Iranian Expatriates & Their Impact on the Islamic Republic of Iran: An Undergraduate Thesis in International Relations, Part V

This is the fifth installment of my thesis, and it is the second of two research methods: historical tracing.

Tracing Iran’s Domestic Development

Having discussed at length the Iranians outside of Iran, it is now necessary to look domestically at Iran’s historical development. In accordance with Varadarajan’s model, analyzing the diaspora community is only one half of the equation: the other half involves the home country’s circumstances (ranging from politics, to religion, to economics). The following section will outline Iran’s historical development, keeping those three variables in mind. In the end, this analysis will be followed by a conclusion which will finally entertain the question of the ability of the Iranian diaspora to serve as an effective “Domestic Abroad” and influence Iran’s regime in any substantial way.

Mossadegh: Rise and Fall

The Iranian political landscape in the early 20th century was trifold. On the one side were the religious leaders and on the other were the traditional aristocracy that owned much of the land. Important to note, however, is that at this time, religious leaders typically avoided direct participation in politics, preferring instead to serve as a source of legitimacy and support for other political actors.[1] Between these two vestiges of power was the “literate middle class,” which was subdivided into political groups that sought support and legitimacy from either the religious leaders or the aristocracy.[2] However, this middle group was not very large and indeed, not representative of the majority of the population, which was predominately not politically active at this time.[3]

In the aftermath of WWI, another faction entered the political scene. The military grew in both size and importance to become a relevant political actor. The military was entrusted by the Majles (Iranian Parliament) with the survival of the newly crafted constitutional government, and was therefore expanded to include “personnel from the lower middle class.”[4] So too was the composition of the officer corps changed: while some aristocratic “cliques” remained, many new officers from the middle class served as entry-level officers, further pushing the shift of the military away from an elite organization and more towards a quasi-populist institution.[5] Therefore, the military provided an outlet for political participation among members of the lower and middle classes who traditionally were not politically active.

Until his regime faltered in 1941 (when the Allied forces invaded and occupied Iran to prevent it from aiding the Nazis), Reza Shah used totalitarian tactics to balance these four prominent political spheres: religion, landed aristocracy, the middle class, and the military.[6] But as Mossadegh gained popular influence, the factions began to split. Mossadegh urged the clerics to help mobilize the masses in support of his nationalist movement, but drew the line at bestowing power to the religious elite (especially in the executive branch).[7] This quasi-manipulation of the religious leaders was not forgotten, and slighting them would indeed come back to haunt Mossadegh during the 1953 coup (to be discussed later).

The popular sentiment of Iran leading up to Mossadegh’s election strikes a surprising resemblance to the modern state’s motivation: ridding itself of foreign influence. Nationalism in Iran was on the rise, and was essentially xenophobic in character.[8] The constitutional revolution of 1906 was by this time seen largely as a failure, and Iranians grew more and more frustrated with the bloated bureaucracy, corrupt tax scheme, inefficacy of constitutional rights, and what was widely acknowledged as “widespread nepotism.”[9] And while religious leaders were certainly a part of the ruling elite—the same ruling elite with whom the masses were growing more and more discontent—they were able to manipulate Qur’anic teachings on justice and resistance against tyranny to stoke the nationalist flames without getting burned themselves.[10] Instead, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company came to symbolize all that was wrong with the current system, and so public frustration which was originally targeted internal conditions and the existing political system was redirected and focused into a strong desire for freedom from foreign oppression.[11] Indeed, these negative sentiments towards Britain weren’t new: the Allied occupation of Iran did much damage to Iran’s sense of national pride.[12] Additionally, the Soviet Union had a history of meddling in Iranian domestic affairs. During the Allied Occupation of Iran, the USSR entrenched its military forces to such an extent that the Iranian army was unable to carry out simple tasks pertinent to domestic security, such as entering their northern territory to deal with a simple textiles strike.[13] Soviet influence was so strong that in 1944, a carefully orchestrated propaganda campaign was able to shame the Prime Minister out of office.[14]

