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Iran (Farsi: ایران‎ Irān), officially the Islamic Republic of Iran (جمهوری اسلامی ایران Jomhuri-ye Eslāmi-ye Irān) and known as "Persia" by the West until the mid 20th century, is a large country in Southcentral Asia. Iran is bordered by Arabs on one side, Turks on the same side, a couple of different former Soviet Turkic types on another side or two, Afghans elsewhere and Pakistanis somewhere else.

As a Shia country in a region dominated by Sunnis, it has traditionally been viewed with suspicion by its neighbors. (Its neighbors are, of course, on fantastic terms with each other[1]). Iranian national identity is closely tied to its status as the continuation of the ancient Persian (not Arab) civilization (though the whole "only 61% of the population is Persian"[2] thing presents an issue for this) and its strong association with Shi'a Islam.

The U.S. has been waging proxy war on Iran for 40 years. It's a mixture of many things, and any one reason is a simplification. Israel is one, of course. It's because the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing killed a ton of U.S. servicemen. It's because Iran managed to shake off and then resist American influence; they're a legitimate power in the region (Hezbollah has proven to be a very efficient force), and can push for interests that don't align with the U.S., which is a problem for any hegemon.

Like some other Middle Eastern countries, it has large oil reserves beneath its territory.

Alleged Nazi influence over naming Iran[edit]

In 1935 the Iranian government requested those countries which it had diplomatic relations with, to call Persia "Iran", which has always been the name of the country in Persian (ایران). The suggestion for the change is said to have come from the Iranian ambassador to Germany, who came under the influence of the Nazis.[3][4] At the time Germany was in the grip of racial fever and cultivated good relations with nations of "Aryan" blood. It is said that some German friends of the ambassador persuaded him that, as with the advent of Reza Shah, Persia had turned a new leaf in its history and had freed itself from the pernicious influences of Britain and Russia, whose interventions in Persian affairs had practically crippled the country under the Qajars, it was only fitting that the country be called by its own name, "Iran". This would not only signal a new beginning and bring home to the world the new era in Iranian history, but would also signify the Aryan race of its population, as "Iran" is a cognate of "Aryan". The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent out a circular to all foreign embassies in Tehran, requesting that the country thenceforth be called "Iran".[4] Diplomatic courtesy obliged, and the name "Iran" began to appear in official correspondence and news items. Iranians scholar Ehsan Yarshater regarded the naming change as a "a grievous error based on a misdirected sense of nationalism."[5]

The democratic years[edit]

In a twist of irony, America, fearing communism, swung its big old freedom stick and hit the innocent young Persian democracy.
—Cody, AlternateHistoryHub[6]

The Nazi sympathizer Reza Shah Pahlavi subsequently got tossed out in a British-Soviet backed coup in 1941, and his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was elevated to the throne. In 1951, the Shah appointed Mohammad Mosaddegh as Prime Minister after the Parliament voted for him. Mossadegh was essentially a democratic socialist: he introduced unemployment compensation, paid sick leave, and ended forced labor. Finally, he nationalized the oil industry, taking away control from Britain Petroleum (then Anglo-Persian Oil Company). This ticked off the British, who funneled vast amounts of money to Iranians who opposed Mosaddegh. Mosaddegh called an election, which he froze after realizing the election was corrupted by foreign influence. Unable to exercise his constitutional powers due to the objection of the Shah, he resigned in 1952. In the days after, massive protests occurred in all major cities in support of Mosaddegh. The Shah was frightened and reappointed Mosaddegh, granting him control of the military. In 1953, Mosaddegh abolished the feudal system and instituted collective farming overseen by the government. The British convinced the CIA to remove Mosaddegh by claiming he sympathized with communists, and they convinced the Shah to dismiss Mosaddegh. In fact, the written decree dismissing Mosaddegh was written by the CIA. The CIA paid mobs on both sides to clash, burn buildings, and loot stores in Tehran. Mosaddegh's residence was bombarded by rogue army tanks, and he was forced to flee and was arrested. His successor quickly agreed with foreign oil companies that they would have overwhelming access to Iran's oil.[citation needed] I guess democracy in the Middle East is impossible, huh?

