The third and final day of the ACRPS Iranian Studies Unit annual conference on “Institutions and Politics in Iran” held on 18 August 2021. The conference’s last two days, held via zoom, focused on the position of the presidency in Iran, the parliament, and the judiciary, as well as the importance of elections, the role of the IRGC, and the foreign policy establishment. The sessions were moderated by Mehran Kamrava, Head of the Iranian Studies Unit and Professor of Government at Georgetown University in Qatar.
The second day of the conference, on 17 August 2021, began with Wilfried Buchta’s presentation on “An Institution in Permanent Flux: Iran’s Presidency from 1980 to 2021.” Buchta discussed the responsibilities of the presidency, the transformations it has undergone since 1980, and the factors that determine the relationship between the revolutionary leader and the president. According to Buchta, “since the death of Khomeini in 1989, the relationship between the two heads of state, the revolutionary leader, and the president, has been characterized by two poles: cooperation and competition.”
This was followed by Alireza Raisi’s presentation on “The Majles: Role, Composition, and Significance.” Raisi explored the significance of the Majles in the post-Khomeini era and explained the transformation of its role in recent decades. He situated the evolution of the Majles in a broader power struggle over the future of the Islamic Republic. Raisi argued that this struggle is consolidating the power of the hardliner wing of the Iranian ruling elite and gradually undermining the Majles’ constitutional authority over legislation and oversight.
Amir Mahdavi continued the discussion on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) by analyzing their role within Iranian politics. He traced the roots of the IRGC’s current significance through examining the history of its establishment and its evolution. In doing so, Mahdavi highlighted the IRGC’s regional presence and its expansive economic activities. Mahdavi claimed that “this evolving entity is more a product of the interactions of powerful domestic and foreign forces than a deliberate creation by the Islamic Republic state meant to safeguard its position.”
The closing session, on 18 August 2021, began with Abdolrasool Divsallar’s presentation on “Iran’s Foreign Policy Establishments.” Divsallar argued that the “privileged access of elites to resources, legal rights, and information, combined with the country’s constant state of emergency due to its strategic environment, have all influenced the evolution of foreign policy institutions in Iran.” He went on to explain the decision-making processes and the institutions involved in the formulation of Iran’s foreign policy, as well as the manners of their interactions with one another.
Shahram Akbarzadeh and Mahmoud Pargoo discussed “Elections in Iran: Rewards and Risks for Authoritarian Rule.” Akbarzadeh and Pargoo looked at elections in Iran and examined the way the ruling elite seeks to maximize the public relations value of elections to enhance its political legitimacy. Some of the rewards of elections include “providing the regime with domestic and international legitimacy; enabling it to shift the blame of its policy failures on the opposition; and serving as a safety valve by preventing the radicalization of the opposition.” According to the two scholars, elections are a mix of risks and rewards for the regime.
Hamideh Dorzadeh concluded the session by presenting on “Islamic Republic’s Judiciary in Transition.” Dorzadeh examined the structure, evolution, and function of the judiciary since the establishment of the Islamic Republic. She argued that since 1989 the judiciary has been used as a political tool to repress dissent within the system and that the institution has consistently worked to strengthen the position of the Supreme Leader instead. This has come at the expense of safeguarding the rights of the people. Dorzadeh focused on the role of the head of the judiciary and discussed the various reforms and changes sought by insider clerics who have held the position since the Islamic Republic was first established.
The conference is part of a broader study of Iranian politics undertaken by the ACRPS’s Iranian Studies Unit. The resultant research will be published in the form of a book on the nature and evolution of political institutions in Iran.