Politically speaking, it is also important to note the electoral structure of the constitutional regime preceding Mossadegh. Iran’s introduction to limited rule and elections was not a smooth transition. In fact, various crises—starting with WWI—set a precedent for executive seizure of powers in the name of stability.[15] As parliamentary elections rolled around every two years, the results were essentially predetermined by reconciling the interests of “the Shah, his army, and the government representing the interests of the ruling elite.”[16] But with Mossadegh, for the first time, a popular uprising in 1952 served as a rebuttal to the behind-closed-doors dealings that traditionally characterized Iranian politics.[17] Zabih writes, “This popular uprising had demonstrated the vital significance of mass participation in iran’s political processes. It had forced the reluctant ruling elite to retreat further in the face of intense popular pressure and accept the nationalist government on its own terms.”[18]

The flip side of this staunch popular support was that it obligated Mossadegh to deliver on his nationalist promises, namely, the oil dispute with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. But the traditional sources of power were resistant to this nationalist aim. So Mossadegh, being unable to work with the existing system to implement the necessary changes in policy, applied strategies designed to alter the status quo of the system itself. Under the guise of “reform,” he tried to curb the influence of the military, the Shah, the landed elites, and the religious clerics.[19]

Quickly, the political battle lines were made clear. The opponents to nationalization and to Mossadegh were the more traditional sources of power: landed elites, the Shah, the more influential religious leaders.[20] The military was allied with the Shah in this effort, because he side-stepped the Majles and appointed General Ali Razmara as Prime Minister in 1951.[21] But the nationalist tide, spurred by widespread popular support, would not be stopped by the small-numbered but powerful opposition.

Mossadegh was able to rally a coalition around the National Front and their widely popular cause of taking the British to task over their oil pipeline: this coalition included the bazaaris (merchants and traders in the economic sphere), the intelligentsia, and the lower-ranking religious clerics. These groups were not typically the powerful political actors in Iran, but by their very nature they are closer in proximity to the common Iranian. And since the issue of oil nationalization was of such prominence at this time, spurring the populous into a fervor, the relative political significance of these groups grew accordingly. Take the Tehran bazaaris, for instance: at times of political turmoil in Iran, they shut down the bazaar—which serves as a clear political act of disapproval—until a solution can be reached and normal life can resume.[22] That Iranian merchants are not transparently political actors and participants is because they simultaneously recognize the need to be apolitical enough to survive regime changes, while at the same time retaining “their ability to paralyze the economy of any regime that [makes] economic life unbearable for them.”[23] And local preachers, for their part, play an important unifying role, boldly inspiring groups of people to act together where they might have been afraid to act alone, indeed sometimes acting in political concert with the merchants.[24] Mossadegh’s primary religious ally was Ayatollah Kashani, who wielded considerable autonomy and influence.[25] In a mafia-like fashion, Kashani contracted the Fedayin-e Islam (Sacrificers of Islam) to assassinate a journalist who, in Kashani’s opinion, had insulted the Qur’an. At the hearing of the four assassins, the judge was pressured into dismissing the case as outside the courthouse crowds of people chanted “Allahu Akbar!” Thus, while nontraditional, the latent power of these two groups was firmly rooted in the people, such that when popular movements like the nationalism of the mid-20th century (and, as we will see, the Islamic Revolution of 1979) flair up, the merchants and the mullahs join to pose an almost unstoppable and formidable force.

On March 16, 1951, General Razmara was assassinated, which scared the elites into making several concessions to the nationalist bloc.[26] As such, Mossadegh finally achieved the premiership with an astounding unanimous election from the Majles. Initially, the traditional elites hoped that this move and even the oil deals to come would serve primarily to quell the pressure from the masses and their accusations of foreign meddling, and that the traditional balance of political power would remain essentially unchanged.[27] As Mossadegh began to appoint members of the traditional elite to important cabinet posts, it appeared that he intended to pursue his nationalization of oil campaign without substantially altering the patterns of political power.[28]

One of Mossadegh’s first bold moves was to distance himself from the religious clerics who had originally supported him on his path to the premiership. As alluded to above, Mossadegh snubbed Ayatollah Kashani by effectively shutting down the Fedayin-e Islam, which included a police seizure of their headquarters and the arrests of most of their leadership.[29] And in order to placate Kashani, Mossadegh agreed to bridge the gap between religion and politics, allowing Kashani to serve as Speaker of the House in the Majles.[30] On April 30, 1951, Mossadegh successfully implemented the complete nationalization of foreign oil in Iran, and the Shah signed the bill on May 1.[31]

