Eva Patricia Rakel challenges common perceptions of the Iranian political landscape in her article “The Political Elite in the Islamic Republic of Iran: From Khomeini to Ahmadinejad” in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Rakel identifies the multiple state institutions of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) – the supreme leader, the religious supervisory bodies, the republican institutions (the executive, the judiciary, and the legislative branches), and the military institutions – and argues that the political elite is comprised of a far more diverse set of actors than is commonly believed. By charting changes in the political landscape from 1979 to 2008, Rakel demonstrates that, while there are no political parties in the IRI, political factions in essence act as parties, injecting a degree of pluralism into the political system through regular parliamentary elections.
Far from being homogenous, political factions are particularly split over the question of whether Islamic law should be the foundation of the legal system in the IRI. As for the larger Iranian population, issues such as globalization, a youth demographic bulge, and economic difficulties have caused many Iranians to “turn away from the ideology of the Islamic revolution” and political reform has become a topic of public debate. Reformist clerics in particular even go so far as to “question the primacy of the supreme leader.” However, despite the increased debate over the role of Islam in the IRI in particular and reform in general, Rakel believes that a revolution or a coup d’etat is unlikely to occur. Instead, she argues that power is more likely to be transferred from one conservative faction to another, making true reform unlikely in the near future.
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