Iran Political Culture and Patterns of Interaction

Iraninan citizens have had little direct experience with democracy, but they generally do understand the importance of civil society. Until the Pahlavi shahs of the 20th century; the authoritarian rulers had very little power to reach into citizen’s everyday lives.  Local officials were a presence, and religious law, sharia set strict rules for behavior.  The Constitution of 1906 however, did create an elected legislature, the Majles.  By the 1979 Revolution, although guarantees for civil liberties were written into the Constitution, the Islamic republic from the beginning ignored due process principles, closed newspapers, and banned demonstrations.




Questions to consider:

  • What ethnic groups make up Iran?
  • What kind of Iranians wish to liberalize their system?
  • What factors brought Iran’s Islamic Revolution?
Cleavages in Iran
Religion 90% Shia Muslim, 10% Sunni, 1% are Combination of Jews, Christian, Zoroastrian, and Baha’i
Ethnicity 51% Persian (speaking Persian or Farsi); 24% Azeri;  8% are Gilaki and Mazandarani; 7% are Kurds; 3% are Arabi.
Social Class Peasantry and lower middle class support the regime; middle class and upper-middle class are largely secularized and tend to be critical of the clerics and their control of the society.
Reformers v. conservatives Conservatives want to keep the regime as it is, under the control of clerics and sharia law; reformers would like more secularization and democracy.
Pragmatic conservatives v. radical clerics Pragmatic conservatives are clergy that favor liberal economic policies that encourage foreign trade, free markets, and direct foreign investment.   Radicals call for measures to enhance social justice, especially in terms of providing welfare benefits to Iran’s poor.
Difference between Sunnis and Shiites




Shi’a (or Shi’ah)


Adherents called Sunnis Adherents called Shiites or Shi’a


Meaning: Followers of Muhammad’s example Meaning: Party of Ali
85% of Muslims worldwide 15% of Muslims worldwide
Believes no basis in Islam for a hereditary privileged class of spiritual leaders, and certainly no basis of the veneration or intercession of saints. Believes that the Imam is sinless by nature and that his authority is infallible as it comes directly from God.
Believes in the ‘hidden imam’
Temporary marriage practiced in Prophets time but rejected now Temporary marriage still practiced

Review Questions

The second largest religious group in Iran today is Sunni Muslim.
Radical clerics differ from pragmatic conservatives in their support of state-provided welfare benefits to the poor.
Civil Society in Iran expanded most noticeable during the time just after the Revolution of 1979.
Shiite Muslims believe that the Imam is sinless by nature and that his authority is infallible as it comes directly from God.

In recent years women in Iran have had the most success in overcoming discrimination in terms of __________ ___________.

Click to reveal the answer.

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