Thursday, April 24, 2008

Law and Revolution in Iran

Following up on my last blog on the lawyers revolt in Pakistan, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the theocracy in Iran. Lawyers in that country are using the legal framework of that country to challenge the government's abuses of authority. Why? Given that it is a totalitarian state, what would be the point? I conclude that by taking seriously the rights established by the Constitution in Iran the lawyers are pursuing a threat that could eventually establish a more open and amicable state. And that conclusion suggests an entirely different approach to dealing with Iran than any I have encountered before.

"The law is the will of he who the sherriff will obey." -- Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

"In Islam, the legislative power and competence to establish laws belong exclusively to God Almighty." -- Leader of the Revolution Ruhollah Musawi Khomeini


Last week, Shirin Ebadi, nobel laureate, prominent human rights activist and constitutional lawyer in Iran complained that the death threats against her and her family had recently increased in volume and intensity.(1) The very next day the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ordered the police to ensure the security of Mrs. Ebadi and get to the bottom of who was behind the trouble.(2) On the same day, the chief of police of Tehran was arrested after being caught at a brothel--this was a man who instigated a crackdown on immodestly dressed women just last year.(3)

Mrs. Ebadi is no friend to the current regime in Iran. She was one of the first female judges in that country and was forced to step down when the revolution took place. She is a prominent activist who has pushed for women's rights in that country as well as taken the cases of many dissidents--and as a result has been imprisoned many times. She is a reformer, who believes that the general principles of universal human rights are compatible with Islamic doctrine. She believes that the current regime has perverted the message of Islam for their own ends.(4)

Why, you might ask, would the revanchiste administration of Iran expend valuable manpower and cash on protecting one of their most prominent opponents? Part of the answer is that it would be extremely embarrassing if one of the most celebrated children of Iran were assassinated. Probably best not to let that happen. But I believe there is something else going on here, a process which has similarities to the ongoing lawyers revolt in Pakistan that I wrote about in my last blog.


The Iranian government is probably unique in that it has so many institutions responsible for the making and interpretation of laws. It is almost certainly unique in that the Constitution provides for a legal authority superior to itself, the Koran--and thereby extends legal authority to people outside the government and even outside the country itself!

As I pointed out in my previous blog, one of the key preoccupations of Islam is the establishment of a rules-based society. The Koran and various other texts are consulted by clerics in order to determine what is permissable in just about every facet of life. Legal decision-making, interpretation, and argument is central to the life of a Muslim cleric.

One of the contentious doctrines of Shi'a jurisprudence is the guardianship of the Islamic Jurists or Velayat-e Faqih.(5) There are various takes on the doctrine, but it dates back to the 19th century and has as one of its doctrinal premises a hadith(6)--a recorded saying of prophet Muhammad which is not in the Koran--which states "the fuqaha [experts in Islamic jurisprudence](7) are the trustees of the prophets."(8)

This doctrine is the very bedrock of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In 1970, Ruhollah Khomenei's book Islamic Government: Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist (Hokumat-e Islami: Velayat-e faqih) was published arguing that the country's ruler should be someone who "surpasses all others in knowledge" of Islamic law and justice.(9)

And that is what was the revolution established in Iran. Chapter VIII, Article 110, of the Constitution ordained that the Leader of the Revolution (aka Supreme Leader)(10) would have very broad powers over pretty much every element of the government.(11)

This sounds totalitarian. And indeed it is.

The Iranian Constitution is modeled in many ways on the constitution of the Fifth Republic of France, which was created under de Gaulle in order to give more power to the executive.(12) It gives some lip service to rights generally established in Western Democracies, but nearly all of these rights are limited by whether or not they are in accordance with Islamic principles. Chapter III, article 40, provides that:

No one is entitled to exercise his rights in a way injurious to others or detrimental to public interests.(13)

Of course, the government decides what is in the public interest and so decides when it is OK to exercise your Constitutionally guaranteed rights.