Cold War puppet state[edit]

Iran was one of the Western Bloc's many puppet states. This period, which was from the 1953 coup to the Islamic Revolution in 1979, was an autocratic, brutal, and corrupt period, ruled by hereditary dictator Shah Pahlavi. It got along with its equally autocratic neighbors and the Leader of the Free World. In spite of their modern day relations, Pahlavi's Iran actually got along quite well with the Saudis, and got along with Iraq as well before the July 14 Revolution ousted the Hashemites.

A firmly secular state, it drew the ire of several Islamists. The regime attempted farming reforms which ended badly, but also implemented several other reforms which helped modernize it greatly. The populace slowly but noticably turned against the Shah for both religious and secular reasons, and in 1978, protests erupted across Iran. These increased over time until the 1979 coup. Initially a democratic revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini manipulated the following instability and anti-Western rage to make himself the undisputed theocratic leader of the country.

Islamic Marxism and the People's Mujahedin of Iran[edit]

The People's Mujahedin of Iran or the Mujahedin-e-Khalq is an Iranian leftist revolutionary organization that participated in the 1979 Iranian RevolutionWikipedia's W.svg that overthrew the Pahlavi dynasty. Following this, conflict with Ayatollah Khomeini led MEK to start [7] an open war, and most of its members fled abroad. It is now an opposition movement in exile that advocates the overthrow of the Islamic Republic of Iran.[8]

Iraq and Iran designate the MEK as a terrorist organization.[9][10] The European Union, Canada and the United States formerly listed the MEK as a terrorist organization, but this designation has since been lifted, first by the Council of the European Union in January 26, 2009 (following what the group called a "seven-year-long legal and political battle"),[11][12][13] then by a decision by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton[14] on September 21, 2012 and lastly by a decision by the Canadian government on December 20, 2012.

Despite some describing a Marxist influence, the group never used the terms "socialist" or "communist" to describe themselves, [15], and always called themselves Muslims — arguing along with Ali Shariati, that a true Muslim — especially a true Shia Muslim, that is to say a devoted follower of the Imams Ali and Hossein — must also by definition, be a revolutionary.[16] However, they generously adopted elements of Marxism in order to update and modernize their interpretation of radical Islam.[17]

Islamic Republic of Iran[edit]

Iran is an "Islamic republic," having a theocratic government based on Twelver Shi'a Islam — the fact that the symbol on the Iranian flag looks a lot like the religious symbol of Sikhism therefore looks a bit suspicious. This government was founded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after he deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1978-9. Born in a state of war lasting eight years and cut off from the rest of the world with an arms embargo, the Islamic Republic has made a priority building its own large-scale, modern defense industry. Some refer to the Islamic Republic as a theocratic-military state.[citation needed]

After rotating through the presidencies of Abolhassan Banisadr (1980-81; impeached), Mohammad-Ali Rajai (August 1981; assassinated), Ali Khamenei (1981-89), Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989–97), and Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) through its duration as an Islamic republic, the name most recognized by the west is ex-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013). This mockery of a dinner jacket drew condemnation (particularly from non-Muslim countries and the sane) for his promotion of Holocaust denial. While he was, in his time, the most visible part of the Iranian government, the president isn't the guy in charge over there - that would be the Supreme Leader. It's also worth mentioning that there's a twelve-man Guardian Council between the Supreme Leader and the president; the former two have full veto power over the parliament and the president. For all his bombast, the Dinner Jacket's merely the Nick Clegg of Iran.

This is the same Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who, according to Al Jazeera, caused some amusement by making the bizarre claim that: "In Iran we do don't have homosexuals like in your country. In Iran we do not have this phenomenon."[18] This might have something to do with hanging them from boom lifts.

As a result of all the bullshit coming from the government, in recent years disdain for it has intensified, particularly amongst the youth.

Hostage crisis[edit]

In 1979 a group of militant Iranian students stormed and took over the US Embassy in Tehran, holding 52 of the former occupants hostage for 444 days. This led to a proliferation of "Nuke Tehran" bumper stickers, and to difficulties for President Jimmy Carter in his bid for re-election in 1980. A botched rescue attempt destroyed his chances at re-election, although he did negotiate an actual transfer of the hostages - which happened during Reagan's inauguration. Rumor has it that Reagan's team deliberately delayed the release in order to boost Reagan's popularity, or worse.Wikipedia's W.svg

Theocratic "democracy"[edit]

Iran is a very weird country, due to it being in the bizarre limbo of Islamic republic. Thanks to Ayatollah Khomeini, it is run through interpretation of Muslim doctrine and religiously-favored policies characteristic of much of the Middle East, but it is not nearly as fundamentalist as its biggest rival Saudi Arabia, where women only obtained suffrage in 2015. Iranian women could drive their darn cars for a while before they were finally allowed to in Saudi Arabia, and have an even higher graduation rate than men, for example. It has a well-educated and young population, with many resenting the religious influence in their country. They will never say they yearn for the time of the Shah, and they do not appreciate American interventions, but they prefer a far more secular, democratic, and yes, even Western-style nation as opposed to one ruled by rich old Mullahs.

