilitator and operational planner.  Musavi assisted the IRGC-QF in conducting surveillance and planning terrorist attacks in Afghanistan in 2010 prior to his arrest.  Musavi operated in Kabul and was part of an attack cell targeting an Afghan official and was apprehended with associates, who were at the time carrying large quantities of explosives and detonators.  
Alireza Hemmati
Alireza Hemmati is being designated for acting for or on behalf of the IRGC-QF.  Hemmati is an IRGC-QF chief for Afghanistan-focused operations conducted by the IRGC-QF, who provided key logistics support for now detained Afghan associate, Sayyed Kamal Musavi. Hemmati worked closely with Musavi while Musavi plotted attacks in Afghanistan, having sent supplies from Iran to Musavi and arranged travel documents for him.  Hemmati is pressing for Musavi's release from detention.
Akbar Seyed Alhosseini
Akbar Seyed Alhosseini serves as a key IRGC-QF officer who oversees the group’s activities in Afghanistan and is being designated for acting for or on behalf of the IRGC-QF.  Seyed Alhosseini previously served as chief of the IRGC-QF’s office in Herat, Afghanistan. He has arranged travel documents and logistics for IRGC-QF officers and associates, including now detained Afghan associate Sayyed Kamal Musavi, prior to Musavi’s arrest.
Mahmud Afkhami Rashidi
Mahmud Afkhami is a high-ranking IRGC-QF official within the elite IRGC-QF operations unit working in Afghanistan and is being designated for acting for or on behalf of the IRGC-QF. Afkhami’s responsibilities include currying favor with Afghan politicians who are sympathetic to Iran to strengthen the Iranian power base in Kabul.
Terrorism – al-Qa’ida’s Network in Iran
Today the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced the designation of a key Iran-based al-Qa’ida facilitator who supports al-Qa’ida’s vital facilitation network in Iran, that operates there with the knowledge of Iranian authorities.  The network also uses Iran as a transit point for moving funding and foreign fighters through Turkey to support al-Qa’ida-affiliated elements in Syria, including the al-Nusrah Front.
Olimzhon Adkhamovich Sadikov
Treasury today designated Iran-based Islamic Jihad Union facilitator Olimzhon Adkhamovich Sadikov (also known as Jafar al-Uzbeki and Jafar Muidinov) for acting for on behalf of and providing support to al-Qa’ida.
Today's action, taken pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, follows Treasury’s designations in July 2011 of Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil (also known as Yasin al-Suri) and October 2012 of Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi, two al-Qa’ida officials who served as the head and deputy of al-Qa’ida's Iran network, respectively.  The State Department also authorized rewards totaling $17 million for information leading to the locations of al-Suri and al-Harbi, and additionally offered $10 million in October 2012 for information leading to the location of Muhsin al-Fadhli, who previously led the Iran-based al-Qa’ida network, and was designated by Treasury and the United Nations in February 2005. 
Jafar al-Uzbeki is a member of the Islamic Jihad Union and provides logistical support and funding to al-Qa’ida's Iran-based network.  As an associate of designated al-Qa’ida facilitator Yasin al-Suri, al-Uzbeki serves as a key extremist smuggler based in Mashhad, Iran, near the country's border with Afghanistan, and has provided visas and passports to numerous foreign fighters, including al-Qa'ida recruits, to facilitate their travel.  Al-Uzbeki has assisted extremists and operatives transiting Iran on their way into and out of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Al-Uzbeki has also provided funding to al-Suri, who has resumed leadership of al-Qa’ida's Iran-based network after being temporarily detained there in late 2011. 
As head al-Qa’ida facilitator in Iran, Yasin al-Suri is responsible for overseeing al-Qa’ida efforts to transfer experienced operatives and leaders from Pakistan to Syria, organizing and maintaining routes by which new recruits can travel to Syria via Turkey, and assisting in the movement of al-Qa’ida external operatives to the West.
Al-Qa’ida’s network in Iran has facilitated the transfer of funds from Gulf-based donors to al-Qa’ida core and other affiliated elements, including the al-Nusrah Front in Syria.  The Iran-based al-Qa’ida network has also leveraged an extensive network of Kuwaiti jihadist donors to send money to Syria via Turkey. 
Click here for the full press release.