However, there are some meaningful checks and balances written into the Iranian Constitution--and they all have to do with who gets to decide what is in accordance with Islamic law and custom.

There are no fewer than five institutions within the Iranian government that are charged with determining the law.

One: The Legislature, also known as the Majlis or the Islamic Consultative Assembly, which is democratically-elected and charged with writing the laws of the land.

Two: The "head of the Judiciary," who must be a Mujtahid--or Islamic scholar competent to interpret divine law in practical situations(14)--and is appointed by the Leader of the Revolution for a five year term. He is charged with the appointment of judges, their promotion or demotion, the drafting of judiciary bills, and the organizational structure of the judiciary as a whole. It should be noted that the judiciary is also charged with investigating as well as prosecuting criminal behavior, in conjunction with the Executive. The head of the judiciary also runs the National General Inspectorate, which is charged with ensuring the "correct implementation of laws" by the Administration.(15)

Three: the Supreme Court, which is responsible for overseeing "the correct implementation of the laws by the courts" and "ensuring uniformity of judicial procedure." The Chief Justice of the Iranian Supreme Court is chosen by the head of the judiciary in consultation with the members of the court.(16) One is appointed a member of the Supreme Court by the head of the judiciary--not by the Leader nor the President.

Four: the Guardian Council, which is charged with determining whether any bill passed by the Majlis is compatible "with the criteria of Islam and the Constitution."(17) There are 12 members of the Guardian Council. Six fuqaha, or experts in Islamic jurisprudence, are selected by the Leader of the Revolution. Six are jurists, experts in various spheres of the law, elected by the Majlis, subject to approval by the Head of the Judiciary. Members serve six year terms.

A bill submitted by the Majlis must pass by majority vote of the six religious jurisprudential experts (fuqaha) in the Guardian Council if it is to be deemed compatible with Islam and thus enacted into law. For a bill to be deemed compatible with the Constitution, a majority of all members of the Council is required.(18) Furthermore, all "interpretation" of the Constitution is the sole province of the Guardian Council, where a three-fourths majority is required in order to pass as authoritative.(19) (Moreover, the Guardian Council supervises all elections and referenda, and determines the eligibility of all candidates for elective office.)(20)

Five: the Exigency Council (aka Expediency Discernment Council), which is responsible for resolving any situation where the Guardian Council and Majlis disagree and the Leader of the Revolution feels it necessary to call them in to decide the dispute. The Exigency Council is wholly appointed by the Leader of the Revolution.(21)

There are two other governmental institutions which, I think, must also be considered important authorities determining the law of the land in Iran.

The Leader of the Revolution is responsible for "deliniating the general policies of the government and has the power to summarily dismiss the Head of the Judiciary and the six fuqaha members of the Guardian Council.

The Assembly of Experts is responsible for determining who will be the next Leader of the Revolution and may, given the right circumstances, dismiss him.(22) Theoretically, this could mean that the Assembly oversees the Leader in some way, but there is no evidence of such oversight on public record. Its 86 members are democratically elected to eight year terms, after candidates have been vetted by the Guardian Council.(23)

Depending on how you see it, then, in Iran there are five to seven different governmental authorities empowered to determine the law. None is truly independent of all the others, though the Leader and the Assembly of Experts are nearly completely autonomous.

Although the Leader has a great amount of indirect influence over official legal interpretation, he is not, in fact, directly involved in law making or even its interpretations. All of this work is delegated or in the hands of elected officials. This might seem strange, given the character of the revolutionary constitution.

But in practical terms, at the time of the Revolution, it made no difference. Ayatolla Ruholla Khomeini had pretty much unchallenged authority to interpret the Koran inside Iran itself.

Indeed, Khomeini is the only person in the history of Iran to be referred as an Imam outside of what have been traditionally considered the twelve rightful successors to Muhammad.

Imams in Shi'a belief "are possessed of supernatural knowledge, authority, and freedom from any error and sin."(24)

And this, I think, is the key to the puzzle: the reason Khomeini was comfortable delegating the power to interpret these laws is because he had reason to believe he would remain in complete control of the situation.

