- Persian civilization is over 4000 years old. Persia was once the most powerful empire in the world. Iranians are Persians, not Arabs; they speak Farsi, not Arabic.
- Most Muslims throughout the world are Sunnis. Iran’s Muslims are primarily Shia. Iran is one of the few majority Shia nations in the world and, since 1979, has the world’s only official Islamic government. The Islamic Republic of Iran, established after the Revolution of 1979, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
- Iran is known as a theocracy, a form of governance under which religious officials or mullahs control the government through powerful clerical institutions. Iran has an elected President, but ultimate power rests with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. He is only the second man in the last 30 years to hold this high unelected office.
- Oil was discovered in Iran in 1908 by the British. Iran is currently the fourth largest oil producer in the world and the second largest in OPEC. Iran is situated along the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, through which nearly one-half of the world’s oil supply passes each year.
- US companies are forbidden to invest in Iran’s oil industry or purchase Iranian oil because of sanctions levied by the US against Iran over the past three decades.
- Iran was once a key ally of the US in the Middle East. In 1953, the US facilitated a coup that removed Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh from power and shored up the regime of the Shah. The Shah was overthrown in the Revolution of 1979, and since that time the US and Iran have had no diplomatic ties.
- Three of Iran’s historic enemies and rivals have collapsed in the past 20 years: The Soviet Union, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. This has greatly increased Iranian power in the region, which has caused concern among the Sunni Arab states and Israel. Iran’s only allies are Syria, Lebanon, and the current Iraqi government.
- Al Qaeda, the Sunni extremist group responsible for the attacks of 9/11/2001 on the United States, is an enemy of Iran’s.
- Iran extends its influence in the Middle East partly by its support of groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, that are often US-designated terror groups. Through these proxies, Iran is suspected of being behind terrorist attacks throughout the region, including the bombing of the US Embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon in the 1980s, the Khobar Towers explosion in the 1990s, and continuing violence in the Palestinian territories.
- Iran’s economy is in trouble, a fact partially concealed by its oil wealth. In recent years real income has declined, unemployment is rampant, and rates of inflation are among the highest in the world. It is isolated from the global economy by sanctions, as well as banking and visa restrictions.
- Iranian law discriminates against women in many areas, including dress, employment, and family matters.
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