To save content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save content items to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
This study provides a comprehensive examination of the evolution of Islam as a ruling framework in postrevolutionary Iran up to the present day. Beginning with the position and structure of Iran's clerical establishment under the Islamic Republic, Kamrava delves into the jurisprudential debates that have shaped the country's political institutions and state policies. Kamrava draws on extensive fieldwork to examine various religious narratives that inform the basis of contemporary Iranian politics, also revealing the political salience of common practices and beliefs such as religious guardianship and guidance, Islam as a source of social protection, the relationship between Islam and democracy, the sources of divine and popular legitimacy, and the theoretical justifications for religious authoritarianism. Providing access to many Persian-language sources for the first time, Kamrava shows how religious intellectual production in Iran has impacted the ongoing transformation of Iranian Shi'ism, and ultimately underwritten the fate of the Islamic Republic.
In addition to ensuring its military and security protection through the IRGC and the Basij, the Islamic Republic employs a number of other institutional means to protect itself from un-Islamic influences, potential opponents in society, and the possibility of systematic problems and internal obstacles. Of these latter group of institutions, three stand out for their compound effects in helping the system maintain itself. They are the Guardian Council, the Expediency Council, and the judiciary. Each institution in its own way contributes significantly to maintaining the system. The Guardian Council performs a pivotal gatekeeping function by ensuring that only the legislation it approves becomes the law of the land, and only the candidates it vets get a chance at holding elected office. When the Guardian Council and the Majles reach a deadlock over legislation, the Expediency Council is meant to determine what is in the ultimate interest of the system so that its overall performance is not undermined. And, the judicial branch protects the system from political opponents and sees to the Islamization of Iranian society. The Islamic Republic system, in short, has devised a number of institutional means to guarantee its long-term resilience.
The Islamic Republic relies on a number of distinct but related institutional clusters to maintain power. This include the institutional means through which the state politically incorporates social groups into its orbit; institutional mechanisms of control; a number of “veto players”; those institutions that help maintain the system; the deep state; intra-elite competition; and, patronage and clientelism.
Far from undermining it, factionalism actually keeps the Islamic Republic state flexible and dynamic, therefore helping its resilience. States, authoritarian or otherwise, preside over societies in which a majority of the population is politically ambivalent. Among those who are politically aware, and even among those only tangentially interested in politics, factionalism allows the state to expand the scope of its ideological appeal. It also prevents political elites from taking for granted their hold on power, forcing them to forge and maintain bonds with intended constituents. In Iran, political power is held among a relatively small group of elites. But this elite is far from static. It circulates from office to office, and groups within it often change their doctrinal inflections, factional positions, and coalition partners. The ensuing dynamism helps the system endure.
This chapter introduces the book’s main arguments and discusses four interrelated developments as the primary causes ofL6:L8 the resilience of the Islamic Republic. They are: the institutional makeup and legitimacy of the state; the state’s underlying and not always obvious underbelly – the so-called deep state; the dynamics that allow for the management and resolution of intra-elite tensions and conflict, even if only partially, and facilitate intra-elite circulation and rotation; and, the state as an institutional venue for and a profitable source of rent-seeking.
The Islamic Republic system has relied on a whole host of dynamics – political, institutional, and economic – to sustain itself in power. Despite significant changes to much of its leadership cadre and constitution since its establishment, the Islamic Republic remains remarkably consistent in its core identity and its structures. Moreover, the fundamental nature of these dynamics is unlikely to change anytime soon.
There is a direct and important relationship between elections, clientelism, and the system’s legitimacy. Urban Iranians may be skeptical toward the efficacy of their vote. But rural Iranians seem to view their electoral rights differently. The fact that participation levels in remote and comparatively underdeveloped provinces has been consistently high shows that at least among the less privileged, the system enjoys continued legitimacy. Local elections help further enhance the system’s legitimacy. This is particularly the case in voting districts outside of the major metropolitan areas, in places where the local elites who get elected to the city council or the Majles serve as critical links between the system, the nezam, and the local population. In the smaller cities and towns, elections tend to be more vigorously contested because the rewards are more immediate. Legitimacy and system effectiveness are different matters altogether. One of the biggest consequences of electing clan and tribal leaders has been the apolitical marginalization of technocrats and other professionals and their diminished chance of getting into elected office.