His power was safeguarded by the Constitution, and especially in Article 2:
The Islamic Republic is a system based on belief in:
1.the One God (as stated in the phrase "There is no god except Allah"), His exclusive sovereignty and the right to legislate, and the necessity of submission to His commands;
2.Divine revelation and its fundamental role in setting forth the laws;(25)

Khomeini said it all in 1979: "`since I have appointed [the Prime Minister], he must be obeyed.` It was `God's government,` he warned, disobedience against which was a `revolt against God.`"(26)

But the current Leader of the Revolution Ali Khamenei does not weild this religious authority. Far from it. And thus the Constitutional structure does not support his overweening influence over the affairs of the country in the way it did Khomeini.


Khomeini's notion of the guardianship of the Islamic jurist is actually fairly controversial in the Shia community. At the time of the Revolution only one other Grand Ayatolla in Iran (out of about 12) held it to be compatible with scripture: Grand Ayatolla Hossein Ali Montazeri.(27)

And Montazeri was Khomeini's original choice as successor to the post of the Leader of the Revolution. In 1983, the Assembly of Experts designated him the official successor. But Montazeri fell out with Khomeini, and in particular criticized the government for the executions carried out after the Revolution as well as Khomeini's death warrant for Salman Rushdie. In 1989, Khomeini denounced Montazeri who thus lost his position as designated successor.(28)

The current Leader of the Revolution--Ayatolla Seyyed Hosseini Khamenei--did not have the religious credentials originally required by the Iranian Constitution for the highest post.(29) He only attained the title of Ayatolla--not Grand Ayatolla--by virtue of being elected Leader.(30) In fact, the Constitution was amended three months before Grand Ayatolla Ruhollah Khomeini's death to no longer require a candidate for the post of Leader of the Revolution be a supreme theological authority.(31) And Khamenei's selection caused some dissention amongst senior clerics who were better qualified from a religious perspective, including, unsurprisingly, Montazeri.(32)

Khamenei was a compromise candidate and his ascention was due to his political perspicacity and not his religious authority. This has created a situation where, at least theoretically, there are many authorities on the Koran who could make actions by the government unconstitutional, merely by ruling them contrary to the Koran. A strange situation to be in indeed.

At this moment, such a ruling from inside the country would likely be met with immediate arrest and character assassination in the state press. Any Ayatolla who in the sanctum of his conscience believes that the state has overstepped the bounds of Islamic Law must, perforce, walk quietly. Khamenei is firmly in charge there.

But there are Grand Ayatollas that live outside of Iran--beyond the long arm of the law, so to speak.


It bears repeating that Iranians hold the United States responsible for the installation of the Shah and the overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953. The Revolution in 1979 was in a way a revolution against the American colonizer, the Shah being seen as a mere proxy for the US.

Moreover, many Iranians believe that the United States was a strong supporter an instigator of the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88, where the Iranians lost an estimated one million people.(33) In any case, although I can only offer anecdotal evidence of this, to a great extent Iranians blame their historical woes on the pernicious efforts of outsiders--from the Arab invasion of the 7th century to the colonizing efforts of Britain, Russia, and ultimately, in their view, of the United States.

It was an explicit goal of the Revolution in 1979 to rid Iran of just such outside influences. For example, Article 3 of the Iranian Constitution stipulates that "the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has the duty of directing all its resources to the following goals," goal five is "the complete elimination of imperialism and the prevention of foreign influence" and goal 13 is "the attainment of self-sufficiency in scientific, technological, industrial, agricultural, and military domains, and other similar spheres."(34)

The first two sentences of Article 9 hold that:

"In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the freedom, independence, unity, and territorial integrity of the country are inseparable from one another, and their preservation is the duty of the government and all individual citizens. No individual, group, or authority, has the right to infringe in the slightest way upon the political, cultural, economic, and military independence or the territorial integrity of Iran under the pretext of exercising freedom."(35)

There are no less than 12 articles and sections of the Constitution concerned with eliminating and preventing outside influence.(36) This indicates to me a certain preoccupation with the issue.

