Iran (also known as Persia) is a Western Asian country with over 81 million inhabitants and a land area of 636,372 square miles – as such, it’s the second-largest country in the Middle East and the 17th-largest country in the world. Iran is bordered by Armenia and Azerbaijan (northwest), the Caspian Sea (north), Turkmenistan (northeast), Afghanistan and Pakistan (east), the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman (south) and Turkey and Iraq (west). Tehran is the capital of Iran, as well as its largest city.
Iran is a founding member of the United Nations, as well as ECO, NAM and OPEC. It’s considered a major regional and middle power, and its massive reserves of fossil fuels grant it significant influence on the world economy.
The country has a rich cultural history with 22 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which is the eleventh-largest amount in the world. Its multicultural demography is composed of Persians (61%), Azeris (16%), Kurds (10%) and Lurs (6%).
A troubled history
The history of the Iranian government is steeped in turmoil.
In 1979, the American embassy was seized and hostages taken for 444 days as a result of the American government supporting the King of Iran, leading to frosty relations between the US and Iran ever since, which have included a number of economic sanctions – in addition, the US and others have accused Iran of multiple acts of terrorism over the last three decades. The Iran-Iraq War, which lasted eight years, also cost the country billions of dollars and countless lives, and by 1982, the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini was in full control of the country.
The economy of Iran has suffered in the post-revolution era, with millions of entrepreneurs, technicians and skilled professionals and crafts people flooding out of the country poverty has risen nearly 45% during the years since the Iraqi invasion on Iran, and per capita income remains well below pre-revolutionary levels.
Iran had no functioning political parties until 1994, when the Executives of Construction Party formed to run for the fifth parliamentary elections. From 1997, more parties began to form, though they were opposed by hard-liners. The government has also been opposed by multiple militias, such as those of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, the People's Fedayeen, and the Kurdish Democratic Party.
How is the government structured?
The Islamic Consultative Assembly (Parliament) is composed of 290 members who are elected for four-year terms, with fourteen representing non-Muslim minorities (4.8%); 8% of the Parliament is made up of women. It can put constitutional laws in place and can investigate all affairs of the country, but cannot enact laws that violate the principles of the Islamic religion. The Council of Ministers approve bills before they are presented to Parliament. International issues, such as treaties, must be approved by Parliament.
The President of Iran or a minister is obligated to attend Parliament when at least a quarter of its members pose a question to him, or when a member poses a question to a minister that relates to his duties. The Guardian Council reviews all legislation that is passed by Parliament in order to determine if it’s compatible with Islamic laws and the constitution.
Who’s in charge?
Iran is ruled by the Supreme Leader of Iran, who is the head of state (above the President) and highest ranking political and religious authority in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Supreme Leader retains power over the armed forces, judicial system, state television, and all other governmental organizations. Only two Supreme Leaders have been in power since the Islamic Republic was founded, with the current leader Ali Khamenei in power since 1989. The powers of the Supreme Leader include issuing decrees, as well as overseeing the economy, environment, foreign policy, education, population growth, elections, and who is to be established and removed from the Presidential cabinet.
The Assembly of Experts appoints and supervises the Supreme. However, all members of the Assembly of Experts, as well as the President and the Parliament, are put in place by the Guardian Council, half of whose members are selected by the Supreme Leader himself, who also retains the power to approve all directly-elected members of the Assembly. Consequently, the Assembly is never in a position to question or challenge the Supreme Leader in any way.
The Guardian Council is composed of twelve members, and wields significant power in Iran. The council has the power to approve or veto legislation from the Iranian Parliament, and can block candidates from taking office in the Assembly of Experts, the presidency or the parliament. Six of the council members are experts in Islamic Law selected by the Supreme Leader, with the remaining six nominated by the Head of the Judicial system (also appointed by the Supreme Leader).