With this success, however, a period of political uneasiness came to the fore. Mossadegh had previously insisted that his tenure would end with the accomplishment of nationalizing oil, but with that goal out of the way, many worried that his ambitions would grow and he would seek reelection.[32] His political coalition began to unravel.[33] And economically speaking, the severance of ties between the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company left over 50,000 Iranians and the Iranian Treasury without payment.[34] Domestic unrest boiled over on December 4 of the same year, when the communist Tudeh Party rose up in protest which was violently suppressed.[35] The situation deteriorated rapidly. After trying and failing to replace Mossadegh as Prime Minister, the Shah fled Iran.[36] This spurred the Army under General Zahedi,[37] which was pro-Shah, to take a more staunchly anti-Mossadegh stance.[38] Since the Tudeh Party was previously outlawed, this string of uprisings was connected with Mossadegh’s rule, so the two groups were seen as being in complicity with one another.[39] An economic crisis of sorts was instilled by British retaliation over the nationalization of oil,[40] which drove a wedge between the traditionally powerful actors and the Mossadegh regime.[41] Without oil royalties, the government’s revenue was reduced by nearly 40%, which added to the running deficit of over 100 million dollars.[42] The religious leaders who had formerly supported Mossadegh, led by Ayatollah Kashani as Speaker of the House, made a complete about-face and worked against his political agenda.[43]

In short, the situation was ripe for the British to come in and remove Mossadegh: the primary obstacle to the oil they so desperately needed. In November of 1952, the American Kermit Roosevelt was approached by the British with a plot to overthrow Mossadegh.[44] By presenting the issue not as one of British energy security, but rather one of impending Soviet take-over, the British were able to get the Americans onboard. And in August 1953, the Anglo-American coup—supported by Royalist forces, the army, and politically active clerics like Kashani—succeeded in removing Mossadegh from power and reinstating the Shah.[45]

Of primary relevance to this thesis is the initial diaspora inspired by the Shah’s return to power: from the end of the coup to around 1955, 50,000 Iranians fled to Europe or America. By the Revolution of 1979, there were 150,000 Iranians living abroad. Of those, 35,000 resided in the US, a population equally divided between temporary students and permanent exiles.[46] Additionally, out of the ashes of Mossadegh’s National Front Party arose the Mujahiddin-e Khalk, one of the principal opposition groups of the Iranian Diaspora today.[47]

Iran under the Shah

Quickly, the issue of oil nationalization swung the other way. In the post-coup chaos, the American Embassy served as the bastion for authority and influence.[48] To make up for the losses in the Iranian Treasury, America granted a $45 million loan and American oil companies appeared, ready to make generous loans to Iran.[49] The Shah went further to side with the West throughout the 1950s and 1960s by joining the Central Treaty Organization, a US-led coalition against Soviet influence.[50] And, wary of the clerics’ ability to rally the masses, the Shah worked actively to undermine the power of the Ayatollahs by playing favorites and even staging arrests.[51] His “White Revolution,” aimed to emulate his Western allies, replete with women’s rights (which was partly a political ploy to enfranchise a new and reliable electoral base)[52] and land reform, aimed at decreasing the traditional power of landed elites.[53] The 1963 land-reform act also target religious endowment, and the Shah pointedly denied the exemption request from Ayatollah Behnahani, the leading cleric at the time. Essentially, the Shah’s goal was to advance the country economically without democratizing the political system.[54] These reforms faced opposition from both religious leaders and the landlords, which escalated to riots in 1963 after Ayatollah Khomeini was arrested.[55] Throughout this time, popular opinion towards America became as virulent as it was against Britain and the Soviet Union.[56]

These moves very effectively diminished the role of the Majles and the office of the Prime Minister, and left no room for opposition, so that the Shah and the army were the only two remaining political players.[57] Now in dictatorial control, the Shah intended to hold onto power with as much force as possible. In addition to leaning on America for economic support, he reached out to them for help in constructing his secret police apparatus, the SAVAK.[58] With his own private intelligence force, and with the military concentrated under his control, the Shah proceeded to undermine the last force of traditional power in his way: religion. He used economic means to limit their capabilities, revoking subsidies and taking control of their national network.[59] He also used brutal measures to intimidate any critical clerics by means of arrest, imprisonment, and torture.[60]