I think it is clear that currently Iranians feel that they are in the crosshairs of a powerful outside influence--the United States.
A recent survey by which polled Iranian citizens on a variety of subjects found that 64% of Iranian respondents thought the United States was purposefully trying "to humiliate" the Islamic world. 55% believe that US bases in the Middle East are a threat to Iran. (This number is down from December 2006, when 73% had that perception--perhaps because it is widely perceived that American power has been depleted by our involvement in Iraq.)(37) 71% think it is "definitely" America's goal "to maintain control over the oil resources of the Middle East."(38) 65% of Iranians believe that the United States controls "most" or "nearly all" of the world.(39)

In other words, "the Great Satan" controls most or nearly all of the world. Not an ideal situation.

This might explain the rather high levels of support for the government the survey found in Iran. When asked whether they were satisfied with the direction the country was going in, 65% of Iranians were.(40) 74% of Iranians apparently trust the national government to do "what is right." 64% of Iranians are satisfied with Iran's foreign relations. 63% responded that they thought President Amadinejad had improved Iran's overall national security!(41)

One would be forgiven for having some misgivings about the responses to such highly charged questions in a poll conducted in a country where frank opposition to the government is unsafe. Nonetheless, this is the data we have, and even if you discount a portion of the responses, it does seem that there is widespread support for the government and its policies--much more than any government is likely to require to perpetuate itself.

So while it may be that the Iranian Revolution has betrayed most of its promises, the Iranians may well feel inclined to express strong support for their government as the most capable of resisting foreign domination--and when the meddling of foreigners needs to be dealt with immediately. That would be my guess, in any case.


There has been a lot of ink spilled on how the invasion of Iraq has created a "shi'ite crescent," increasing Iran's influence via their solidarity and credibility with the Shia's of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and the Gulf nations.(42) Perhaps this is so, but the influence can potentially go in both directions.

Grand Ayatolla Ali Sistani is the most prominent Shia cleric in Iraq, based in Najaf.(43) Najaf is a particularly important city in terms of Iran for two reasons: it is the home of the Imam Ali Mosque, the third holiest site in Shia Islam, and it is where Ruholla Khomeini spent most of his time in exile from the Shah's regime. It is where he wrote Islamic Government: Authority of the Jurist.(44)

There is a long tradition of dissent in Shi'a Islam, and, Najaf has been at points in its history one of its foci. In fact, Ali Sistani is a much more highly regarded religious authority than the current Leader of the Revolution in Iran, Ali Khamenei. And Grand Ayatolla Ali Sistani is on the record as ruling that the concept of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist as it is expressed in Iran is contrary to his understanding of Islam.(45)

Ali Sistani--like most Iraqi clerics--is extremely uncomfortable with the US presence in Iraq and does not want to be associated with the United States in any way.(46) I think it is fair to say that any association with the United States would taint his reputation. Also, as long as the United States is in Iraq, Iran remains a powerful counterbalance to our influence there--something that Sistani likely considers useful.

But this is also tricky business for the Iranians. For example, in the recent fighting between the Mahdi Army and US (and Iraqi government) forces, the Iranians backed the Iraqi government--and by extension the US.(47) The Mahdi Army is led by Muqtada al-Sadr, who is also on record as being against the Iranian expression of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist. His version of an Islamic government would to all intents and purposes gut the role of the supreme religious authority.(48) Sadr is the head of an effective military force in Iraq--unlike Sistani--and studying to be an Ayatollah (he is currently just an Hojatoleslam(49), or what the Ali Khamenei's religious rank was just prior to his elevation to Leader.) And though it is much more complicated than that, I see why Iran would be uncomfortable with the rise of another religious authority next door who happened to be in charge of a military organization and explicitly against their form of government.

