Current Situation in Iran

What is Currently Happening in Iran?

Current Situation in Iran: The Rise of the Shiite Power

75-million strong and buttressed by ample oil reserves, Iran is one of the most powerful states in the region. Its resurgence in the first decade of the 21st century was one of the many unintended outcomes of US military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. Suddenly rid of two hostile regimes on its borders – the Taliban and Saddam Hussein – Iran extended its power into the Arab Middle East, cementing alliances in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.

But the ascendancy of the Shiite Islamist regime in Iran has also invited fear and strong opposition from US-allied countries. Sunni Arab states such as Saudi Arabia fear Iran is looking to dominate the Persian Gulf, while exploiting the Palestinian issue to mobilize regional support. Israeli leaders are convinced Iran is racing to develop a nuclear bomb to threaten the existence of the Jewish state.

International Isolation and Sanctions

Iran remains a deeply troubled country. International sanctions sponsored by Western countries have put a squeeze on Iran’s oil exports and access to global financial markets, resulting in soaring inflation and plummeting foreign currency reserves.

Most Iranians are more concerned with stagnant living standards rather than foreign policy. And the economy can’t flourish in a constant state of confrontation with the outside world, which hit new heights under former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-13).

Domestic Politics: Conservative Domination

The 1979 revolution brought to power radical Islamists led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who created a unique and peculiar political system, mixing theocratic and republican institutions. It is a complex system of competing institutions, parliamentary factions, powerful families, and military-business lobbies.

Today, the system is dominated by hardline conservative groups backed by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the most powerful politician in Iran. The conservatives have managed to sideline both the right-wing populists backed by former president Ahmadinejad, and reformists calling for a more open political system. Civil society and pro-democracy groups have been suppressed.

Many Iranians believe the system is corrupt and rigged in favor of powerful groups that care about money more than ideology, and who deliberately perpetuate tensions with the West to distract the public from domestic problems. However, no political group has yet been able to challenge the increasingly authoritarian Supreme Leader Khamenei.

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Latest Developments: Moderate Wins Presidential Elections

President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, faces a difficult task of salvaging the sanctions-hit economy and mediating between conservatives and reformists. Majid/Getty Images

Hassan Rouhani is the surprise winner of the June 2013 presidential elections. Rouhani is a centrist, pragmatic politician whose bid was backed by leading reformist figures, including former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami.

Rouhani’s triumph against more conservative candidates has been taken as a message by the Iranian public that they are tired of the crumbling economy and confrontation with the West that has been the hallmark of Rouhani’s predecessor Ahmadinejad.

  • Hassan Rouhani: Profile of Iranian President
  • Ban Caspit: Israel Tries to Game Rouhani
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Who is in Power in Iran

Iran's supreme religious leader Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei arrives to vote at a polling station, during the second round of parliamentary elections on April 25, 2008 in Tehran, Iran. Getty Images
  • Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: The highest office in the Iranian system is reserved for clerics. The Supreme Leader is the ultimate spiritual and political authority who supervises other state institutions, making Khamenei the most powerful politician in Iran (in power since 1989).
  • President Hassan Rouhani: A popularly elected institution, the president of the republic is nominally second to the Supreme Leader. In reality, the president has to contend with a vibrant parliament, clerical institutions, and the powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps.
  • The Council of Guardians: A clerical body with the power to vet candidates for public offices, or reject legislation deemed incompatible with the Islamic law.
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Iranian Opposition

Iranian supporters of defeated reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi demonstrate on June 17, 2009 in Tehran, Iran. Getty Images
  • Reformists: The reformist faction of the regime functions as the de-facto opposition to the conservative groups backed by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Although committed to the Islamic republic, reformists such as Mir-Hossein Mousavi advocate a more open and less repressive political system.
  • Green Movement: A coalition of various pro-democracy groups that are allied with the reformist faction of the regime, but advocate deeper changes to the system, particularly with regard to the power of religious institutions. It was born out of the mass protests in 2009 against alleged fraud during Ahmadinejad’s re-election as president.
  • People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI): Powerful among Iranian exiles, but with very limited influence inside Iran. PMOI started as Marxist-Islamist group that was sidelined by the Khomeini’s faction during the 1979 revolution. Denounced in Iran as a terrorist group, PMOI claims to have embraced democracy and secularism.
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