The regime also concretized as oil revenues increased: from 1955 to 1964 they rose from $90 million to $482 million.[61] In this same period, direct foreign aid from the United States government to Iran amounted to approximately $500 million.[62]

But while the Shah had succeeded in removing Mossadegh from power, he could not eradicate the popular sentiment he most embodied: xenophobic distrust and suspicion. Indeed, as more and more American influence poured into Iran—both in terms of money and culture—the clerics and the bazaaris grew more and more angry.[63] Ayatollah Khomeini and his colleagues in Qom seized on the legacy established by Kashani: direct religious participation in politics. By 1964, Kohmeini’s anti-Shah and anti-America sermons had become so popular that the Shah saw him as a threat.[64] The Shah sent a member of the SAVAK to deliver an ultimatum to Khomeini, urging him to stop his criticisms, which spurred Khomeini to escalate even further, calling on all mullahs to speak out against the Shah.[65] Khomeini was thereafter exiled, spending a brief stint in Turkey, 14 years in Iraq, and four months in Paris.[66]

As Khomeini used cassette tapes and radio addresses to continue leading and inspiring his followers back in Iran, most other non-religious factions, including the landed elites, gradually turned against the Shah and his brutal tactics.[67] Reliance on oil revenues proved to be a tenuous economic foundation, as global forces precluded any kind of stable revenue stream.[68] And the revenues that were received stayed in the uppermost echelons of Iranian society (i.e. the Pahlavis and those close to them) due to rampant corruption.[69] Around the same time, Iran’s economy began to decline, with the cost of living rising over 30% with the turn of the decade.[70]This increasingly unequal distribution of wealth was recognizable by a growing portion of the population, especially the urban populations, because from 1960-1975, not only did the urban population double in Iran, but the literacy rate more than tripled.[71] As literacy increased, so too did interest in politics for the average Iranian.[72] In effect, it was precisely the Shah’s own modernization campaign which simultaneously catalyzed the disparate gains in wealth and the masses’ discontentment with it. Added to all of this was the poisonous perception of foreign interference—the very same perception that had previously rallied the masses around Mossadegh—which was seized upon by Khomeini.[73]

In 1975, the Shah declared Iran a “one-party state,” which alienated not only the intellectual middle class, but also the bazaaris and the clerics, who feared losing their individual voice without a factional system.[74] Freedom of the press was already strictly monitored and limited; a one party system threatened to shut the door even further on any kind of opposition.[75] It is therefore unsurprising that so many Iranian students went to be educated abroad. By 1974, Iranians were the largest single group of foreigners studying in the US.[76] By 1979, they were estimated to number between 45,000 and 60,000—but less than ten percent returned to Iran upon getting their degrees.[77] Instead, these graduates became politically active in the West, and frequently and publically protested the Shah in the streets of their host country.[78] Equally frequent at this time were protests by students still in Iran, which proceeded regularly as of October 1977.[79]

Ironically, as much as the Shah tried to stifle opposition and simultaneously modernize the country, it was precisely his modernization efforts that made sustaining an opposition possible. Consider the students outlined above. While the Shah’s efforts dramatically increased the number of high school graduates, there simply were not enough universities to accommodate these larger numbers: by 1979, of the roughly 235,000 high school graduates, barely 12% were accepted into higher education programs.[80] And while the vast majority of these Iranians were frustrated and angry with the system, the few lucky enough to get into university became politically conscious and active, protesting the Shah’s injustices. Yet another instance of ironic consequences of the Shah’s modernization was manifested in the increased rate of travel and urbanization. Millions of Iranians were able to travel as never before, including religious pilgrimages, and faster still was the spread of ideas through radio and photocopied speeches.[81] The effect was, primarily, twofold. Economic woes (the product of overspending on the part of the Shah and his modernization campaign, the fluctuation of oil prices, and the resulting inflation) were felt more broadly, and religious clerics were able to rapidly galvanize support for their opposition in 1978-1979.[82]

The Revolution really got under way in 1978, with strings of protests and uprisings, accompanied by injuries and deaths of both protestors and police forces.[83] The weakness of Iran’s economy began to manifest itself in shortages of basic commodities—ranging from onions to cement—which mobilized huge swaths of society, from the urban rich to the “lower middle class.”[84] Beginning on January 8, 1978, and up until February 11, 1979, the Tehran bazaar was closed, thus demonstrating the bazaaris discontent with the government.[85]