Ali Sistani would in some ways be more of a concern to me were I in charge of Iran. If Iraq were to stabilize and his influence grew, his interpretations could be seen as a challenge to the constitutionality of the Iranian Constitution itself. There have been unsubstantiated rumors of assassination attempts on Sistani's life. If one were to ask who benefits from such a deed, there are a number of answers, but it ain't the US, and Iran potentially would.

Either way, there are plenty of religious authorities in Iraq, and the view generally held in Najaf is contrary to the Khomeini interpretation of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist. They have credibility in Iran. And if the US were to leave Iraq, this credibility could grow. And if the guy the sherriff in Iran will obey ends up being a cleric in Iraq--as in 1979--then the government in Iran has a real problem. After all, there are already significant religious authorities in Iran, like Montazeri, who are against Khomeini's interpretation of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist.


And the fact of the credibility of religious authorities in Iraq is a problem for Iran, not just because the Leader of the Revolution has less, but because the Iranian Revolution, like most, cannot make good on its many and various promises.

It promises a lot.

It promises equal rights, regardless of color or sex.(50) The investigation into a person's personal beliefs is forbidden.(51) Freedom of expression is guaranteed.(52) Freedom of association is as well.(53) Social security, free education, and housing are all guaranteed.(54) Innocence is presumed, the right to a fair trial and counsel affirmed, and torture is prohibited by the Iranian Constitution.(55)

There are many more. And as I pointed out above, most of these rights are qualified with exceptions which provide for instances where the law can curtail these privleges. The Iranian government has made good use of those qualifiers. But, there is another important protection in sentence three, Article 9 of the Constitution:

"no authority has the right to abrogate legitimate freedoms, not even by enacting laws and regulations for that purpose, under the pretext of preserving the independence and territorial integrity of the country. "(56)

The Iranian government has arguably done that ... more than once. And this particular article is unalterable under the current Constitution.


Why would the Byzantine intricacies of Shi'a theology and law make any difference on the ground in Iran?

The history of the US might be a useful guide. Our own revolution declared as self-evident that all men are created equal. Of course, the US Constitution was a compromise which allowed for the slavery of a portion of the human race. And the movement which cried out most bitterly about the contraditions therein was originally and primarily a religious movement, led by Quakers and refreshed by the Great Awakening in the 1830s.(57)

William Garrison, the most celebrated abolitionist of his time, is said to have called the Constitution a "covenant with death and an agreement with hell." Here was his argument in his own words:

"No body of men ever had the right to guarantee the holding of human beings in bondage. Who or what were the framers of our government, that they should dare confirm and authorize such high-handed villany – such a flagrant violation of all the precepts and injunctions of the gospel — such a savage war upon a sixth of our whole population? —They were men, like ourselves – as fallible, as sinful, as weak, as ourselves. By the infamous bargain which they made between themselves, they virtually dethroned the Most High God, and trampled beneath their feet their own solemn and heaven-attested Declaration, that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights ...."(58)

It is clear that it was a powerfully effective argument. And, after all, that was a great part of the justification of the Iranian Revolution in the first place, the Shah's compact with us--"the Great Satan." I think they ignore such contradictions at their own risk.

From my distant remove, that is what I think Mrs. Shirin Ebadi and her ilk are up to. They may provide some credibility to the regime by taking their promises seriously, but it is by seriously exploring the contradictions within the Constitution and its application by the government, that dissenters are able to undermine the credibility of the regime itself. Efforts by the regime to reconcile the Constitution with the needs of the day will make for more and more convoluted compromises. It is a slow process. But it is a likely one, and likely inevitable as well.

Just as our Constitution had contradictions that required an eventual shaking out, so does the Constitution of Iran.