Nasser Hadian: Reasons Iran Wants Peace in Syria

Nasser Hadian

      Iran has turned the corner on Syria, its longstanding ally in the Arab world. It still wants close ties to a country that is the strategic center of the Arab world. But after three years of war, Tehran is also increasingly concerned that Syria may not hold together if President Bashar Assad stays in power because of bitter passions that now divide political factions, religious sects, ethnic groups and territory. 
            The Islamic Republic is now looking for an internationally negotiated solution with five goals: protection of minorities, credible democratic election, stability, containing jihadi militants and sectarianism, and an end to the killing. Tehran has not been willing to publicly embrace the Geneva I framework for negotiations, but it still would prefer to be part of the process. Iran believes it could play the kind of role it did during the 2001 Bonn talks on Afghanistan, when the Iranian delegation was pivotal in convincing the Afghan opposition to accept the U.S.-backed plan for a post-Taliban government. The key Iranian envoy then was Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is today Iran’s foreign minister. Tehran even feels some urgency in achieving a deal, for fear of the spillover of Syria’s instability on the wider Middle East.
            The gradual shift in Iran’s position, especially notable since the mid-2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani, reflects regional, religious, sectarian and strategic considerations.
      First, Iran does not really care that much about the Assad dynasty. Few inside the government support Assad on ideological grounds; the ruling Baath party is avowedly secular and socialist. Iran is more concerned about the alliance with the Syrian state, whoever is in power. At minimum, Iran wants a government in Damascus that is not hostile to Tehran. At maximum, it wants a regime that is shares Tehran’s strategic goals and interests.
            Many in the Iranian leadership now believe that Syria cannot hold together as a stable and unified country as long as Assad is in power due to political and physical fragmentation. They fear three years of war have produced deep wounds that will not be healed as long as Assad is in power.
            But Tehran also believes that the dismantlement of the entire regime—as happened in Iraq after the 2003 U.S. ouster of Saddam Hussein’s government, ruling Baath Party and military in Iraq—would be disastrous. It could produce a vacuum and potentially chaos, with even deeper spillover on the Middle East.
            Second, Iran wants to protect Syrian territorial integrity. Syria’s fragmentation could endanger other countries, including neighboring Iraq. Over time, any attempt by Syria’s two million Kurds, who already operate in a semi-autonomous enclave, to break away could trigger aspirations for a wider Kurdish state cutting into other countries. And the breakup of the current Arab states would almost certainly produce wider insecurity across the region.

