United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Iran by the Numbers: Oil and Natural Gas

Katayoun Kishi 

Oil and natural gas have been integral to the Iranian economy for decades, although the oil industry’s share of the overall economy has been declining since the mid-1990s. Oil production and exports have suffered from international sanctions. Meanwhile, domestic oil consumption has consistently increased since 1980 – posing a potential supply problem for Iran in the years to come. Natural gas production has increased as well, although it has generally matched rising consumption levels. Iran’s proved reserves of natural gas have grown since 1980, helping it rise among world rankings of natural gas producers.
  • Oil Exports: Increased to about 2 million barrels a day following the end of the Iran-Iraq War, but dropped precipitously after new international sanctions were introduced in 2010.
  • Oil Production: As low as 1.4 million barrels per day in 1981, and as high as 4.2 million barrels in 2011.
  • Oil Consumption: Has been generally increasing since 1980, peaking in 2008 at 1.98 million barrels a day.
  • Oil Economy: The oil industry accounted for only 10 percent of total GDP in 2014, a 34-year low.
  • Natural Gas Production: Has been increasing since 1980, from a low of 210 billion cubic feet in 1981 to a high of 5,696 billion cubic feet in 2012.
  • Natural Gas Consumption: Increased from 232 billion cubic feet in 1980 to 5,556 billion cubic feet in 2012, growing in tandem with production.
  • Natural Gas Reserves: Iran’s proved reserves of natural gas have more than doubled since 1980, from 490 trillion cubic feet to 1,201 trillion cubic feet in 2014.
  • Natural Gas Ranking: Iran has climbed the world ranking of natural gas producers since 1980, from 21st in the world to third in 2013. 


Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration


Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration 



*The data begins on the Persian New Year, which falls in March of the Gregorian calendar.




Source: United States Energy Information Administration


*Annual data on Iran’s rankings from 1980-2013 available from the EIA.
Katayoun Kishi is a research assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Iran by the Numbers: Society

Katayoun Kishi 

Iranian society has undergone dramatic changes since the 1979 revolution. Population has doubled. People are living longer. Cities have swelled due to an influx of people from rural areas. Iran has lowered its population growth rate to a manageable level, winning the United Nations Population Award in 1999 for its achievements in family planning and improving reproductive health.
The Islamic Republic has also worked to improve education for its citizens. Illiteracy has been virtually eradicated while enrollment in primary schools has risen since 1980.
  • Population: Nearly doubled since 1980, from 39 million to 79 million people.
  • Growth Rate: Dropped significantly from 3.7 percent to about 1.5 percent following the Iran-Iraq War, and has fluctuated only slightly since then.
  • Median Age: The median age peaked at 30 years old in 2015, a 12-year increase from the median age of 18 in 1980.
  • Age Distribution: There are about half the number of children (0-14 years old) in 2015 than in 1980.  The young (15-34), middle aged (35-54), and seniors (55+) make up a greater proportion of the population compared to 1980.
  • Urbanization: Percentage of population living in urban areas increased to 73 percent, compared to just half the population in 1980.
  • Literacy Rate: Has increased from 37 percent in 1980 to 98 percent in 2015.
  • Birth Rate: Declined from a peak of 44 births per thousand people to a low of 18 births per thousand people in 2014.
  • Life Expectancy: Iranians in 2014 were living to about 75 years of age – almost twenty years longer than in 1980.
Source: World Bank; World Bank source: United Nations World Population Prospects

(1980): World Bank; World Bank source: United Nations, World Urbanization Prospects

(2015): CIA World Factbook 


Source: World Bank; World Bank source: United Nations Population Division, World Population Prospects
Katayoun Kishi is a research assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Iran by the Numbers: Economy

Katayoun Kishi 

Iran’s economy has faced a series of existential crises since the 1979 revolution. Tehran suffered the biggest shocks from the sapping costs of an eight-year war with Iraq, between 1980 and 1988, and the final wave of international sanctions imposed in 2010. During less volatile years, Iran’s productivity did increase. But Iranians were burdened by chronic unemployment and inflation. Greed and gross mismanagement further undermined growth. When he took office in 2013, President Hassan Rouhani acknowledged, “The previous government was the wealthiest and most indebted government.”
  • Inflation: Ranged from 21 percent in 1980 to 14 percent in 2015, and has plummeted to 8 percent in May 2016 according to the IMF. Four big bumps occurred in 1987/88, 1995, 2008 and 2013 from the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq War and various sanctions from the United States and European Union.
  • Unemployment: Especially high during the Iran-Iraq War, but also after it ended. The official rate has been under 21 percent since 1979, although experts say it has at times been twice as high.
  • GDP per capita: Increased sporadically, although income inequality was significant. In 2013, the top 20 percent of Iranians earned almost 45 percent of total income.
  • Consumer Price Index: Steadily rising cost of goods and services for the average consumer.
  • Military Expenditures: Expenditure peaked at 8 percent of GDP in 1982, during wartime, and declined quickly to about 2-3 percent after the war.
  • Currency rates: Rial’s value declined steadily against the U.S. dollar, particularly after 2002 when Iran’s nuclear program became publicly known.
  • Trade with the United States: Exports from the United States to Iran went from a high of $13.4 billion in 1978 to $280 million in 2015. Imports from Iran to the United States went from $10.5 billion in 1978 to $10 million in 2015.