Proactively? Not much, in my view. Any backing by the US of these efforts in Iran or clerical authorities in Iraq would only undermine the credibility of those we are trying to support. Calls for such efforts are misguided.(59) The US is the third rail of politics in Iran--and probably in Iraq as well. Our favorable ratings throughout the Middle East are--as I pointed out in an earlier blog--very very low. Though we should complain loudly when obvious human rights violations are taking place, we should do as much as possible to maintain a distance from those elements that we believe might produce positive change in Iran.

Furthermore, as long as we are in Iraq and have troops in the Middle East, we are providing the cover that the theocracy in Iran needs to continue as it has. We actually diminish the chances of an outcome of the debate in Iran which is in our interests--and the Middle East generally--by being so directly involved in the affairs of the region simply because we seem threatening.

Obviously, given the energy needs of the US, Europe, India, China, and Japan, American security guarantees are going to be an ongoing concern. But the notion of long-term bases in the region is likely a mistake, given the evolution of the debate there. Germany, Japan, and South Korea were one thing, this is quite another. We would best be served by limiting or getting rid altogether of our military presence in the region.

The exception to this is Afghanistan. We cannot afford to let Afghanistan slip back into chaos or under Taliban control. Interestingly, Iran would likely be a tactical ally in our efforts against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Administration has denied that there has been any cooperation between Iranian and American special forces in Afghanistan, but members of the Iranian parliament have mentioned it(60), and Shias are not regarded as Muslim by the Taliban.(61) My suspicion is that such cooperation has in fact occured. I also suspect that it is difficult territory for the Iranian leadership, as cooperation with "the Great Satan" seems contrary to the whole meaning of the Revolution--and thus should be encouraged!

It has also been suggested that we ought to engage Iran, and try and bring about a "grand bargain."(62) Much as I respect and admire the various realist luminaries, such as Flynt Leverett, Tom Pickering, and others who support the idea, I suspect pursuing one is not likely to be productive. At each moment when the Iranians and the Americans have sat down to talk about this possibility, one side or the other has backed out. As I wrote above, I believe the Iranians need us as adversaries in order to perpetuate their regime ... and any attempted bargain with the United States exposes an Iranian politician to dangerous criticism in Iran itself. I believe it would make more sense to simply agree to talk to the Iranians when they want to, establish an embassy in Tehran should they ask for one, but pursue a wait and see policy where we would only agree to Iranian proposals if there existed clear advantages to us.

I believe that our embargo of Iran should be carefully reconsidered as well. It is likely that the embargo has a negative effect upon the development of the energy industry in Iran. I do not believe that this is in our best interests, as less oil in tight markets means exponentially higher oil prices. Lifting the embargo on Iranian oil wouldn't make much of a change, but allowing for financing may well end up making their industry more productive, which will bring down the price of oil and natural gas somewhat, over the long term.

Moreover, it is not clear to me that trying to weaken the economy in Iran is likely to produce change in the government there. There is the old example of Cuba, which, though it has been subject to an embargo much more effective than any possible with Iran, has safely perpetuated the communist regime for over 50 years.

I think that the J-curve theory of social revolutions is more likely. First proposed by James Davies in 1972, the J-curve theory of social revolutions argues that it is after first an increase in economic well-being which produces certain expectations, and then a political and economic drop in well-being, widening the gap between expectation and reality, that revolutions occur.(63) I expect that such economic well-being, combined with critical evaluation of the Revolution's promise and an absence of a outsider threat to cover the regime's broken promises is the twist of fate we are waiting on. I do not think that the embargo should just be abandoned unilaterally--we should wait on a good opportunity, where we can wrest some advantage from it. But I think it should be on the table.

