“A true revolution, for Gramsci, is not just about taking over the state, but about winning over society by establishing institutional, intellectual, and moral hegemony.” (Bayat, 2007: 21)
The constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran was drafted in1979 in order to establish a permanent hegemony. In this process, several disputes spread around the country. Abrahamian (2009: 220) summarized Khomeini’s intimidating attitude before the ratification of the constitution as; “the people who oppose the Islamic constitution are equal to the devil and imperialism”. Khomeini also warned that the signals of polarization in the results of the referendum would provoke the United States to attack Iran. In other words, by threatening Iranians with such statements, he urged them to say “yes” to the new constitution. Then, the constitution was accepted by 99 % of the public in the December 2 referendum. After a while, several major changes were made in the constitution in 1989, including the removal of the prime ministry and the removal of the condition of marja-e taqlid (source of emulation) to be the Supreme Leader. It was argued that those amendments were geared toward eliminating Prime Minister Mousavi and promoting Khamenei to the position of the Supreme Leader. Today, this amended constitution, which involves a dichotomy of popular rule and Sharia, is valid in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Keddie (2003: 242) commented on the picture as follows: “The contradiction between clerical-authoritarian and popular rule was, and remains, embedded in the constitution of the Islamic Republic”.
This constitution contains theocratic, “democratic” and authoritarian qualifications. This feature of the constitution is one of the most controversial issues of the Islamic regime, which generates factional politics in Iran. Among these contradictory factors, the constitution determines the power structure according to a hierarchy (legislative, executive and judiciary figures or institutions; their rights and responsibilities) and the Supreme Leader is described as the top of this hierarchy. There are also articles pertaining to general principles; the official language, script, calendar, and flag of the country; the rights of the people; economic and financial affairs; the right of national sovereignty and the powers deriving thereof; the Islamic Consultative Assembly; the powers and the authority of the Islamic Consultative Assembly; the councils; the Leader or Leadership Council; the presidency; the President and the Ministers; the army and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps; foreign policy; the judiciary; radio and television; Supreme Council for National Security; and the revision of the constitution.
A glance at the Constitution of Iran in Iranonline demonstrates that it features many elements contradicting to the reality ofIranand I would like to elaborate through an example. According to Article 3 (Iranonline), the state’s goals are raising public awareness in all areas through the proper use of mass media and the press; the elimination of all forms of despotism, autocracy and all attempts for monopoly; ensuring social and political freedoms; equality of all citizens before the law; and bringing an end to all forms of discrimination. But these statements do not reflect the reality of the country, as regards women and the Reformists in the main. Especially when one considers the Ahmadinejad government, the picture drawn proves the contrary to be true. Although there is public awareness concerning the improper use of media and the press, censorship, widespread despotism, autocracy and monopoly of governmental organs; this awareness is not powerful to react to the regime adequately. Furthermore, in contrast to the constitutional framework, the people experience a lack of social or political freedoms, inequality before the law, and various forms of discrimination in practice.
Although Shiism is the formal ideology of the state, Iran has officially combined religious (such as the Supreme Leader) and “democratic” (such as the President) actors within state institutions on the scene. However, although the existence of a President seems democratic at the first sight, the dominance of the Supreme Leader eradicates the possibility of a democracy. In this context, Sharia and velayet-e faqih are indispensable pillars of the Islamic Republic. There is hegemony of velayet-e faqih in tune with the rules of Sharia. Shia Islam is a prominent part ofIran’s identity and Article 12 of the constitution (Iranonline) states that “The official religion ofIranis Islam and the Twelver Ja’fari School and this principle will remain eternally immutable”. The constitution is an important source for the rights and responsibilities of the state actors (such as the Supreme Leader and the President) and institutions in Iran. Nevertheless, the constitution is deficient to see the reality inIran; hence, observing the practices is necessary. Also, all internal and external policies can be traced back to Sharia and velayet-e faqih in the constitution.
As to the effect of the constitution, there are differing scholarly views on the nature of the present regime and the complex political-power structure in Iran. For instance, Khosrokhavar and Roy (2000: 11) asserted that the Islamist regime, which is involved in social and cultural conservatism, does not deserve the word “revolution”, because revolutions represent the opposite of political conservatism. On the other hand, special days are the reflections of enthusiasm in a revolutionary society. However, Iran gave priority to Shia mourning rituals systematically to “hypnotize” the people and to keep the pro-regime propaganda alive. For Adelkhah (2001: 21), the Islamic Republic is a continuation of the Shah regime from some angles, such as the centralist vision for the administration of the country. In this vein, although the regime changed, the authoritarian perspective remained the same. Moslem (2002: 31) has a controversial idea in this regard. In his words, “The governing principles and the political system of the Islamic Republic share more features with the contemporary Western European model of modern states than with its proclaimed theocracy”. But, the ongoing image and the practices of the Iranian administration point out a kind of theocratic dictatorship rather than modernist strategies.
