Can Iran’s democratic institutions last?

In “Democratic Features of Authoritarian Systems? The Case of Iran”, Dickovick and Eastwood dive into the intricacies of Iran’s Islamic republic nation. The population votes to elect a President and a legislative body, the Majlis. Furthermore, the Assembly of Experts is elected by the general public. However, the majority of power rests with religious leaders including the Ayatollah and the Guardian Council which do not answer to the public directly. The authors compare Iran’s rare theocratic republic to England in the 1600s.


The Arab News reports that two days ago, January 16, was the 40th anniversary of the Shah fleeing Iran during the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Much has changed in that time, the country has left behind the monarchical system and become an Islamic republic with nuclear weapons. However, Iran is not much more democratic than it was forty years ago. According to Arab News, the people of Iran are “searching for a genuinely representative and democratic system of governance, which they could not find either in the shah’s monarchy or the current theocracy.”


Is a hybrid regime with state-sanctioned religion and democratic features, like Iran’s, compatible in the long term?


If Iran moved toward democracy, it would be following a model like England in the 1600s (post- Glorious Revolution), with a state-sanctioned religion yet some budding aspects of democracy, like checks on the ruler’s power from a legislative body. From there, England democratized to the point of becoming a secular nation and a parliamentary democracy, as we saw in semester one. However, there are no guarantees that Iran will follow this Western model, as it has time and time again to be distinct and separate from the Western democratic, secularist tradition.


Dickovick, J. Tyler, and Jonathan Eastwood. Comparative Politics: Integrating Theories, Methods, and Cases. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. p476

Rafizadeh, Majid. “Iranians Still Seeking Democracy 40 Years on from Revolution.” Arab News. January 15, 2019. Accessed January 18, 2019.

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