It is democratic in appearance; men and women, young and old may vote in elections, and minorities (Zoroastrians, Christians, Jews) ostensibly have full political rights along with a seat in parliament. In practice, the democratic features are very limited. Many members of parliament are Muslim scholars, most Presidents are themselves clerics, and presidential candidates are vetted by the Supreme Leader. Even Ahmadinejad, the first civilian president, was incredibly dogmatic in his execution of Muslim doctrine (like banning the walking of dogs because dogs are "too Westernized").

The parliament, known as the Majlis, has a massive thorn in their side in the form of the Guardian Council, which puts the "Islamic" in the Republic of Iran. [19] Many reformist scholars have been marginalized by Guardian Council, which repeatedly vetoes bills promoting women's rights, electoral reform, the prohibition of torture and ratification of international human rights treaties. It even has full authority to approve and disqualify candidates during election campaigns. Between them is the Expediency Council, run by noted moderate Hashemi Rafsanjani, who reconciles legislative disputes between the Majlis and the Guardian Council, but also has the power to legislate independently of the Supreme Leader or bodies such as the Majlis.

At the top, the Supreme Leader is the final authority in the Islamic Republic, with full power to override legislation at his whim. The Supreme Leader is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and the paramilitary corps, inaugurates the president, controls the media, appoints six of the twelve members of the Guardian Council, and installs all military and paramilitary commanders as well as the Chief Justice and various Imams. He is constitutionally required to be a Muslim scholar, and he rules until death. The Assembly of Experts is a group of 86 old men, themselves elected by the people, who select the Supreme Leader, which is currently former president Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They may dismiss the Supreme Leader at any time, but they never have and likely never will, as the chairman of the Assembly is an ally of the Supreme Leader.

In essence, you are about as likely to see true opposition to the way things are in Iran represented in parliament as you would have been in Apartheid South Africa. Even though there are of course factions within the regime and some tend to be more conciliatory in their public statements, there is agreement among virtually all MPs that the "Islamic" part of "Islamic Republic" should darn well stay that well and the Ayatollahs (or someone extremely like them if not more radical) should have the degree of influence they currently have - if not more. That is not to say there isn't any fundamental opposition to the current Iranian regime. There is, both in exile and in Iran itself, not all of it formally illegal, but most of it harassed and persecuted by the regime. Everybody who wishes to engage moderate voices within the regime has to acknowledge that they are not by any stretch of the imagination an "opposition" in any sense of the term.

Human rights abuse[edit]

[Since 2013] Repressive elements within the security and intelligence forces, as well as the judiciary, retained wide powers and continued to be the main perpetrators of rights abuses. Executions, especially for drug-related offenses, increased sharply from previous years. Security and intelligence forces arrested journalists, bloggers, and social media activists, and revolutionary courts handed down heavy sentences against them.
—Human Rights Watch [20]

Iran sentences to death and hanged a 19-year old who allegedly committed rape and gay sex aged 17. He was denied a lawyer so we have no means of assesing the evidence. International law forbids the death penalty for rape and for any crime committed before the accused is 18.[21] Does anyone expect Iran to respect International law?

2009 elections[edit]

In Summer 2009 Iran held some rather remarkable "elections," in which a couple of facts have led people to wonder about the validity of the results.

  • Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declared Ahmadinejad the winner of the presidential election before the polls had even closed.[22]
  • It has been expected that it would take several days to hand count the 40 million votes. In fact, the "result" was released in two hours.
  • Some constituencies reported turnout of well over 100%.

Post-election protests[edit]

After the election results were announced, there were mass protests in Tehran and other Iranian cities, which ended in heavy crackdowns by the government. These protests were called the "Twitter Revolution," since it was claimed that the social media tool was being used by the Iranian protesters to communicate, but statistics by Sysomos later revealed that less than 20,000 Twitter accounts were based in the Islamic Republic as of June 2009.[23] The protests were a very big story in Western media... at least until Michael Jackson died.