As the uprisings increased and the Revolution gathered steam, the Shah pressured Saddam Hussein of Iraq to exile Khomeini, who had been fomenting religious rebellion from there.[86] But again, the grand irony of this move was that instead of stifling Khomeini’s voice in the movement, it amplified it: he went to Paris where he gained exposure to the international press and a better telecommunications infrastructure with which to communicate with and direct his disciples.[87] Most critical was Kohomeini’s campaign to effectively neuter the Shah’s Army. He accomplished this with cassette tapes aimed at leveraging religion against the Army’s allegiance to the Shah.[88] Once the Revolution was in full force, the Shah proved unable and even, as the number of protestors swelled, unwilling to effectively use the great military might he had amassed against his own people, and when he fled the country on February 1, 1979, many of the military elites fled with him.[89]

Khomeini to Today

One of the first priorities of the newly minted Islamic Republic was finish neutralizing the Army by officially “Islamizing” it. The military was, after all, the only institution left that supported the Shah nearly to the end of the Revolution. To accomplish this, an Ideological-Political Directorate of the Armed Forces was established by the religious elites.[90] The Army was highly disconcerted, and attempted a counterrevolutionary coup in July 1980, which failed quickly but reinforced the mullahs desire to radically re-shape the security apparatus.[91] The manifestation of this desire was the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps: a parallel force that was intended to “act as a foil” to the traditional military.[92] To further dilute the role of the military, Khomeini established a voluntary force known as the Basiji, another military group designed to repel “domestic or foreign aggression, and to guard the gains of the Islamic revolution.”[93] As the Iran-Iraq War broke out, Khomeini continued to speak out against the politicization of the military.[94]

Another mainstay which found itself locked in Khomeini’s sights was nationalism. Unlike the Shah, who simply ignored the lingering sentiments from after Mossadegh’s ouster, Khomeini was intent on targeting the feeling of nationalism and supplanting it with Islamism.[95] The Islamic Republic, under Khomeini’s instruction, went about eliminating as many “nationalist feelings” as possible: he changed names, calendars, holidays, celebrations, the national emblem, etc.[96] In fact, he described the very Revolution itself as a battle between “Islamist rule” and “national government.”[97] And rather than merely replacing the Shah as Iran’s leader, through his rhetoric, Khomeini pursued a much more broad-strokes rhetorical campaign, often times speaking on behalf of and with authority to all Muslims.[98] And because Khomeini was the head of state himself (a political office), this in and of itself was an attempt to reduce the important of Iran as a nation-state and replace it in the eyes of Iranians and others with Shi’a Islam. In other words, because he put his role as religious leader above his role as political leader, this in turn placed religion above nationalism.

Virtually everything associated with the old order and the Shah was targeted by Khomeini to either be dismantled or disbanded. Domestic bureaucracies, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, were completely stripped of senior and mid-level employees.[99] The intellectuals and the business leaders were likewise mistrusted and underutilized.[100] And much of the economy wealth left by the Shah in the wake of his sudden departure was simply re-appropriated to Khomeini and his followers with the creation of bonyads—organizations that claimed to be Islamic charitable foundations that in reality siphoned tens of billions of dollars out of the economy and into the coffers of the elites in the regime.[101] In his wake, Khomeini had hollowed out the political economy of Iran, leaving “the Imam and the millions of his followers, with nothing in between.”[102] As a result, even the few public projects that were brainstormed, including a $600 million urban housing project for Tehran, were never completed due to the lack of effective infrastructure and bureacruacy.[103]

Ironically, a closer examination reveals that even religion was targeted by Khomeini once he and his loyal supports gained supreme power in Iran. Taheri writes that Khomeini’s interactions with religion have been political, at the expense of the religion itself.[104] It is indeed relevant to note that in the Islamic Republic’s first 30 years, “hardly any new mosques have been built in Tehran…Instead, the regime has financed the building of takeyh and husseinieh, meaning Siite centers for political rallies disguised as religious ceremonies.”[105] Furthermore, mullahs and students of theology have even been persecuted by the Islamic republic: over 300 have been executed, thousands are in jail, and even more have fled into exile.[106] Khomeini himself pressured Ayatollah Shariatmadari—the second-most popular cleric in Iran at the time—out of politics.[107]

