The Iranian Labyrinth by Dilip Hiro

Dilip Hiro's book, The Iranian Labyrinth, was published by Nation Books in 2005. Hiro has been writing books about Iran and Iranian politics since 1985. Here are some of his observations that supplement what I've read in other places.

Women in Iran (from pp.326-327)

But a boost for women's roles would come in the late 1990s with a series of fatwas issued by the Qom-based Grand Ayatollah Saanei. In it he illegitimized discrimination based on gender, race, or ethnicity, and declared that women could hold all jobs, including his own and the [Supreme] Leader's. "It is my interpretation from the Quran that all people have equal rights," he told Robin Wright. One result of his fatwas was that for the first time the Guardians Council allowed women and nonclerics to apply for candidacy to the Assembly of Experts in 1998 provided they passed a religious test...

"I have reached these ideas with the same methods of study and thought taught in the seminaries throughout the ages," he said. "Only my interpretation or what I have found in the sacred texts is different. But my conclusions are just as purely Islamic..."

Debates are always conducted within the framework of Islam, be it banking, male-female relations, or sports...


Social Class in Iran (from p.340)

A large majority of Iran's clerics come from urban or rural petty bourgeoisie families, who are often related to traders or shopkeepers. Those who come from better-off homes are linked with rich merchants or landlords. So, though the petty bourgeoisie is the dominant class in the Islamic camp, it has to contend with the interests of the mercantile bourgeoisie and rich landlords. Therein lay the root of conflict between conservatives and radicals, between the ruling Islamic Republican Party (IRP) and the Guardians Council - a conflict that came to the surface on land distribution, foreign trade nationalization, and confiscation of the exiles' properties. Though the overall basis of the regime was, and remains, toward the working and lower middle classes (both traditional and modern), it is unwilling to alienate bazaar merchants, who have traditionally been close to clerics and the mosque, and have supported them.

In contrast to the social setup of the Pahlavi era, when the working class and the petty bourgeoisie were powerless, the post-Pahlavi regime has inducted them into such powerful revolutionary organizations as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Baseej, and armed them. For the first time in Iranian history, they felt they had a stake in the political-administrative system...

(from pp. 359-360)

As it was, at the turn of the twenty-first century as the Islamic revolution entered its third decade, even the harshest critics of the government conceded that the social-political situation had normalized to the point that the regime tolerated former monarchists and Marxists, Westernized aristocrats, and Western-educated intellectuals and artists, so long as they did not defy the system or the law blatantly, and practiced peaceful coexistence by finding ways to circumvent the rules in an unobtrusive way. The improvement in the economy due to consistently high prices of oil since March 1999 too has helped ease tensions as middle-class men become more focused on improving their economic condition and less interested in politics than before.

The authorities too have taken to turning a blind eye to Iranian Muslims drinking at home or at diplomatic parties. In any case, it has become common practice to bribe the law enforcement agents. Strict implementation of "good hijab" and segregation of unmarried men and women is no longer de rigeur, nor is the ban on satellite dishes enforced strictly… Today, Internet is everywhere in Iran, and so also are mobile phones.


Regime structure in Iran (from pp. 350-351)

Part of the reason why institutional changes are slow to materialize in Iran is that, contrary to the prevalent view in the West of an authoritarian regime in power in Tehran, the Iranian constitution has more checks and balances than many of its Western counterparts. That is what Rafsanjani, elected by an almost unanimous vote in 1989, discovered.

There are five primary centers of power in Iran: the [Supreme] Leader, who is both the spiritual and temporal ruler of Iran, the ultimate arbiter of power; the Assembly of Experts, which elects him and monitors his performance; the President, the chief executive; the Majlis, the legislative organ; and the judiciary. And there are two secondary centers of power: the Council of Guardians (of the Constitution), which ensures that legislation is compatible with the Sharia, the Islamic law, and the Iranian constitution, and supervises elections to the Assembly of Experts, the presidency, and the Majlis; and the Expediency Council, which resolves differences between the President, the Majlis, and the Guardians Council. All of the Expediency Council members are appointed by the Leader, as is the judiciary chief. Given the multiplicity of its centers of power, Iran resembles more the United States than China.

(from pp. 353-354)

There were of course several major differences between secular democracies in the West and the emerging Islamic democracy... One of them... lay in the fact that there was an overlay of mullahs in all important aspects of Iranian state and society. The [Supreme] Leader, who had to be a senior cleric, appointed his personal representatives not only to all important institutions of the state at the national and provincial levels but also to the major private and quasi-official foundations, which possessed enormous assets. Mullahs were attached to the regular military as well as the IRGC, Baseej, and Law Enforcement Forces. They, of course, ran the Islamic Propagation Organization. They were on the payrolls of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which had its representatives in most of the thirty-three thousand villages, not to mention seven hundred towns, and twenty-five cities. In addition, they were on the staff of the private and official foundations, including the richly endowed Foundation for the Deprived and Disabled. Finally, there were many seminaries where all teachers and many administrators were clerics.


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