October 31, 2005

Iran: Rich, armed and angry, how dangerous is it to the world?

A must read article. Detailed and well informed.


From one perspective, Iran is a country dominated by a small clique of hardline revolutionaries who keep the young population disenfranchised by manipulating a false democracy. In another, the Islamic republic has been granted legitimacy by its people, who regularly turn out to vote in large numbers, and ensure that enough interest groups are represented in decision-making to give balance to the state.

At the very top, the system is opaque. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, holds ultimate authority. He inherited the role from the charismatic Ayatollah Khomeini on the latter's death in 1989. Under Iran's system of Vilayat-e Faqih ­ rule of the jurisprudent ­ power is vested in the clergy because they can best interpret God's intentions for mankind.

Under the Supreme Leader is the elected government ­ the President with his cabinet, and the Majlis, as the parliament is known. Arch-conservatives took control of the Majlis in February 2004 after an election many Iranians thought was rigged by the banning of reformist candidates. Mr Ahmadinejad then won the presidential election this summer, promising to improve conditions for Iran's poor by better sharing the $37bn (£21bn) of oil revenues earned last year.

But a series of other groups have a stake in the process too. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has grown in power in recent years, and many Iranians believe it controls most of the voices around the Supreme Leader, to whom it expresses total devotion. Mr Ahmadinejad is a former guardsman, as are many of the new Majlis deputies.

The force, 150,000 strong, receives all the best military equipment, and has started to play a significant role in Iran's economy, bidding to take over big oil engineering projects. It is also in charge of the Islamic Basij militia, formed during the 1980-88 war with Iraq as a volunteer unit comprising young boys and old men who wanted to seek martyrdom for the revolution. It was block voting by the millions of Basij members that ensured Mr Ahmadinejad's June election victory.


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