            The spillover of Syria’s instability on Iraq and Lebanon are particularly worrisome for Iran. Tehran has important allies in both countries, and instability could weaken their position—and Iran’s influence. In Iraq, the government is has become an ally since Saddam Hussein’s ouster. And Lebanon is home to a large Shiite population with centuries-old Iranian ties.
            Iran is also concerned about losing its strategic links to Hezbollah and Hamas, which have long run through Syria. Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shiite party and militia that Iran helped create in 1982 and has trained and armed ever since. And Hamas is a Palestinian party and militia that has been a key ally since shortly after it emerged in the late 1980s. Iran considers both parties to be forces for defense, deterrence, and retaliation in case of an Israeli or American attack on Iran.             
            Third, Iran fears the deepening politics of identity, including the politics of religious identity. Iran has supported revolutionary Islam, but among both Sunni and Shiite.  Ironically, however, the world’s only modern theocracy is now concerned that the Syrian civil war will increase the sectarian divide between Sunni and Shiite across the region in ways that will hurt Iran—and Islam.
For centuries, Iranians have performed pilgrimages to dozens of Shiite holy places in Syria, like the Tomb of Zaynab on the outskirts of Damascus (above).
            Sectarianism in the Islamic world, from North Africa across the Levant to the Gulf and south Asia, is already dangerous. It plays out among individuals, groups and nations. Iran’s Shiites, who are a minority among the world’s 1.6 Muslims, are concerned about the fate of Shiites in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
            More broadly, Tehran is worried that the growth of religious identity will generate rivalries over their diverse absolute truths that could spark conflicts ultimately more violent and difficult to resolve. So Tehran has an interest in ending the Syrian conflict to extinguish the flames of sectarianism and prevent a deepening divide between Islam’s two major sects.
            In the same vein, Iran wants protection of Syria’s minorities, including the Christians, Druze, Kurds and most of all the Alawites. The Alawites are widely associated with Shiism, even though many Shiites, including Iranians, do not view them as a legitimate offshoot. The real reason is that Syria’s minorities are potential allies, since they share a common concern about Sunnis who already dominate the Middle East physically, politically and numerically—and are now producing a growing number of extremist groups. The jihadis in Syria are also all Sunnis.
            Fourth, Iran is increasingly concerned about the rising death toll—now estimated to total more than 130,000 from both sides—and the use of chemical weapons. Iran is sympathetic to the victims because of its experience, which included some 1 million casualties, from the eight year-war with Iraq in the 1980s. Iran was also the victim of the widest use of chemical weapons since World War I. Saddam Hussein’s regime repeatedly used mustard and nerve gas against Iran. Thousands are still dying from mustard gas today, more than a quarter century after the war ended.
            Fifth, because of its isolation during war with Iraq, Tehran actually feels vulnerable—or strategically lonely. Iran was temporarily strengthened by the U.S. intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, after the removal of its arch-enemies—Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in 2003 and the Taliban in Kabul in 2001. Over the next decade, Iran gained more leverage than at any point since the 1979 revolution.
            But two factors have reversed the trend. As the West and key Arab governments grew concerned about a “Shiite Crescent” radiating from Tehran to Beirut, the United States offered even greater aid and more powerful arms to the Persian Gulf sheikhdoms, which are all committed to containing Iran. The U.S. drawdown of troops from both Iraq and Afghanistan also made Iran change its strategic calculation, with the rise of al Qaeda franchises among Sunnis along its borders and the potential return of Taliban political clout in Afghanistan.
            Finally, Iran does not believe there is a viable military solution for Syria. A military victory by either side is neither possible nor desirable. Iran now favors an inclusive solution for all faiths and all political parties. It even favors a secular government that will include all minorities.
            As a result, Iran believes the most viable solution is an election— organized and supervised by the international community—to choose the next government. It views an election as a means of conflict resolution as well as a means of selecting a new government.
            Tehran has less faith that the Geneva peace talks will produce a solution for a simple reason: Neither side is now either willing or capable of genuine or enduring compromise. The opposition is too divided, while the most active fighters—the jihadist groups—are not in Geneva. They are likely to just keep fighting. And Assad is unlikely to simply quit or negotiate his own political suicide. So Iran believes the solution must be left to the Syria people in a popular vote.
Nasser Hadian is a professor of political science at the University of Tehran.
Photo credits: Leader.ir, Syria-Iran by RonenY [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons, Zaynab Tomb by Argooya at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org