2013 elections[edit]

In 2013 Ahmadinejad was term-limited out of the running. New candidates were trotted out and vetted by the Guardian Council, which had the official task of making sure that persons running for office were sufficiently religious (contrasted with the United States, where even though such a thing is forbidden by law, the process still takes place - though much less formally). After a couple of the candidates dropped out, the stage was set for the election to decide which conservative the people of Iran wanted running their country.

Unexpectedly, many of the stricter conservatives split the vote between themselves, paving the way for the only "moderate" with a modicum of a reform agenda to sweep the election and bag slightly more than half the votes in the first round. Praising his election as the "triumph of moderation over extremism" the new president-elect Hassan Rouhani called for releasing political prisoners at home, defending freedom of the press and a return to dialogue with the West.[24] He opened dialogue with the US, acknowledged the Holocaust[25] and declared his wish for total nuclear disarmament. Rouhani was Iran's chief nuclear negotiator under Ahmadinejad's predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, during the early years of the Bush administration, where he basically offered a guarantee of non-proliferation (which would have basically eliminated any threat it might allegedly pose to Israel and deprived the GOP of a perfectly good scapegoat) in exchange for the lifting of decades-old economic sanctions against Iran and its general readmission into the international community. Dubya was having none of that, though. Under Rouhani's presidency, Iran signed a nuclear deal with the US international community which it has followed, resulting in the destruction of a plutonium reactor and the shipment of tons of uranium to Russia, as well as a prisoner swap with the US.[26][27]

2016 elections[edit]

In what was seen as a referendum on the Iran Deal and President Rouhani's administration, Iranians held two elections by the end of February 2016: one for the Assembly of Experts and one for parliament. All 30 seats in Tehran went to the moderates and reformists; three hardliner Ayatollahs [28] all lost their seats; and 20 women will now join parliament, the most ever in the Islamic Republic's history. Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, a noted pragmatist and moderate, also won a seat in the Assembly of Experts, which supervise and elect the Supreme Leader. Reformists also won 15 out of 16 seats allocated for Tehran in the Assembly of Experts. This in spite of the Guardian Council disqualifying hundreds of reformists and liberals from the election. [29] [30]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  2. CIA World Factbook: Iran
  3. Persia, Iran, and the Persian Gulf: A Brief History of Names. "The suggestion for the name change from Persia to Iran is said to have come from the Persian ambassador to Germany, who was a Nazi sympathizer."
  4. 4.0 4.1 Self-Orientalization and Dislocation: The Uses and Abuses of the "Aryan" Discourse in Iran by Reza Zia-Ebrahimi (2011) Iranian Studies 44(4):445-473. doi:10.1080/00210862.2011.569326.
  5. Persia or Iran, Persian or Farsi by Ehsan Yarshater (1989) Iranian Studies 22(1) (archived from June 15, 2019).
  6. What if the Islamic Revolution Never Happened?
  7. Iran and the Gulf A Search for Stability edited by Jama Suwaidi, p. 267
  8. "Iranian group in UK terror win". BBC. June 24, 2008. 
  9. from 2012: Public Safety Canada Currently listed entities
  10. Jakes, Lara (September 11, 2012). "Iraq opens controversial refugee camp to diplomats". Associated Press. 
  11. Runner, Philippa. "EU ministers drop Iran group from terror list". Euobserver. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  12. "EU removes PMOI from terrorist list". UPI. January 26, 2009. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  13. John, Mark (January 26, 2009). "EU takes Iran opposition group off terror list". Reuters. 
  15. Abrahamian, Ervand (Oct 1, 1992). The Iranian Mojahedin. Yale University Press. 
  16. Abrahamian, Ervand (1989). The Iranian Mojahedin. 
  17. Maziar Behrooz, Rebels With A Cause: The Failure of the Left in Iran, page vi
  18. No homosexuals in Iran!
  19. Any bill passed by the Majlis must be reviewed and approved by the Guardian Council to become law; if it's against the constitution or Islam in the eyes of the council, it's not getting passed.
  20. Iran
  21. 19 year old Iranian executed for homosexuality and alleged rape
  25. Though a 2nd government-sponsored Holocaust-denial cartoon contest was announced in 2015 in response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
  28. Former parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel; chairman of Iran's Assembly of Experts, Mohammad Yazdi; and current Assembly of Experts member Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi.
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