As a result, both secular and religious forces vied for Khomeini’s personal endorsement, as this was the only way to survive the religious and political terrain in the wake of the Revolution.[108] Taheri goes so far as to describe Iran as a fascist state, citing the Islamic Republic’s rejection of modernity, as well as the cult of personality that surrounded Khomeini when he was Supreme Leader and survived him to continue his legacy.[109]

All the while, however, Khomeini was most vocal about the specter of foreign threats, thus continuing the very kind of rhetoric that inspired so much public antipathy that brought about the Revolution in the first place.[110] After Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel, Iran cut off diplomatic ties with the former.[111] Also in 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, further inflating Iran’s fear of imperialist influence.[112] In October of that same year, the Shah was allowed to enter America for medical treatment, firmly concretizing the “Satanic” alliance that Khomeini blamed for so many of Iran’s plights.[113] This xenophobic fervor reached its apex when, in November, the US embassy was seized by student protestors.[114] And the next year, Iran was attacked by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which was tacitly backed by the US.[115] The Hostage Crisis continued for 444 days, and the Iran-Iraq War proceeded for eight years. As a result, the xenophobia that propelled the Revolution in the first place was continued and even heighted in the first years of Khomeini’s rule, solidifying the Islamic Republic’s very existence as a continual rebuff to foreign interference (Khomeini and other clerics went so far as to make statements about exporting the 1979 Revolution to extend the reach of Shi’a Islam.).[116]

Pollack writes that “Khomeini’s obsessive hatred for the United States was a central motivating force in his decision making. He was as devoutly anti-American as he was devoutly Muslim. Anti-Americanism was not a tool he used to achieve power, rather, it was one of his primary goals—and to some extent, the achievement of power was an instrument toward achieving that goal.”[117] The leader of Iran’s Council of Guardians put it thusly: “When all is said and done, we are an anti-American regime. America is our enemy, and we are the enemies of America…Just like our revolution destroyed the monarchy here, it will definitely destroy the arrogant hegemony of America, Israel, and their allies.”[118] Soon, Iranians in the middle class were targeted as “Westernized liberals” and persecuted and chased out of positions of power and influence.[119] And later, as the nuclear issue grew to become one of the hallmarks of Iranian policy and politics, the regime would again revert to the xenophobia card, citing Iran’s right to nuclear power as a rebuff against America’s “bullying.”[120]

While scapegoating threats from abroad, Khomeini’s revolutionary promises remained unfulfilled domestically. What was initially revolutionary anarchy stretched on into chronic mismanagement and was perpetuated by the crises of war. As of late 1980, nearly 35% of the Iranian population was unemployed.[121] High inflation sent food prices skyrocketing.[122] Even more pivotal, Iran’s oil production fell off by nearly 80% in the first year of the revolution due to strikes and the fleeing of foreign workers.[123] By Khomeini’s death in 1989, the public sector grew more and more bloated, and talented, educated Iranians fled Iran (and with them, much investment potential), further dragging down the economy.[124] The state’s solution to public problems has been more nationalization and a wide array of subsidies, and yet there are frequent shortages of basic goods and food.[125] These economic conditions were felt across the whole economic spectrum.[126]

The economic fractures served to splinter the Revolutionary forces once Khomeini took power. The People’s Mujahedin, which initially supported Imam Khomeini, began to gather en masse as an alternative voice for Iran’s poorest people.[127] But Khomeini quickly used his vast power to limit the scope of their activities and eventually persecute them out of Iran. He also used his revolutionary militias (such as the basiji) to suppress protests in the street over the harsh economic conditions and the trials of war with Iraq.[128] But despite these harsh tactics, a political group of pragmatists was able to successfully emerge and present a more dynamic political landscape in Iran.[129] Speaker of the Majles Rafsanjani was the first leader of the pragmatists, and he would later go on to serve as Iran’s President, thus cementing the party on the national scene.[130] Other political changes brought about by Khomeini that still exist today have essentially permeated the Supreme Leader’s influence throughout all primary governmental institutions.[131]