Source: World Bank; World Bank Source: International Monetary Fund, International Financial Statistics and data files
Sources: (1980-90): Valadkhani, A. (2003), The Causes of Unemployment in Iran, International Journal of Applied Business and Economic Research, 1(1), 21-33.
Source: World Bank; World Bank Source: World Bank national accounts data and OECD National Accounts data files 
Source: World Bank; World Bank Source: International Monetary Fund, International Financial Statistics
*The World Bank defines the Consumer Price Index as reflecting “changes in the cost to the average consumer of acquiring a basket of goods and services.” In other words, the CPI shows the relative change in prices compared to a base year, even when taking into account inflation. 
Sources: (1980-84): United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers reports, 1980-84
(1988-2015): World Bank; World Bank source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)
*Data unavailable for 1985-87.
Source: World Bank; World Bank Source: International Monetary Fund, International Financial Statistics 
*Values converted to real 2015 dollars using the average annual Consumer Price index
** Through subsidiaries, American energy companies continued to buy Iranian oil—worth up to $3.5 billion a year—off the international market in Rotterdam until the mid-1990s, when sanctions were broadened.
Katayoun Kishi is a research assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Political Spectrum in Iran’s New Parliament

Garrett Nada
Iran’s new Majles, which holds its first session on May 28, has wider political diversity than any parliament in a dozen years. Some 60 percent of lawmakers are newcomers. Allies and supporters of President Hassan Rouhani form the largest faction, but not a majority. Hardliners held on to more than a quarter of Parliament’s 290 seats. The balance of power, however, is yet to be determined because independents won more than a quarter of the seats; many of their affiliations are unclear or could shift.
The social and professional make-up of parliament is also changing. Women won a record number of seats in the February election and April runoff. For the first time, females will outnumber clerics.
Iran’s system does not have formal parties, but it does have factions and coalitions that run together. The largest bloc in the parliament is the Faction of Hope, most of whom are aligned with Rouhani. The group claims support of up to 168 members. Hardliners claim to have at least 150 members. Some candidates ran as independents or even on multiple lists, so their affiliations are not clearly defined. Politicians also changed their positions closer to the election. Iranians jokingly referred to them as “Hezb-e Bad,” or “Party of the Wind.”
Iranian politics are also notoriously fluid. Even within factions, candidates do not necessarily have the same positions on all issues. Two lawmakers who may agree on foreign policy may differ on economic or social issues. But the variety of views is limited by the Guardian Council’s heavy vetting. It disqualified some 60 percent of the 12,000 people who registered to run. The last three parliaments were dominated by conservatives.
The new Majles’ priority is likely to be improving the economy. In March 2016, a majority of Iranians said they want lawmakers to focus on reducing unemployment, according to a poll by the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM), working in conjunction with the Program for Public Consultation and IranPoll.com. The second priority for Iranians was attending to the problems of the poor.
Sanctions relief has yet to have a significant impact. Businesses began to move into the Iranian market after sanctions were lifted in January. Many banks and businesses, however, still have reservations about doing business with Iran due to lack of clarity on sanctions and also due to Iran’s need for banking and economic reform. Although Rouhani succeeded in cutting inflation from 14 percent in 2015 to 8 percent as of May 2016, Iran still can do more to create jobs and ensure sustainable growth, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Another issue that Parliament could debate early on is Rouhani’s Citizens’ Bill of Rights. In April 2016, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told The New Yorker it could be the first initiative Rouhani tries to put before the Majles. The draft, published in late 2013, was viewed as a major step towards fulfilling his promises to improve the human rights situation. But rights groups pointed out deficiencies, and Rouhani has yet to make headway on the issue. The Citizens’ Bill of Rights does not require parliamentary approval, according to Zarif. But Rouhani “may want to put in place certain procedures and guarantees and mechanisms, so that may require parliamentary approval,” he said.

The following are profiles of key lawmakers who illustrate the diversity of Iran’s incoming Majles and have differing views on these issues. 