Elections for the presidency, the Majles, and the city councils perpetuate the politics of hybridity, which in turn has left each of these institutions with conflicting legacies. Hybridity has left them neither democratic nor authoritarian, neither paragons of the people’s political will nor symbols and symptoms of an unresponsive and repressive state. Hybridity perpetuates the politics of ambivalence. It renders presidents and parliamentarians and city councilors ineffective if they cross amorphous, undefined redlines. But it also makes them exciting symbols of the popular will if they speak the people’s language, voice their complaints about prices, and promise to better their lives. Hybridity makes normal a neither-here-nor-there routine of the politics of voting and going along with the system, and, on occasion, breaking into protest out of frustration that rituals like voting matter little. Hybridity and ambivalence go hand in hand, reduce the costs of conformity, increase the price of rebellion, and make possible occasional bouts of protest and violence. Like elections, institutions such as the presidency and the parliament entail risks for the authoritarian core of the state, affording potential wildcards institutional platforms and resources to further their own agendas.
Consistent with the broader institutional makeup of the system, Iran’s deep state is complex and has several components. The velayat-e faqih stands as the central critical core of the Iranian deep state. As such, the leader provides the institutional and doctrinal organizing principles around which the other components of the deep state rally. These include the state’s praetorian guards, namely the IRGC and the Basij, those institutions specifically designed for system maintenance – that is, the Guarding Council, the Expediency Council and the judiciary – and a series of other formal and informal institutions that also ensure the protection of the system’s interests as defined by them, and the continuity of those interests regardless of the changes that may occur through popular elections. These latter set of institutions include the country’s various intelligence agencies, the Qom-centered clerical establishment, the Friday Prayer Imams, the Special Court for the Clergy, and the state radio and television broadcaster – the IRIB. Impervious to outside demands and influences, each of these institutions report only to the velayat-e faqih, operating mostly outside of and independent from the formal institutions and procedures of the state.
The velayat-e faqih has steadily come to occupy the apex of the political system in its day-to-day functions, in the process overwhelming and overshadowing elected institutions such as the presidency and the Majles. The Assembly of Experts, which is meant to select and then supervise the velayat-e faqih, has become a shadow of its constitutional self. Especially after Refsanjani was elbowed out of the institution, it has moved to become more of an auxiliary of the leadership. The presidency and the Majles have also come increasingly under the leader’s overpowering influence. The system continues to remain hybrid. But that hybridity is being steadily chipped away at. Khamenei is the most important element of the deep state, the critical connective tissue that binds all the other institutions together. The other elements of the deep state are its praetorians – the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij – its gatekeepers such as the Expediency and the Guardian Councils, and Khamenei representatives and the Friday Prayers Imams, along with the rest of the Qom theological establishment, the Ministry of Intelligence, the Special Court for the Clergy, and the state radio and television broadcaster, the IRIB.
The Islamic Republic features a number of institutions of repression, including especially the IRGC and one of its units with a specific mandate to ensure domestic security, the Basij. All states are concerned about their security, both internationally and domestically. Authoritarian states pay special attention to the domestic dimensions of their security, at times so much so that their security concerns can verge on paranoia. To address these security concerns, states devise a variety of mechanisms and institutions that specialize in surveillance, intelligence gathering, identifying opponents, and, when needed, the threat or actual use of repression against adversaries. In addition to the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij, for domestic security the state also relies on the Security Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran, or Nirouha-ye Amniyati-e Jomhuri-e Eslami-e Iran, NAJA.
An important feature of Iran’s political economy is the variety of opportunities it provides, through which individuals and groups can accrue economic benefits from and through the state. At the broadest level, the Iranian economy cannot be said to be in a healthy state. The Iranian economy is structurally unhealthy. But the economy’s maladies are products of, and also contributing factors to, means of personal enrichment for those with the right political connections. There are a number of areas to focus on, including the strong connections between the state and bazaari merchants; the perverse consequences of resource curses such as overreliance on oil and rampant corruption; the state’s efforts at various welfare schemes and the impulse toward statist economics; and the processes and consequences of pulling back from statism through privatization. All of these developments have combined to undermine the economy’s developmental potential. They have also coalesced to provide multiple means of patronage and clientelism in which the state plays a critical facilitating role. As such, Iran’s economy, diseased and underperforming as it is, provides important sources of support and resilience for the state.
There are three broad categories of challenges faced by the Islamic Republic state, namely those emanating from the inside, those exerted on the state from the outside, and those arising from the fraying of the state’s relations with society. In each instance, the state has been able to neutralize any potential threats coming its way through a resourceful combination of foreign policy adjustments, heightened repression, and expansive securitization. Ironically, the comprehensive and punishing sanctions imposed on the state from abroad have only helped further erode the purchasing power of Iranians and have narrowed prospects for international exchanges and globalization. The outcome has been a further strengthening of the state and especially hard-line factions within it, along with a steady disempowering of civil society and increased costs of political opposition. Sanctions have weakened Iranian society and strengthened the state.