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Three Main Factions within Iran's Government


Issue 8, March 2009

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Home Inside Iran: Government Three Main Faction within Iran's Government
Three Main Factions within Iran's Government Print

Iran has dozens of political parties; however, ideologically the government is generally divided into three main groups.  The struggle among these three groups is to decide the question of how an Islamic republic should be conducted. 

1. Conservatives or Hardliners: Khomeini, Khamenei, Ahmadinejad 

  • Recognize Ayatollah Khomeini’s legacy as the true path for the Islamic Republic.  
  • Advocate social conservatism in accordance with Islamic Fundamentalism and Sharia law, including segregation of the sexes, mandated hajib (veiling), and other strict religious observances, and see the state as having responsibility for enforcing adherence to traditional Islamic values.
  • Believe in heavy state control of the economy. 
  • Generally eschew flashy materialism and trappings of wealth, seeing these as related to decadent Western values.
  • Embrace anti-Western sentiment and extreme anti-Americanism.
  • Believe that only a divinely chosen few are worthy of leading the Islamic Republic.
  • Enjoy appeal among lower classes, who tend to be more religious and suspicious of the West.
  • Supported by clerics, the security services, and a merchant class with ties to powerful clerics known as the bazaari. 

2. Pragmatists: Rafsanjani

  • RafsanjaniThis group is slightly more to the Left of the Hardliners, in the middle of the political spectrum.
  • Tend to celebrate the country’s Persian, pre-Islamic past as a reference point for Iranian power and stature.
  • Technocratic, embracing modernity and advocating for Iran’s economic development through private industry, free markets, and economic liberalization.
  • More internationalist, seeing contact with the West as key to Iran’s development.
  • Pro-globalization and more realist in foreign policy.
  • Open to some social, political, and cultural liberalization, not as fearful of Western influences and modernization.

3. Reformists: Khatami

  • Also known as the Islamic Left, embracing socialist egalitarian economic policies and more representative government.
  • Seek to soften government positions on culture and roll back strict Islamic laws regarding dress, speech, and association.  
  • Tend to appeal to educated youth, intellectuals, and women.
  • Believe the secular arms of government should prevail over the clerical and that the legitimacy of leaders is related to their mandate given by the electorate, not God.
  • Open to rapprochement with the international community as a path to Iran’s economic development.  

 Iran’s post-Revolutionary period is divided into eras characterized by leadership of one faction or another:  

  • 1979-1981: uncertainty as different factions jockeyed for power 
  • 1981-1989: era dominated by Khomeini: conservatism
  • 1989-1997: Rafsanjani: pragmatism
  • 1997-2005: Khatami: reformism
  • 2005-2009: Ahmadinejad: conservatism

Despite these different political eras having existed, at no time since 1979 has the overall hegemony of political, religious, and social conservatives been significantly reduced in Iran.  


Next:  Inside Iran - Government:  Informal Networks of Influence