IranSource | Understanding and Analyzing a Multifaceted Iran

Using fixed categories to describe Iranian politics is often a risk. Western readings are frequently imbued with misconceptions and prejudices due to an Orientalist approach. At the same time, the official narrative of the Islamic Republic reflects a self-representation in conscious reaction to Western views of Iran. These two readings clash with each other at the expense of a deep and fair understanding of Iranian politics.

The Western interpretation of Iran’s politics and domestic dynamics is often based on a dichotomous reading that confines spaces and actors within two confronting dimensions. Political debates are described as a constant clash between conservatives and reformists, pragmatists and radicals, or moderates and hardliners. 

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Progress has been reported in peace talks between US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban, but without the participation of the Afghan government, it seems premature to assume that an agreement will be reached soon. Could Iran play a constructive role in achieving an end to America’s longest war?

Despite their lack of diplomatic relations and enduring hostility, Iran and the United States have kept some channels of dialogue open since the 1979 revolution. These channels facilitated an end to the hostage crisis, the selling of US arms to Tehran in the Iran-Contra affair and preceded the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq under the George W. Bush administration. Communication became formalized under the Obama administration and continued even under the Trump administration until its unilateral withdrawal last year from a 2015 nuclear agreement.

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The Iranian constitution after the 1979 revolution provides limited freedoms for religious minorities, and it does not recognize the Baha’i community, with more than 300,000 members in the country. Instead, for four decades, the Islamic Republic has routinely harassed, prosecuted, and imprisoned Baha’is solely for practicing their faith. Among other things, the government severely restricts Baha’is right to education, including prohibiting Baha’i students from registering at universities and expelling them if their identities are discovered.

Yet several recent court decisions across the country, that have ended in the acquittal of Baha’is on vaguely defined national security charges, have led some to wonder if this blatant discriminatory behavior might finally be easing up.

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A powerful trend at the international level—led by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia—is trying to sell the idea that Iran’s active regional presence, together with its missile program and location at several of the world’s geostrategic chokepoints, is an attempt to restore the Persian Empire and is a fundamental danger to global security.

In its latest effort to combat Iran’s so-called “destabilizing influence,” the Trump administration has planned a conference on “peace and stability” in the Middle East on February 13 and 14 in Warsaw, hoping to turn it into an anti-Iran gathering.

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The January 20 Israeli attack on an Iranian weapons shipment delivery near the Damascus airport in Syria led to a quick and exceptional succession of events that could have easily brought both sides to the brink of war. 

Iran reacted with a missile launch at the Golan Heights. Israel then responded with an attack on Iranian military targets in the Damascus vicinity. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson’s official statements and briefings that were given to journalists appeared to present a detailed picture of what had occurred on the northern front. However, in spite of the abundance of material published and the unusual openness on the part of Israel, there still remains information gaps and a number of unanswered questions. These require additional examination and interpretation. First and foremost, there is the need to distinguish the background noise from accurate signals. 

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The US announcement that an international summit on the security and stability of the Middle East will be held February 13 and 14 in Warsaw was as shocking as it was unexpected, not only for Iranians but also for Poles.

Poland is an important political and military ally of the United States and Polish energy companies have decided to withdraw from Iran after President Donald Trump abandoned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and re-imposed sanctions. But having a multinational summit about the Middle East in Poland? It is even rumored that Warsaw was taken by surprise when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that such an event would be organized in the Polish capital next month. 

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This week, two well-known political prisoners in Tehran’s Evin prison went on a three-day hunger strike to protest their inability to get urgent medical treatment. 

Narges Mohammadi, a prominent human rights defender serving a ten-year sentence for her peaceful activism, suffers from a serious neurological disease that causes muscular paralysis. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a British-Iranian dual national serving a five-year prison term on vague national security charges in connection with her past work at the BBC Media Action. She urgently needs an examination for “lumps in her breast” and neurological care for her recurring neck pain and numbness in her arms and legs. 

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The Islamic Republic of Iran has no shortage of opposition groups, many with adherents in the large Iranian diaspora. From the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) to secular republicans to ethnic separatist organizations, they are all bent on overthrowing the Iranian regime and replacing it with what they claim will be a more inclusive system.

Despite this common aim, the opposition is notoriously fragmented, with anti-regime groups often fighting among themselves rather than unifying against the regime. This bitter fragmentation partly explains the failure, after four decades of violent and non-violent struggle, to topple the Islamic Republic or even move it in a new direction.

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Japan’s energy policy towards Iran has been an area of struggle for independence from the United States for four decades.

Even when Japan tried to pursue its own energy policy towards Iran, the US has generally had the final say. From Japan’s point of view, however, the US stance towards Japan-Iran energy relations has toughened gradually since the 1979 revolution. 

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The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, can hardly be billed as a reformist. For that reason, he maintained his position as Iran’s Supreme Leader’s confidante while acting as his representative in the Iranian Supreme National Security Council for twenty-three years, from its inception until his first term election as president in 2013.

Rouhani also escaped unscathed from the 2009 controversy-marred re-election of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. While that election and the mass protests that followed produced numerous political casualties in the reform camp, Rouhani not only emerged intact but was in a good position to run as a consensus reformist-pragmatist candidate down the road.

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