Nasser Hadian: Revolution at 35

Nasser Hadian

      On the 35th anniversary of its revolution, Iran has found often novel compromises in blending Islam and modernity—politically, economically and socially. The government and most Iranians today share three goals: honoring the great Persian past and retaining an Islamic identity while also integrating more deeply into a globalizing world. The revolution today is all about synthesis. The struggle is finding the right balance.
            Politically, Iran’s government borrows heavily from Western concepts, including separation of powers. Each branch has its own turf, to the point that they have the same kind of tensions that Western governments do—and sometimes even harsher. The parallel religious institutions—such as the Guardian Council—weigh in not to run daily government but as a fourth check on secular powers and politicians. Since 1988, Tehran has also added an Expediency Council of both religious and laymen to resolve political conflicts, another reflection of trying to negotiate a balance.
            The revolution has brought a wide array of players into the political space over the past 35 years. Iran’s spectrum grows with every election, as new factions and faces join the fray. There are now dozens of parties, ranging from reformist to ultra-conservative, who compete passionately against each other. The diversity of opinion is even wider within society, ranging from more leftist to more rightist.
       The idea of citizenry has also taken root in among Iran’s 80 million people, the majority of which has been born since the revolution and is highly educated. Voters have become more sophisticated in their demands. They are moving beyond passive obedience of either political or religious authority. People also have an impact on decisions, whether through the vote or street protests. So the government, for all its restrictions, has frequently been forced to accept public opinion, including electoral surprises.
            But Iranian politics still have a wild side. Politics is controlled by a minority and the rules – or political red lines – shift from one presidency to the next and from one parliament to the next. Iran’s elections also involve a strange combination: Freedom to run is very limited—and candidates approved to run in one election can be disqualified when they try to run again. Competition is fierce. Yet results can be unpredictable.
            Ironically, Iran has resolved the debate about an “Islamic economy.” After a lot of trial and error, Tehran opted to run the economy based largely on modern science and global standards rather than traditional religious practices. Aiding the oppressed is still a revolutionary tenet. But Iran has not become a socialist country. Modern economic principles, including respect for private property, have not been forfeited even as the government has tried to help the poor.
      The fight is far from over, however. Iran does not have a corporate economy largely because the government-backed charities, or bonyads, control vast resources. Government institutions, such as the Revolutionary Guards, and quasi-government groups also control large chunks of economic life. So Iran does not have a large number of private companies, even though commerce has been one of the pillars of Iranian society for millennia.
            The revolution has built infrastructure—such as roads, electricity, schools and some basic health services—particularly in small towns and rural areas. It paid off the shah’s foreign debt in the 1980s, revived the Stock Market in the 1990s, and has survived severe international sanctions, particularly since 2006. At great cost, Iran has also continued subsidies of basic commodities—from petroleum to basic foodstuffs.    
            But Iran’s economy has been plagued by gross mismanagement in recent years. Few in leadership positions have been willing to demonstrate the political courage to introduce the tough measures needed to turn the economy around, whether through more rigorous subsidy reforms, privatization or deficit reduction that would encourage local or foreign investment.
            Iran is also still a rentier state disproportionately dependent on oil income. And the economy is highly vulnerable because Tehran has been unable to update its oil infrastructure since the revolution. After the latest U.S. sanctions were imposed in 2012, oil exports then dropped by more than half, while the value of Iran’s currency plummeted by sixty percent. Oil revenues have also not been distributed equitably or wisely, with corruption and favoritism now rampant. Privatization and deregulation have been largely unsuccessful because the government has allowed its assets to be transferred to favored “clients.”
            Iran initially tried to Islamicize society, but the forces of modernity have often prevailed. The Islamic Republic now openly tolerates scientific and even secular ideas. More than three decades after the revolution, Iranian society is arguably more modern than it was under the monarchy.
      Changes in society are particularly evident among its youth and women. The Pahlavi monarchy may have been more progressive on women’s rights in the law, but the Islamic Republic has brought more women into education, the economy and politics, even though they have to comply with Islamic norms such as the dress code or strict family laws.
            Revolutionary Iran won a U.N. award for closing the gender gap in education. And the majority of students at Iranian universities are today female, despite recent restrictions on their coursework. Access to education and modern institutions has particularly brought many females from traditional families into the professions, politics and the arts.
            The revolution has also adapted to the forces of globalization, as education, urbanization and technology, which have transformed society in ways that the government could not control. Demographics—particularly the baby boom generation born in the 1980s now coming of age—are a strong counterbalance to the aging revolutionaries.
            But some sectors of society—the poor, the rural and women—clearly face serious inequities in politics and in life. The Islamic Republic is still patriarchal. Men dominate power and commerce. The poor and the rural have limited means of bettering their circumstances. And despite the pressures of globalization, the government controls freedom of speech and access to the outside world, although not completely.
            But, ironically, on its 35th anniversary, a religious government has produced one of the most secular societies in the Middle East. Indeed, for many living in the Islamic Republic today, the relationship between the individual and God is private, not political.

Nasser Hadian is a professor of political science at the University of Tehran.

Photo credits: @HassanRouhani via Twitter, Iran oil exports via U.S. Energy Information Administration, Isfahan University graduates by gire_3pich2005 (Own work) [FAL] via Wikimedia Commons,

Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org

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