The return of the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to Tehran from exile in Paris on February 1, 1979 marks the beginning of Ten-Day Fajr (Dawn) ceremonies as well as the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
On January 16, 1979, Mohammad Reza Shah, a staunch ally of the United States, left Iran forever, and on February 11, his government led by Shapur Bakhtiar was toppled. Soon after, the clerical system of governance and the Shiite Islamic revolution became triumphant.
Although not many experts, politicians and scholars held the belief that the Islamic revolution, its political system and the cleric rule would last long, the new system of governance which created upheaval in the socio-political system of Iran has survived for 36 years.
Revolution in Shiite Thought: Politics
The fundamental transformation in the political system- from a secular, Western-friendly state to a system of governance that highlights a combination of constitutional, theocratic, and some democratic attributes- not only significantly altered the social, political, and domestic affairs of the nation, but also has exerted significant impact on the geopolitical and strategic chessboard of the Middle East.
The late founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomenei, introduced a revolutionary notion in Shiite theories and thought. The idea of Velayat-e Faqih (the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist), directly entered Shiite clerics into political affairs, and gave the faqih (representative of the Hidden Imam, al-Mahdi) custodianship over people. Khomeini's revolutionary concept was criticized by other powerful Shiite clerics who believed religion should remain out of political affairs until the return of Imam Mahdi.
The Islamic Republic's political system is unique since it highlights a combination of theocratic, ideological, constitutional, and some semblance of democratic norms. Nevertheless, dominant cleric and military institutions, such as the Guradian Council, the Expediency Council, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the office of the Supreme Leader began exerting most of the influence in decision making, vetting or approving candidates for election, among others.
Political and Economic Successes
The Islamic Republic has definitely been successful on several spectrums, including technologically, through communication, militarily, transportation, and other platforms.
Iran has become much more self-reliant in several industries including automobile manufacturing (Iran Khodro) and defense (manufacturing domestic missiles, radar systems, tanks). This week, as the 10 days of celebrations highlighting the 36th anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution started, the Islamic Republic launched its fourth satellite to orbit the Earth. In addition, Iran has significantly advanced in nuclear technology, being a short technical step away from becoming a nuclear state, and improved in manufacturing long range missiles.
Regarding social issues, the health care system has improved significantly since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, spreading to villages and small cities and increasing the life expectancy of Iranian people.
Regionally speaking, the Islamic Republic exerted significant influence geopolitically by impacting political chessboard of the region through a unique manifestation of foreign policy. The ruling-cleric's foreign policy was propelled by the amalgamation of ideological, geopolitical, and strategic interests. The creation of new and staunch alliances (such as with the Alawite government of Assad), and proxies across the regions (such as Hezbollah, Al Mahdi, Badr) have also had both success and setbacks.
A Shift in the Political Ideology and Challenges
While ideological objectives played a dominant role at the beginning of the establishment of the Islamic Republic, the ruling clerics realized that a balance between national, geopolitical, strategic interests and ideological goals was vital in order to ensure the hold on power of the establishment.
The new era and presidency of Hassan Rouhani highlights the partial tactical shift in the Islamic Republic's foreign policy to act as a modern nation-state and rational actor in order to pursue its foreign policy objectives and consolidate leadership.
On the other hand, the new political system of the Islamic Republic and its domestic policies have had unintended consequences such as creating a significant amount of disaffected and discontent young people. Although the government has established powerful military institutions to deal with dissents, but remains to be concerned about potential domestic uprising which might lead to foreign intervention and overthrow of the system. Pursuing the nuclear program can be viewed as a deterrent reason to prevent any future foreign intervention.
Nevertheless, although the Iranian youth appear to be disaffected with the inflexible and rigid political system, and despite the notion that some might view the Shah's era as the golden age, many Iranian people appear to oppose foreign intervention.
Majid Rafizadeh, an American scholar and political scientist, is president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He is originally from Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria.
This post first appeared on Al Arabiya.