Is Iran an Islamic republic, a theocracy, or something else?

According to Kesselman, Krieger and Joseph, “Iran is a mixture of theocracy and democracy”. (Kesselman, Krieger and Joseph, 2013)  My understanding after the assigned reading is that Iran is technically more a theocracy then a democracy and the alleged democracy in place is not a democracy at all. The only democratic-like thing is the election of the president and clerics but they may also be skewed due to the control over the media. The president is elected by the people but the high religious figures are the ones with the real power. They control the functions of the government most of the time.

Another factor that comes into play when trying to understand the political system of Iran is the type of “democracy” that it uses. In a true democracy all citizens have equal rights. But, in Iran where it is ruled and inhabited by a certain sect of the Islam religion, Shi’ism, only the Shia are looked at as equals. Christians, Jews (the very small percentages) and even Sunni Muslims are looked at differently. According to Kesselman, Krieger and Joseph, the amount of Muslims in Iran that are Shia account for roughly 90% of the population. The remaining 10% probably have no voice at all. (Kesselman, Krieger and Joseph, 2013)

Because the Islamic Republic of Iran is a just that, an Islamic Republic, I am not sure that it is capable of true democracy. Two things in the Kesselman text stood out to me. First, when the fact that Khomeini said that Islam and democracy are compatible. I will argue that they are not since women and people of different religions are not viewed as equal. Another thing that surprised me at first but does not at all now is how Khomeini allegedly sent funds to fundamentalist groups around the world. What is more interesting is that Iran was initially helping with the Global War on Terrorism until Iraq came into the picture. (Kesselman, Krieger and Joseph, 2013)

The legal system also is that of a non-democratic country. Sharia law is in effect and this can cause or lead to oppression for the minorities. This article talks about the oppression that exists in the country – The people who came out and contest elections or speak poorly about leadership are jailed.


From the readings of Kesselman, Iran seems to be a mixture of theocracy and democracy based on clerical authority and popular sovereignty, on the divine right of the clergy and the rights of the people based on early Islam and from modern democratic principles. A theocracy is a state dominated by clergy who rule on the ground that they are the one and only intrepretors of God’s will and God’s Laws. The Majiles is the Iranian Parliment from the Arabic term meaning assembly. The Guardian Council is a committee that was created in the Iranian Constitution to oversee the Parliment.

Iran has a 70% rate people who are employed and 83% are literate, they also are the second largest oil produce in the world. With these statistics Iran seems to very democratic and people consider Iran a third world country when in fact it is quite the opposite. Shiism is the official religion of Iran and Iran can also be considered a state of Islamism which is similar to political Islam and fundamentalism. The official religion of Shiism binds the elite with the masses, the government with the governed, and the rulers with the ruled. Iran is democratic in the sense that they conduct elections by the public, including the President, but considered a theocracy because the religioius clerics control the most powerful political positions and contains elements of democracy with some of the higher up government officials.

The State of Iran rests on the Iranian Constitution (after the 1979 Revolution) and the requirement of the ruler of Iran must be the best one qualified to intrepret Islam and enforce Muslim Laws upon the people, this is enshrined in the Consitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Constitution allowss for full power in the jurisprudent to the one considered the “Supreme Leader”. The Constitution establishes a Parliment known formerly as the Islamic Consultative Assembly. Theocracy comes into play again with the consultative bodies giving absolute power in all matters to the Supreme leader and the Guardian Council. One half of the members are chosen by the Supreme Leader and the other half are picked by the Parliment to try to keep everything in balance and with fairness to both sides.

Theocracy comes into play again with some Articles in the Iranian Constitution such as Article 11 that state “All Muslims from a single nation and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has the duty of forumulating it general policies with a view to cultivate the friendship and cultural unity of the Islamic world.” Article 12 goes on to say there is to be respect given to all the difference schools of thought and practice in regard to religious views.

I read several articles about Iran and the first I read is titled: Bob Schieffer says Iran President Hassan Rouhani has more cabinet members with American PH.D.s than Obama. Bob Schieffer made this statement in 2013 at a forum for the Center for Stategic and International Studies. Bob Schieffer believes that Rouhani is more moderate and willing to cooperate with the West because of his cabinet members. A point was made in this article that really surprised me as it says “Iran has more holders of American PH.D.s in its presidential cablinet than France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia or Spain combined (Naim, Moises, 2013). This is quite astounding and it would make one believe that with these facts Iran would be far more democratic than they are given credit for. I will post the link below.

Another article I found fascinating is about a book written byFlynt and Hillary Mann, titled “Going to Tehran” and it is very controversial because it focuses on how the West does not tell the truth about Iran. The book first challenges the notion that the American government says Iran is an irrational state they also make the point about Iran being a theoretic dictatorship and they state most “Middle Easterners do not think Islamic features of Iran’s politcal system make it undemocratic.”  This would be a very interesting book to read and makes me see Iran in a whole new light. (here is the link for it:)


Iran’s unique political history has helped form it into what they are today which has allowed the country to have features that combine a theocracy, democracy, and an authoritarian regime. Today Iran is known as an Islamic Republic thanks to their 1979 revolution in which Iran’s Shah, who was their ruler for nearly forty years, fled the country which ended the last of the Old Persian monarch. Since the 1979 revolution Iran’s political system has been based on both its popular sovereignty and its clerical authority which has led Iran to have some democratic and undemocratic features as well.

When we analyze Iran’s power structure today we can see that it does have similar democratic features as the U.S. For instance, Iran just like the U.S has a constitution, a president (Hassan Rouhani), political parties, elections, and an administrative structure that consists of an executive, legislative, and a judicial branch. Iran’s Executive branch consists of their President Hassan Rouhani and his cabinet which he chooses, but they have to be approved by the Majles (parliament) (Kesselman, 2012, p580). In addition, every four years Iran’s president is also chosen by the general electorate.

When bills have to be presented and passed they go to Iran’s legislature. Iran’s legislature consists of 290 seats, all of which were formed by the Majles. However, once bills are passed they do not become law until they are approved by Iran’s clerically dominated council of guardians (Kesselman, 2012, p580). Iran’s judiciary branch also plays a vital role within their Islamic system. In addition, the authority of Iran’s judiciary branch falls under their Supreme Leader (Ali, Khamenei). After Iran’s 1979 revolution their judicial system lost six decades of modernization forcing them to do a complete overhaul of their legal system which has transformed the country today.

According to Kesselman, Iran’s most undemocratic feature tends to lye with the authority of its supreme leader (Ali, Khamenei). Despite Iran’s complex political system their supreme leader has often been accused of rigging votes and electing only the presidential candidates who have complete allegiance to him and him alone (Freeman, 2013). These undemocratic practices have led to widespread violence in 2009 and if these types of activities continue the people of Iran are sure to revolt again which could destabilize the country.

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