Mohammad Reza Aref
Mohammad Reza Aref, a reformist, garnered 1.6 million votes for a parliamentary seat from Tehran, more than any other candidate. Aref headed the “List of Hope,” a coalition that included reformists and centrists who support Rouhani. Their slogan was “Hope, peace, and economic prosperity.” The group associated itself with the success of the nuclear deal, the lifting of international sanctions, and normalizing political and economic relations with the outside world. Candidates on the slate advocated greater personal and political freedoms. After the election, the coalition renamed itself the “Faction of Hope.” Aref is its leader.
Born in 1951, Aref studied electrical engineering and did graduate work at Stanford University in the late 1970s. He was a professor at Isfahan University of Technology from 1981 to 1994. He then served as president of Tehran University from 1994 until 1997, when he was appointed telecommunications minister under former President Mohammad Khatami. In 2001, President Khatami appointed him to be one of his vice presidents. In 2002, Aref became a member of the powerful Expediency Council, the body charged with resolving disputes between Parliament and the Guardian Council. In 2013, Aref ran for president but eventually dropped out of the race to support Rouhani, a centrist candidate.
On May 19, Aref announced that he would run for Speaker of Parliament. Former Presidents Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani indicated support for Aref. His agenda on legislative priorities differ significantly from Ali Larijani, who was speaker for the previous eight years. 
Ali Larijani
Ali Larijani, a conservative who ran as an independent, won his seat from the holy city of Qom. He served as Speaker of Parliament between 2008 and 2016. Many of his allies did not win reelection. As election results were announced in February, Larijani praised the rotation of political power from one group to another as an auspicious development. Larijani is considered a principlist, but more pragmatic than other hardliners. He opted not to join the main list of hardliners for the election. In Tehran, the Grand Coalition of Principlists failed to win any seats while the “List of Hope” won all 30. “I feel our friends in the [conservative coalition] have not provided the necessary mechanisms for the creation of unity,” he said. “Therefore we seek to act independently.” Yet he won the backing of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Qods Force, who cited Larijani’s long support of “revolutionary movements.”
Born in 1957, Larijani is the son of Ayatollah Mirza Hashem Amoli and son-in-law of Ayatollah Morteza Motahari. His father was a prominent religious authority.  Larijani studied mathematics and computer science at Sharif University of Technology. He earned advanced degrees in philosophy from Tehran University. After serving as a commander in the Revolutionary Guards, he held a variety of positions in the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, and the Ministry of Telecommunications. From 1991 to 1993, he served as Minister of Guidance and Islamic Culture. From 1994 to 2004, he was President of IRIB.
In 2004, Larijani became an advisor to Khamenei. In 2005, he made an unsuccessful run for president. Later that year, Khamenei appointed him Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, replacing Rouhani. In that capacity, Larijani acted as lead negotiator on Iran’s nuclear program. But he resigned in 2007, reportedly over tactical disagreements with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over the nuclear talks. In 2008, Larijani ran for Parliament and won a seat representing Qom. He went on to become Speaker of Parliament and held the position for two sessions. Larijani is also a member of the Expediency Council.
Larijani is the presumed conservative candidate for the speakership in the next Parliament, although he was attacked by hardliners for cooperating with Rouhani’s government. He supported the nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers, referring to it as a “national achievement” even though Iran did not get everything it wanted. In May 2016, he lauded the Rouhani administration for acting more lawfully and more cooperatively with Parliament than the Ahmadinejad administration. Larijani favors consensus in politics and could act as a broker between hardliners and the other factions.
Ali Motahari
Ali Motahari is a moderate conservative who fielded his own independent list called “Voice of the Nation.” His name was also included on the “List of Hope.” He could become a kingmaker in the next Parliament because he straddles reformists and hardliners. In an interview before the elections, he said that hardliners do not place enough emphasis on freedoms while reformists do not pay enough attention to cultural issues. He has criticized the government for putting the two Green Movement leaders and former presidential candidates, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, under house arrest in 2011. Although he has taken a conservative stance on cultural issues, like the dress code for women, Motahari has largely been supportive of President Rouhani. In March 2015, he was physically attacked by alleged hardliner critics. 
Born in 1958, Motahari is the son of the late Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, a leading theologian and political activist who was close to revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He is also the brother-in-law of Ali Larijani. Motahari studied mathematics and mechanical engineering at the University of Tabriz. He worked at IRIB and studied philosophy at the graduate level before going on to publish books and academic articles and eventually teach at various universities. In 2008, he ran for Parliament and won a seat representing Tehran. Motahari was a fierce critic of Ahmadinejad.
Motahari is known for being outspoken. After the post-election disqualification of Minoo Khaleghi, a female reformist candidate from Isfahan, he called for her reinstatement. The Guardian Council did not give an official reason for her disqualification, although some have speculated that a photo of her shaking hands with a man and not wearing a hijab might have triggered the decision. Critics of the disqualification argued that the Guardian Council does not have the power to disqualify someone after an election. Motahari said that the Interior Ministry must allow Khaleghi to take her seat or else Parliament will impeach the interior minister. He wrote an open letter to the Guardian Council head, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, insisting on her reinstatement.
Alaeddin Boroujerdi
Alaedddin Boroujerdi is a conservative lawmaker from Boroujerd in the western province of Lorestan. Like Larijani, he chose to run as independent rather than join the hardliner Grand Coalition of Principlists list. Boroujerdi kept his seat after winning in the April runoff.
Born in 1950, Boroujerdi majored in laboratory sciences at the University of Tabriz and did graduate work in international relations at Tehran University. Throughout the 1970s, he worked at the Red Crescent in Dubai and was later apprehended and interrogated by the shah’s SAVAK secret police upon returning to Iran for organizing against the monarchy. After the revolution, he began climbing the diplomatic ranks in 1981. Boroujerdi served as deputy foreign minister for Asia-Pacific affairs in the 1990s, deputy international affairs advisor to the supreme leader and deputy minister of foreign affairs.
In 2000, the veteran diplomat won a seat in Parliament. In 2007, he was named Chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee. In 2011, he was reportedly detained for 24 hours on allegations of financial fraud. But Boroujerdi denied the charges and accused the “deviant current”—supporters of Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei—of targeting individuals loyal to the supreme leader.
In the previous Parliament, Boroujerdi chaired the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee. He was on the 15-member panel of lawmakers that reviewed the nuclear deal. Boroujerdi had reservations, but ended up supporting the deal even while emphasizing his misgivings about Washington. “We are still distrustful of the United States because of the country’s arrogant nature and its support for the Zionist regime [Israel] in the massacre of the oppressed people of Palestine and its move to back Saudi Arabia’s killing of the Yemeni people. In this climate of mistrust, there are concerns and if they renege [on the nuclear agreement], we will do the same,” he said in August 2015.
In early May 2016, Boroujerdi announced his support for Larijani. “As far as I know him, he is the best speakership option for the tenth Parliament,” he said. Boroujerdi also extoled Larijani’s views on foreign policy.
Garrett Nada is the assistant editor of The Iran Primer at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Photo credits: Mohammad Reza Aref by Foad Ashtari [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Tasnim News Agency and Wikimedia Commons; Ali Larijani and Alaeddin Boroujerdi via ICANA and Parliran.ir