(1) Iranian Nobel Laureate Complains of Death Threats, RFE/RL Newsline, Tuesday, April 15, 2008, Volume 12, Number 71
(2) Iran's Ahmadinejad orders police to protect Ebadi, AFP, Tue Apr 15, 9:55 AM ET
3) Chief of police for Tehran was arrested, Iran confirms, by Nazila Fathi, International Herald Tribune, April 16, 2008
(4) The Nobel Foundation's Nobel Peace Prize Biography of Shirin Ebadi
(5) Wikipedia: Ja'fari jurisprudence
(6) For a discussion of the Hadith, see Wikipedia: Hadith. Basically they are stories about Prophet Muhammad which were passed down orally until they were finally put to paper two or three hundred years after his death. In a way there are similar to the Apocrypha of Christianity, except that they are regularly and generally consulted as clarifications of the meaning of the Koran and what is therefore halaal, i.e. kosher or permitted, and haraam, that is, forbidden.
(7) Fuqaha is the plural of Faqih--an expert in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), see a discussion of the term at Wikipedia: Faqih and Wikipedia: Fiqh.
(8) Wikipedia: Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists
(9) Wikipedia: Hokumat-e Islami : Velayat-e faqih
(10) Actually in the Constitution the position of the Supreme Leader is referred to as "the Leader of the Revolution" or just plain "Leader." See Wikipedia: Supreme Leader of Iran
(11) from the translation of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran at International Constitutional Law database hosted by Bern University in Switzerland:

Article 110 [Leadership Duties and Powers]
(1) Following are the duties and powers of the Leadership:
1. Delineation of the general policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran after consultation with the Nation's Exigency Council.
2. Supervision over the proper execution of the general policies of the system.
3. Issuing decrees for national referenda.
4. Assuming supreme command of the Armed Forces.
5. Declaration of war and peace and the mobilization of the Armed Forces.
6. Appointment, dismissal, and resignation of:
a. the religious men on the Guardian Council,
b. the supreme judicial authority of the country,
c. the head of the radio and television network of the Islamic Republic of Iran,
d. the chief of the joint staff,
e. the chief commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and
f. the supreme commanders of the Armed Forces.
7. Resolving differences between the three wings of the Armed Forces and regulation of their relations.
8. Resolving the problems which cannot be solved by conventional methods, through the Nation's Exigency Council.
9. Signing the decree formalizing the election of the President of the Republic by the people. The suitability of candidates for the Presidency of the Republic, with respect to the qualifications specified in the Constitution, must be confirmed before elections take place by the Guardian Council, and, in the case of the first term of a President, by the Leadership.
10. Dismissal of the President of the Republic, with due regard for the interests of the country, after the Supreme Court holds him guilty of the violation of his constitutional duties, or after a vote of the Islamic Consultative Assembly testifying to his incompetence on the basis of Article 89.
11. Pardoning or reducing the sentences of convicts, within the framework of Islamic criteria, on a recommendation from the Head of judicial power.

(2) The Leader may delegate part of his duties and powers to another person.

