News ID: 319359
Published: 0304 GMT January 12, 2022

Iran’s governance system uniquely seeks to maintain Islamic-Republic balance

Iran’s governance system uniquely seeks to maintain Islamic-Republic balance

By Ali Abootalebi*

Iran remains the only Shia Muslim country seeking to build an ‘Islamic Republic’, combining Shia jurisprudence, values and principles, and a vision of Islamic society with a republican institutional and legal framework.

The state initially constructed a constitutional structure for the division and the interplay of power among the three branches of government. The constitutional changes and the creation of the office of Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, the Constitutional Council, and the Expediency Council served predominantly the interest of the clerical outlook and its advocates. In foreign affairs, the creation of the Supreme National Security Council further consolidated power in the hands of the top clerical leadership at the expense of the Parliament and the office of the presidency.

In short, the balance of power between Islam and republicanism has gradually tilted toward the former. The conservatives’ wariness toward the creation of political parties has played a significant role in political stagnation in the country. Independent political parties are indispensable in interest aggregation of diverging popular interest, with implications for political power, state legitimacy, and governance in any democratic political system.

Furthermore, external factors such as the Iran-Iraq war, sanctions, and political pressure strengthened the position of the more conservative forces who see the West as the perennial enemy with low prospects for coexistence or rapprochement.

The rise of Iranian President Seyyed Ebrahim Raeisi’s administration is a manifestation of political tightening in Iran in the face of the decline of the reformists who advocated a moderated role of conservative concepts in the management of state-society relations.

The arrival of the second and third post-revolution generations to the socio-economic and political scenes, who naturally care more about the state of the economy and freedom in political and personal expression, has complicated the political lives of both the reformists and the conservatives. Political reformists have declined in power and prestige and the conservatives have fallen short in delivering economic prosperity and virtuous life in the face of ever-worsening economic conditions, overburdening and unnecessary social restrictions, and political limitations.

The incongruences between what is Islamic and what is republic remains unresolved. The blend of secular and religious laws, institutional frameworks, and the division of power need addressing and reforms to drastically address democratic rights to correct the balance in the structure of power based on both religious exigencies and the republican rights of citizenship. The rise of the Raeisi administration signifies further Islamization of Iran’s constitutional republicanism while, in my opinion, republicanizing what is Islamic is the path toward reaching an effective balance between ‘Islamic’ and ‘Republic’ components of the system without undermining either of them.


*Ali Abootalebi, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, writes on Islam and democracy, Middle Eastern and global politics, and the US Mideast policy in his books and articles. He is associated with the Wisconsin Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, Center for Global Nonkilling, and Jewish Voice for Peace.

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