Jannati Elected Assembly of Experts Chief

On May 24, hardliner cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati was elected chairman of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, a body of 88 clerics and scholars tasked with overseeing and appointing the supreme leader. He has been a strong critic of President Hassan Rouhani’s efforts to improve relations with the West and expand international trade.
Jannati, at age 89, won the chairmanship with 51 votes and will serve a two-year term. He finished ahead of two other candidates: Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini, who won 21 votes, and Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, a former judiciary chief who received 13 votes. Jannati also chairs the Guardian Council, the powerful clerical body that vets candidates in Iran’s elections as well as all legislation to ensure it is compatible with Islam.
Jannati was one of the few hardliners reelected to the Assembly of Experts during the February elections, and the only hardliner to secure one of Tehran’s Assembly seats. He finished last, in 16th place, among the Tehran candidates who won seats. In Tehran, two key hardliners – both of which had been potential contenders to replace Supreme Leader Khamenei – lost their seats in the elections. Former Assembly of Experts chairman Mohammad Yazdi finished in 17th place, just missing the cut off for Tehran’s 16 available seats. Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, one of the Assembly’s most hardline clerics, finished in 19th place and also lost his seat. 
Candidates aligned with former President Hashemi Rafsanjani and current President Hassan Rouhani, who have urged reforms in the past, won major gains. Rafsanjani placed first in the race for the 16 available seats in Tehran. Senior clerics backed by reformists and centrists – but who are not necessarily reformists themselves – won 59 percent of seats in Iran’s Assembly of Experts, the Interior Ministry reported. They previously only held around 23 percent of the clerical body.
The Assembly of Experts has served largely as a rubber stamp organization. But this election could be significant since the supreme leader, who has been in power a quarter century, is now 76. The next supreme leader also may emerge from the new Assembly, which is comparable to the College of Cardinals in its powers to select the top religious authority. The supreme leader has the last word on political, economic and social life as well as national security issues. In December, the Assembly reportedly began drafting a list of potential successors.
Click here for more information on the Assembly of Experts 


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