(12) My previous piece on Venezuela points out that the party that first brought Chavez to power was known as the "Fifth Republic Movement"--the kinship between Venezuela and Iran is actually a bit deeper than people usually suspect. (Venezuela, of course, was the country behind the establishment of OPEC.)
(13) English translation of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, hosted by Iran online.
(14) Wikipedia: Ijtihad
(15) English translation of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Chapter XI, Articles 156-8, and 174, hosted by Iran online.
(16) English translation of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Chapter XI, Articles 161-4, at International Constitutional Law database hosted by Bern University in Switzerland. (Perhaps due to the amendment of the Constitution in 1989, Iran online's version of the document does not at the moment include Article 163.)
(17) English translation of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Chapter VI, Section 2, Article 94, hosted by Iran online.
(18) Article 96
(19) Article 98 (I do not know how this operates in practice, but it is a tremendous amount of authority, theoretically speaking.)
(20) Article 99
(21) English translation of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Chapter VIII, Article 112
(22) Article 111
(23) Wikipedia: Assembly of Experts
(24) Wikipedia: Imamah
(25) English translation of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Chapter I, Article 1, hosted by Iran online.
(26) Wikipedia: Ruhollah Khomeini
(27) Wikipedia: Ruhollah Khomeini
(28) Wikipedia: Grand Ayatolla Hossein- Ali Montazeri
(29) Reading Khamenei: the World View of Iran's Most Powerful Leader, by Karim Sadjadpour, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 2008, p. 11
(30) Wikipedia: Ali Khamenei
(31) Iran Online: The Leadership
(32) Wikipedia: Ali Khamenei
(33) Wikipedia: Iran-Iraq War
(34) English translation of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Chapter I (General Principles), Article 3, hosted by Iran online.
(35) English translation of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Chapter I (General Principles), Article 9, hosted by Iran online.
(36) The 9 others are: Article 43, section 8, of the Iranian Constitution holds that insofar as the economy goes, it is the duty of the government to [prevent] "foreign economic domination over the country's economy." Cf: English translation of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Chapter IV.
Article 78 holds that "All changes in the boundaries of the country are forbidden;" Article 81: "The granting of concessions to foreigners for the formation of companies or institutions dealing with commerce, industry, agriculture, services or mineral extraction, is absolutely forbidden;" and Article 82 "The employment of foreign experts is forbidden, except in cases of necessity and with the approval of the Islamic Consultative Assembly. Cf: (46) English translation of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Chapter VI, Part 2.
Article 145 stipulates that "No foreigner will be accepted into the Army or security forces of the country." Article 146 "The establishment of any kind of foreign military base in Iran, even for peaceful purposes, is forbidden." Cf: English translation of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Chapter 9, Part 3.
Article 152 states:
"The foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is based upon the rejection of all forms of domination, both the exertion of it and submission to it, the preservation of the independence of the country in all respects and its territorial integrity, the defence of the rights of all Muslims, non-alignment with respect to the hegemonist superpowers ...."

Article 153 continues with "Any form of agreement resulting in foreign control over the natural resources, economy, army, or culture of the country, as well as other aspects of the national life, is forbidden." English translation of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Chapter X (Foreign Policy), hosted by Iran online.
(37) Public Opinion in Iran, with comparisons to American Public Opinion, A poll, p. 11, April 7, 2008. The poll was conducted in partnership with Search for Common Ground and Knowledge Networks as well as an unnamed polling firm in Iran. ( is a program managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland.)
(38) p. 10
(39) p. 11
(40) p. 18
(41) p. 19
(42) see, for example, Vali Nasr's book: The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future, W.W. Norton, April 9, 2007, which I have not read, but understand addresses this issue directly. A google search will yield many other examples.
(43) Wikipedia: Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani
(44) Wikipedia: Ruhollah Khomeini
(45) "'Shia Democracy': Myth or Reality?", by Sreeram Chaulia, February 16, 2007,
(46) "The Grand Ayatollah Behind the Curtain," by Colbert I. King, The Washington Post, Saturday, October 28, 2006; Page A15.
(47) Informed Comment: Iran Supported al-Maliki against Militias: OSC, by Juan Cole, Sunday, April 13, 2008.
(48) "The Shi‘a in the Arab World," Middle East Report Editorial, Volume 242, Spring 2007.
(49) Wikipedia: Muqtada al-Sadr
(50) Articles 19 and 20
(51) Article 23
(52) Article 24
(53) Articles 26 and 27
(54) Articles 29 - 31
(55) Articles 37, 34, 35 and 38, respectively
(56) Article 9
(57) Wikipedia: Abolitionism
(58) The Liberator Files: The Constitution and a Call for Disunion, a collection of items from Garrison's paper in Boston, The Liberator, the selection quoted was printed in 1832.
(59) See for example Michael McFaul and Abbas Milani's suggestions at a recent Hoover Institution event discussing Ahmadinejad and Iran's Nuclear Program.
(60) "Iran helped overthrow Taliban, candidate says," by Barbara Slavin, USA Today, June 9, 2005
(61) Wikipedia: Taliban
(62) "A grand bargain, or else," by Flynt Leverett, International Herald Tribune, Tuesday, June 20, 2006.
(63) Fragilecologies: Davies J-Curve Revisited, by Michael H. Glantz, 27 June 2003.

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