Abrahamian (2002: 39) discussed that the main frame of the Iranian constitution was directly taken from the fifth French Republic together with Montesquieu’s theory of separation of power as legislative, executive and judiciary. On the other hand, similar to Shah’s monarchy, the institutions of the state and the military in Iran are in the hands of powerful and influential elite of a different kind: the religious elite. Then, in order to transcend this tradition, it is necessary and urgent to appoint ordinary officials for high posts. Otherwise, the religious elite will continue to have hegemonic positions in the governments. In this frame, Farsoun and Mashayekhi (1992: 2) described the Islamic Republic as overcentralized and monopolistic and highly charged with ideological character of the clerical theocracy: “Political, military, ideological, cultural, religious and economic institutions are all employed to consolidate and reproduce Islamic (clerical) hegemony”. Banan added that:
Iran’s ruling elite runs everything from behind the scenes and has restricted people’s political rights to serve the religious trend. The whole system, moreover, is controlled by a strong and dominating theocratic administration. (2004: n.p.)
Abrahamian (2002: 110-125) argued that there is high level paranoia, mistrust, and Shiism in Iranian politics. Besides, before and after the Revolution, although the subjects became different, paranoia and fear of betrayal continued to exist. Even though paranoiac forms can be found in many places of the world, this situation is more widespread in Iran. Paranoiac manners expanded throughout the society and the state, covering main movements and marginals as well. Paranoia shows internal and external politics through the prism of conspiracy theories to such an extent that some Iranian elites or intellectuals use it as a weapon against their political rivals and to manipulate their followers. In this regard, the West has been declared as a major source of social problems by the Conservatives for decades, within the concept of “cultural imperialism”. On the contrary, Shiism has been considered to be the characteristic of life in the history of the Islamic Republic until today. Furthermore, there is an absolutist political culture, ideological dogmatism and weakness due to obedience or worship to a personality (the Supreme Leader).
According to Roy (2000: 8), there is a paradoxical consequence of the relationship between democracy and Islam: democracy may basically live with a conservative brand of Islam, but without an ideological dimension. Hence, for the author, a non-ideological conservative administration may bring democracy toIran. Nevertheless, Islam is based on obedience without criticism or skepticism that religious dogma must be accepted absolutely without questioning. In this vein, these tenets are opposite to democratic principles. Therefore, even if a conservative government simply becomes pious instead of acting ideologically, the basic grounds of this piety would still hamper the birth of democracy in Iran. In contrast, one of the corollaries of the Islamic Revolution is the commercialization of the religious realm. To Adelkhah (2001: 149), the bureaucratization of religion (e.g., religious taxes) became more comprehensive than the bureaucratization of the society’s other components. Also, during the Pahlavi reign, Iranians were confined to exercising their religion only in their private lives so as to formalize a secular-centralist state. Conversely, the Islamic Republic has tried to institutionalize Shia Islam as much publicly as possible, in an attempt to formalize a religiously centralist state. This manipulated relationship between the institutions and religion has caused an appearance similar to Eric Hobsbawm’s concept of “invented traditions”.
The phrases “Islam of the republic” and “republic of Islam” seem contradictory. But this complexity of meaning contributed to the legitimacy and centralization of the state in Iran after the Revolution, as a way of expression for the state; since the new state was approved by both Republicans and Islamists at that time. Then, the balance was tipped in favor of the Islamists. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, religious and state institutions are dependent on the Supreme Leader rather than each other. What is more, as a result of the politization of religion, getting a religious education is simply enough to rise up to the top offices of the state. Adelkhah (2001: 149-150) suggested that religious education and national education are in an acceleratingly close relationship; because the former’s diplomas are equivalent to the latter’s ones generally. Moreover, the author claimed that via strictly religious education, employments other than those for religious missions can be provided in several institutions as well. As a conclusory remark it might be indicated that the hegemony of Sharia and velayet-e faqih is reflected on the constitution and a wide range of realms of the state from education to the political structure. At the same time, this picture indicates the difficulty to struggle for counter-revolution.
– Abrahamian, E. (2002). Humeynizm, İslam Cumhuriyeti Üzerine Denemeler (M. Toprak, Trans.), İstanbul: Metis Yayınları.
– Abrahamian, E. (2009). Modern İran Tarihi (D. Şendil, Trans.), İstanbul: İş Bankası Yayınları.
– Adelkhah, F. (2001). İran’da Modern Olmak (İ. Yerguz, Trans.), İstanbul: Metis Yayınları.
– Banan, T. S. (2004). “Democracy and the Rule of the Clergy in Iran: Problems of Coexistence,” The International Politics Journal / Studies.
– Bayat, A. (2007). Making Islam Democratic Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn, California: Stanford University Press.
– Farsoun, S. K. and Mashayekhi M. (1992). Iran Political Culture in the Islamic Republic, London: Routledge.
– Keddie, N. R. (2003). Modern Iran Roots and Results of Revolution. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.
– Khosrokhavar, F. and Roy, O. (2000). İran: Bir Devrimin Tükenişi (İ. Yerguz, Trans.), İstanbul: Metis Yayınları.
– Moslem, M. (2002). “The State and Factional Politics in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” In Eric Hooglund (Eds.), Twenty Years of Islamic Revolution Political and SocialTransition in Iran since 1979 (pp. 19-35). New York: Syracuse University Press.
– Roy, O. (2000). İran: Bir Devrimin Tükenişi (İ. Yerguz, Trans.), İstanbul: Metis Yayınları.
– The constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iranonline.