Introduction: a brief history
Iran, also known as the Islamic republic of Iran is a country in Western Asia bordered by Armenia to the northwest, Afghanistan to the east and by the Persian Gulf to the south. Iran exerts a great amount of influence in international energy security and the world economy through its large reserves of fossil fuels thus making it a regional power. It has the largest natural gas supply and is among the top countries in the world with proven oil reserves.
Iran is a multicultural society as a result of migration of different communities to the country over the decades. Large parts of the population are Persian speakers, the remainder of the population speaks languages drawn from Indo-European, Turkic or Semitic language families.
Iranian culture is rich in cultural symbolism mostly drawn from prehistoric times. It is the only country in the Middle East which uses the solar calendar and the only nation on earth marking the advent of the New Year at the spring equinox.
Iran was originally a rural culture but this has changed in recent years. Iranians still value nature in spite of today’s rampant urbanization thus they make considerable efforts to spend time in the open air. The challenge here is that a large part of Iran is a desert therefore they improvise by creating gardens. Iranians also try to bring the outdoors inside whenever possible. Fresh fruit and flowers are a part of every entertainment, and nature and gardens are central themes in literature and poetry. The Iranian diet is composed of fresh fruits and vegetables although meat, usually lamb chicken or goat, is an accompaniment in meals. Staple starches include rice, bread either unleavened or semi-leavened with black tea being the primary beverage. The only dietary taboo is the Islamic prohibition against pork. Iranian women are in charge of their children marriages.
Iran combines the elements of Islamic theocracy and democracy. The supreme leader or Rahbar is bestowed with the highest power. Development of the civil society faces great pressure from the government. The complexity of Iranian bureaucracy is in many ways similar to the government’s complexity. Transparency is rarely practiced therefore making the decision making process unfair. Public services are controlled by the state and this makes corruption very dominant thus causing dissatisfaction of citizens. Lack of experience and training among bureaucrats is very popular with civil servants having very poor payments. Corruption is not only frustrating but also very discouraging for setting up businesses and attracting foreign investors. Iranian military has not played any role in intervening in political matters. Leaders that are appointed are loyal to the supreme leader. The clergy empowers families with government jobs.
These are vigilante groups which have, over time, influenced society as well as politics in Iran. After Muhammad Khatami’s election in 1997, these pressure groups have become bolder and more violent. Their actions threaten the Iranian domestic reform as well as the United States efforts towards a gradual understanding with Iran. Iranian pressure groups act on behalf of various hard-line factions in the government therefore they cannot be considered as part of the opposition. These groups are often effective in their small tightly knit operations. Hardliners and reformists acknowledge their existence and their impacts are publicly discussed in Iran (Guy Dinmore, 2000). The convoluted nature of the Iranian government contributes to the rise of these vigilante groups (Hasan Yusifi, 1999).
Context of Iranian politics
The political situation of Iran and the government structure has been peaceful and legitimate enough to Iranians for a very long time. In recent years however there have been issues concerning the legitimacy of politics and government in this country. Reforms have been demanded as a result of the downward trend in the afore-mentioned aspect. Oppression is still high among Iranians from the authoritarian system which offers citizens little or no freedom at all. There are some aspects of democracy but they are mostly ignored. Gender inequality remains prevalent and women are always demanding better treatment and equality. The relevance of political problems faced by Iran grows in complexity as a result of transnational norms that restrain state conduct (Yaniv, 1987). The conditions expected to come up with democratic cultures, economic interdependence and power taming norms are often weak and rarely present.
There has been a continuous search for solutions to regional conflict in the Middle East since its founding. Despite it being a non Arabic country, Iran is an intimate part of the Middle East conflict and an integral part of its balance of power. Even though there are regions that strive to enforce order, the issue of authoritative leadership brings such development down. Major attempts to build regional order are faced with challenges as they fail to deal with the root causes of such conflicts.