0 1941: Accession of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi
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0 1941: Accession of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi

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0 1941: Accession of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi

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1941: Accession of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi1950: Mohammed Mossadiq becomes Prime Minister1953: Shah overthrows Mossadiq in a coup d’etat1963: Beginning of the White Revolution1979: Iranian Revolution led by liberal nationalists and alienated clerics; US hostage crisis begins1980-1988: Iran-Iraq war1989: Ayatollah Khomeini dies/President Khamenei becomes Supreme Leader1989: Ali Rafsanjani becomes President1997: Mohammed Khatami becomes President in a surprise upset (70% of vote)1999: Large-scale pro-democracy protests2000: Liberals win the majority of seats in the majlis elections; hardliners crack down on the media and civil society2001: Khatami wins a 2nd term by a landslide2004: Conservatives win control of parliament after most liberal candidates are rejected by the Council of Guardians2005: Ahmadinejad wins presidency, beating centrist Rafsanjani2009: Ahmadinejad wins presidency in a contested election, beating independent reformist candidate Mousavi2009-2010: Widespread protests at perceived electoral corruption: Green revolution begins

Timeline of Iranian Politics



Revolutionary forces in IranProtests were led by the ulema in 1963 under Khomeini and urban terrorist groups emergedShah became totally repressive after 1975; taking away autonomy of clerics and the bazaari merchantsEconomy was in turmoil with rampant inflation from excessive oil spendingOpposition spoke out and was led by the Freedom movement in Iran (liberal) and militant ulema (conservative-revolutionary)Militant ulema led by Ayatollah Khomeini pressed for rule by Islamic clericsA cycle of religious protests, police violence, mourning protests, police violence, became more and more pronounced in 1978The shah left for Egypt in exile in 1979, and the Freedom Movement and Khomeini were left to fight it out; Khomeini eventually won

Revolution in Iran



Anti-Americanism in Iran

Support for the shah

The CIA coup; support for the Shah’s repression

The hostage crisis

From 1979 to 1981; Iranians held US diplomats after taking over the embassy

Carter lost the election to Reagan; the hostages were released as a show of good will toward Reagan

The Iran-Contra scandal

US sold arms to its enemy Iran in the mid-1980s, to get help freeing American hostages held by the Lebanese


The earnings were illegally diverted to a rebel movement in Nicaragua, the Contras

The process of demonization

Anti-US rallies; US as the

devil: “Death to America” becomes a popular slogan

America frames Iran

as the center of the axis of evil



Key characters in Iranian politics

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

Supreme Leader Ali Khameini

Former President Rafsanjani

Former President


Current President



Presidential Candidate






Iranian political institutions

Dual nature of institutions: Secular and Religious parallels

Result of intense debates during the revolution about the constitution

Supreme leader (



Ultimate veto power over most everything; vacillates between using it and not

Has strong appointment powers over the judiciary and the military

Like Plato’s philosopher-king; life term; elected by the Assembly of Experts


Strongest executive except for the


Independently elected


Contested and reasonably powerful legislative


Council of Guardians

Designed to keep any legislation from violating the


Also vets political candidates; appointed directly or indirectly by the supreme leader

Has vetoed every single reform law passed by the


in recent years

Expediency Council

Designed to resolve conflicts between the


and the Council of Guardians

In 2000, it





to pass

over the Council, but is now very conservative



Elected and unelected institutions in Iran

The process of vetting who can run for election is key to understanding how these institutions interact



Liberalism vs. clericalism in Iran

Political divisions

Political parties were illegal for a long time; still act as informal blocs

Groups of independent candidates

(most of

whom are clerics), who tend to ally with each other

Combatant clerics

Care deeply about maintaining political power


actively defend the Supreme Leader

Are conservative on key social and religious issues

Militant clerics

“Leftist” splinter from the combatant clerics; held considerable power in the government in the late 1980s

Have argued for more power to the


Were shut out of government in the early 1990s, but did well in the 1997 elections supporting


Servants of Construction

Non-clerical group of technocrats formed in the mid-1990s

Fit somewhere between the two groups; supporters of the former President Rafsanjani



in the 1997 elections



2008 Iranian legislative election results

Since Khatami, the majlis has seen a big shift towards the conservatives, in large part due to active vetting

Conservatives 67%

Reformists 18%

Independents 13%

Religious Minorities 2%



The potential for political reform in Iran

Iran’s underlying liberal culture

Many Iranians resent strict control of the public sphereOfficial ideology vs. public preferencesChallenges to the Iranian regimeDisillusionment of reformers after Khatami’s presidencyReasons for Ahmadinejad’s political success: populism, economic redistributionCentralization of power in the Council of Guardians and Revolutionary GuardMost Iranians no longer remember the ShahFragmentation of elites over the direction of the revolution The 2009 electionsAhmadinejad faced a credible challenge in a new revolutionary reformer: MousaviAhmadinejad officially won the election by 2/3 of the vote, but there was some fraudMobilization as part of the “Green Revolution”Mousavi leads supporters in a campaign of popular protest: “where is my vote?”Hundreds of thousands join in peaceful protests across IranRepression triggers further protestsCosts of mobilization become too high and the protests slow down



Images from the Green Revolution