Ethnic groups: Persian 51%, Azeri 24%, Gilaki and Mazandarani 8%, Kurd 7%, Arab 3%, Lur 2%, Baloch 2%, Turkmen 2%, other 1% (CIA Factbook)
Population: Iran’s population is about 70 million according to preliminary data from the decennial census conducted in late 2006; of that number, approximately one-third is rural and two-thirds urban (Library of Congress). However, latest World Bank Data from 2009, the estimate is 72,903,921
Demography: According to a 2008 estimate, 22.3 percent of Iran’s population is 14 years of age or younger, and only 5.4 percent is 65 and older. The median age is 26.4 years. There are 1.03 males for every female. Estimated life expectancy is 70.86 years overall (69.39 years for men, 72.4 years for women). The birthrate is 16.89 per 1,000; the death rate, 5.69 per 1,000; and the infant mortality rate, 36.73 per 1,000 live births. The fertility rate remains at about 1.7 children born per woman, a significant reduction from the estimated rate of 7.0 in 1979 (Library of Congress)
Religion: The constitution declares Shia Islam to be the official religion of Iran. At least 90 percent of Iranians are Shia Muslims, and about 8 percent are Sunni Muslims. Other religions present in Iran are Christianity (mainly Armenians and Assyrians, more than 300,000 followers), the Baha’i faith (at least 250,000), Zoroastrianism (about 32,000), and Judaism (about 30,000). The constitution recognizes Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism as legitimate minority religions (Library of Congress).
Political System: Following the Islamic Revolution of 1978–79, a national referendum approved
a new constitution; several amendments were approved in 1989. According to that constitution, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a republic with nominal separation of powers among the executive, judicial, and legislative branches. The senior figure in the system is the faqih (leader), an expert in religious law, who is referred to in the constitution as the Leader of the Revolution. The constitution named Ayatollah Khomeini as the first faqih by virtue of his leading role in the 1978–79 Revolution. Leaders are elected by a majority vote of the Assembly of Experts, a body of senior clergymen who are elected in national elections. The Assembly of Experts elected then president Sayyid Ali Khamenei to succeed Khomeini in June 1989. The legal system is based on sharia (Islamic law).
Executive Branch: The leader, who exercises many de facto executive functions, is elected by a majority vote of the Assembly of Experts, an 86-member body of senior clergymen who are elected by popular vote to eight-year terms. The Assembly evaluates the work of the leader in annual meetings; it can dismiss the leader if he is deemed no longer qualified. The leader is responsible for choosing the commanders of the military services and the head of the judiciary, setting general state policy, declaring war and peace, commanding the armed forces (including control of intelligence and security agencies), initiating and supervising amendments to the constitution, and supervising a variety of influential parastatal foundations and organizations. The executive branch is headed by the president, who in practice is the second-highest government official. He is elected in national elections every four years and is limited to two consecutive terms. The constitution specifies that the president must be a Shia Muslim. The current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was elected in 2005. The president selects several vice presidents (10 listed in 2008) and the 21 ministers who constitute his cabinet. Ministers but not vice presidents are subject to approval by parliament. The leader can dismiss a president if two-thirds of parliament votes to impeach him.
The relationship between the president and the leader, not well defined by the constitution, has varied with the individuals in power. The strong personality of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (president, 1989–97) made him the most authoritative person in the political system, and as leader Khamenei acquiesced to his policies. By contrast, the reluctance of Rafsanjani’s successor, Mohammad Khatami, to engage in confrontational politics enabled Khatami’s conservative opponents to advance the authority of the leader as superior to that of the president. In his early presidency, Ahmadinejad, whom Khamenei did not back in the first round of the 2005 presidential election, presented himself as a restorer of the revolutionary ideals of Ayatollah Khomeini, implicitly criticizing Khamenei and the other religious leaders of recent years.
Legislative Branch: The legislative branch consists of a parliament, or Majlis, and the Guardians Council. The Majlis comprises 290 deputies who are elected to four-year terms on the basis of universal suffrage. Five of these seats are reserved for special representatives of officially recognized religious minorities: two for Armenian Christians and one each for Assyrian Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians. In 2005 some 12 women held seats. The speaker presides over parliament, assisted by two deputies and a system of 22 permanent committees. Select committees also can be established when necessary.
The Majlis may both propose and pass legislation, and the executive branch cannot dissolve it. Ministers of the cabinet can also present bills. All bills passed by the Majlis must be reviewed by the 12-member Guardians Council for consistency with the constitution and with Islamic principles.
Judicial and Legal System: Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, in practice the judicial branch is influenced strongly by political and religious institutions. Defendants have the right to public trial, choice of a lawyer, and appeal. Judicial authority is concentrated in the judge, who also acts as prosecutor and investigator with no legal counsel.
Electoral System: Suffrage is universal at age 16. Direct elections every four years choose the Majlis, president, and local councils. Because these elections are not held simultaneously, Iranians generally vote in a national election every year. Each of the 290 seats of the Majlis nominally represents constituencies of about 200,000, but distribution favors urban areas. The city of Tehran, for example, has 30 at-large constituencies.
Politics and Political Parties: Political parties were legalized in 1998. However, official political activity is permitted only to groups that accept the principle of political rule known as velayat-e faqih, literally, the guardianship of the faqih (religious jurist).
Mass Media: The constitution guarantees freedom of the press, provided that published material complies with Islamic principles. Freedom of speech is not guaranteed. In 1997 and 1998, the government relaxed regulations for publishing licenses, which led to the emergence of scores of new, mostly reformist newspapers and journals. Conservatives reacted by suing individual papers and publishers for libel and in the year 2000 succeeded in forcing the suspension, temporary or permanent, of several dozen newspapers. Nevertheless, the judiciary generally allows some reformist publications to remain open at any given time, and reformist publications continue to express views on many contentious issues. The newspapers with the largest circulation are published in Tehran and include the conservative Jomhuri-e Islami (Islamic Republic), Kayhan (World), and Resalat (Prophetic Mission).
Radio and television broadcasting is controlled by the state. In 2003 the government assigned a commission to monitor Internet news sites.
Terrorism: During 2005 several incidents of domestic terrorism occurred using bombs planted in public places; most of these were in areas of ethnic tensions, such as West Azarbaijan (Kurds and Turks) and Khuzestan (Arabs and Lurs) provinces, although there also were bomb incidents in Tehran during the presidential election.
Human Rights: International human rights organizations have cited major abuses in Iran’s judicial system. Violations listed include arbitrary arrest, lack of due process, denial of access to attorneys, restrictions on family visits, prolonged periods in solitary confinement, and inhumane punishments in unofficial detention centers.
Oil Produced in Barrels per Day:
Date of Information is 2009; Russia is 2010.
Source: CIA World Factbook
– Dimal Basha