The presidencies of Rajsanfani (1989-1997) and his successor, Khatami (1997-2005) saw tensions between the office of the presidency and the Supreme Leader—Ayatollah Khamenei, who succeeded Khomeini after his death—which resulted in increased relative power to the latter post.[132] One of the institutions firmly under the influence of the Supreme Leader is the Council of Guardians, which has the responsibility of vetting candidates who seek public office.[133] This authority has resulted in reformist and pragmatist candidates being excluded from politics due to “lack of respect for Islam,” a practice which increased steadily in the years after Khomeini’s death.[134] One should therefore take the election of Rafsanjani and Khatami with a grain of salt, in that while they are members of left-leaning parties, they still passed inspection by the conservatives in the Council of Guardians. And because they were elected with the mandate to improve economic conditions, that failure effectively bolstered Khamenei and conservatives on the political scene.[135] The failure to improve the economy also held negative implications for Khatami’s left-leaning foreign policy, which called for a “Dialogue Among Civilizations.”[136] Important to note, however, is Khatami’s acknowledgement of the Iranian diaspora: he stated that the community of Iranians living abroad (over two million of which were living in the United States at the time) “had a role in opening up his country.”[137] But being a component of Khatami’s foreign policy, this outreach to the diaspora community was also scrapped after the left lost political favor.

This conservative swing has been on full display throughout the Ahmadinejad presidency. Under his presidency, the regime has been more repressive than any time since 1979.[138] This was epitomized by the crushing defeat of the Green Movement protests against his re-election in 2009.[139] And while that flashpoint was political, in that the protests were in reaction to widespread elector fraud, the mounting public frustration with the regime has also been catalyzed by economic conditions: according to data from the International Monetary Fund’s 2012 World Economic Outlook, Iran’s GDP growth rate, while positive, has fluctuated and struggled throughout Ahmadinejad’s presidency. Other economic indicators also suggest that Iran’s economy is hurting from several rounds of international sanctions: inflation more than doubled from 2009 to 2012 and the unemployment rate grew by nearly five percentage points in the same time frame.[140] In addition to the regime’s repressive policies aimed at silencing dissent (again, most highlighted by the brutal repression of the Green Movement), conservatives have been able to sustain their rule by consistently raising the specter of foreign interference and bullying.[141] In many ways, by continuing and managing the sense of “international crisis,” harping on such issues as American military efforts and international sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program, the regime is able to deflect against domestic problems and the concerns of the public.[142]


[1] Sephr Zabih, The Mossadegh Era: Roots of the Iranian Revolution, (Chicago: Lake View Press, 1982): 12.

[2] Ibid, 9.

[3] Jerrold D. Green, “Pseudoparticipation and Countermobilization: Roots of the Iranian Revolution,” Iranian Studies 13 (1980): 32.

[4] Zabih, 10.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 14.

[8] Andrew F. Westood, “Politics of Distrust in Iran” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 358 (1965): 125.

[9] Zabih, 6.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Kenneth M. Pollack, The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict between Iran and America. (New York: Random House: 2004): 53.

[12] Zabih, 7.

[13] Mohamed Heikal, The Return of the Ayatollah: The Iranian Revolution from Mossadeq to Khomeini, (London: André Deutch Limited, 1981): 43.

[14] Heikal, 44.

[15] Zabih, 15.

[16] Ibid., 16.

[17] Ibid., 17.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Zabih, 18.

[20] Ibid., 25.

[21] Ibid., 23.

[22] Roy Mottahedeh, The Mantle of the Propher: Religion and Politics in Iran., (Glasgow: Bell & Bain, 2009): 35.

[23] Mottahedeh, 59.

[24] Ibid., 37.

[25] Heikal, 56.

[26] Zabih, 25-26.

[27] Ibid., 27.

[28] Zabih, 28.

[29] Ibid., 28-29.

[30] Ebrahim Norouzi, “Mossadegh, Islam and Ayatollahs,” The Mossadegh Project, 24 November 2009, <http://www.mohammadmossadegh.com/biography/islam/&gt;.

[31] Zabih, 29.

[32] Ibid., 31.

[33] Westwood, 127.

[34] Heikal, 61.

[35] Westwood, 127.

[36] Mottahedeh, 128.

[37] Pollack, 65.

[38] Westwood, 127.

[39] Pollack, 53 and Westwood 127.

[40] Pollack, 57.

[41] Zabih, 83.

[42] Mahmoud Nariman, “Report from the Minister of Finance,” Ettelaat (Tehran), October 15, 1952.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Heikal, 62-63.

[45] Robert S. Litwak, Regime Change: U.S. Strategy through the Prism of 9/11. (Washington: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2007): 201.

[46] Heikal, 70.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid., 65.

[49] Ibid., 66.

[50] Litwak, 201.

[51] Heikal, 66-67.

[52] Heikal, 67.

[53] Westwood, 133-134.

[54] Green, 33.

[55] Litwak, 201; Mottahedeh, 245.

[56] Pollack, 68.

[57] Ibid., 73.

[58] Ibid., 74.

[59] Ibid., 118.

[60] Pollack, 119.

[61] Ibid., 75.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Pollack, 77-78.

[64] Heikal, 86; Rouleau, 5-6.

[65] Keihal, 88.

[66] Amir Taheri, The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution, (New York: Encounter Books, 2009): 54.

[67] Pollack, 120.

[68] Pollack, 120.

[69] Heikal, 95.

[70] Mottahhedeh, 353.

[71] Green, 34-35.

[72] Mottahhedeh, 353.

[73] Pollack, 122-123.

[74] Ahemd S. Hashim, “The Iranian Military in Politics, Revolution and War, Part Two,” Middle East Policy 19 (2012): 69.

[75] Hashim, 69.

[76] Green, 36.

[77] Hamid Mowlana, “U.S.-Iranian Relations, 1954-1978: A Case of Cultural Domination,” an unpublished paper presented at the Middle East Studies Association Annual Conference, Salt Lake City (November, 1979): 5.

[78] Green, 37.

[79] Barry Rubin, Paved with Good Intentions: The American Experience and Iran, (New York: Penguin, 1981): 196.

[80] Mottahedeh, 316.

[81] Green, 38

[82] Hashim, 68-69.

[83] Pollack, 129-131

[84] Mottahhedeh, 356.

[85] Ibid., 372.

[86] Pollack, 131.

[87] Ibid.

[88] Heikal, 144.

[89] Hashim, 70.

[90] Ibid.

[91] Ibid., 71.

[92] Ibid.

[93] Ibid.

[94] Ibid.

[95] Amir Taheri, The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution. (New York: Encounter Books, 2009): 54.

[96] Taheri, 55-57.

[97] Ibid., 55

[98] Heikal, 139.

[99] Ibid., 181.

[100] Ibid.

[101] Suzzane Maloney, “Agents or Obstacles? Parastatal Foundations and Challenges for Iranian Development.”

[102] Heikal, 181.

[103] Ibid., 186.

[104] Taheri, 79.

[105] Ibid.

[106] Ibid.

[107] Heikal, 183.

[108] Ibid., 181-183.

[109] Taheri, 79-83.

[110] Rouleau, 6.

[111] Ibid., 8.

[112] Litwak, 202.

[113] Rouleau, 8.

[114] Litwak, 202.

[115] Ibid., 202-205.

[116] Shaul Bakhash, “The Islamic Republic of Iran, 1979-1989,” The Wilson Quarterly 13 (1989): 57.

[117] Pollack, 156.

[118] Taheri, 189.

[119] Rouleau, 12.

[120] Litwak, 237.

[121] Rouleau, 16.

[122] Ibid..

[123] Pollack, 157.

[124] Bakhash, 59.

[125] Bakhash, 59.

[126] Rouleau, 15.

[127] Ibid., 18.

[128] Pollack, 211.

[129] Ibid., 212.

[130] Ibid.

[131] Taheri, 240-252.

[132] Litwak, 231-232.

[133] Morad Saghafi and Kaveh Ehsani, “The New Landscape of Iranian Politics,” Middle East Report 233 (Winter, 2004): 17.

[134] Ibid.

[135] Litwak, 230-231; Saghafi and Ehsani, 16-18.

[136] Anne Penketh, “Iranian President Appeals for Dialogue Between Peoples,” Agence France Presse, 20 September 1998.

[137] Penketh.

[138] Ali Ansari, “Iran under Ahmadinejad: Populism and its Malcontents.” International Affairs 84 (2008): 684.

[139] Adal Mirza, “Sanctions Fail to Galvanize Opposition,” Middle East Economic Digest 56 (17 August 2012): 33.

[141] Ansari, 699.

[142] Ibid..

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