Shahram Akbarzadeh, James Barry
in John L Esposito, Lily Zubaidah Rahim and Naser Ghobadzadeh (eds), The Politics of Islamism (NY: Palgrave, 2018), pp. 159-178
Publication year: 2018

Iran’s political system benefits from dual sources of legitimacy, which seemingly enables Iran’s ruling clergy to proclaim their system to be the ultimate representation of a perfect political system, one that brings Islam and democracy together. Questioning this propaganda-laden claim, we suggest that this duality has embedded an inherent contradiction between the theory and practice of an Islamic Republic. Indeed, it is for this reason that elected and appointed offices in Iran have been continually embroiled in tense relations since the inception of the Islamic Republic. Elaborating on the country’s electoral rules and procedures, it is suggested that despite the vetting of candidates by the appointed Guardian Council, Iranian elections are highly competitive and revolve around issues of national importance such as the economy and social issues. This chapter offers a detailed investigation of the challenges that have arisen from the inherited contradiction between divine and popular sovereignty, which has gained considerable credence during Hassan Rouhani’s presidency. This inherent contradiction at times appears to tilt in favour of popular sovereignty. However, that is only because the political elite are acutely aware of the fact that without the illusion of popular rule, the regime could very well be cast aside, mirroring the fate of the Pahlavi regime. It is argued that Rouhani’s achievements do not address the contradiction between divine and popular sovereignty, but rather illuminate the astute political calculations made in the top echelons of power in order to create a semblance of popular rule. This chapter argues that the Iranian system of government is based on a clear hierarchy of authority in which divine sovereignty in the form of velāyat-e faqih hovers over the empty shell of democracy.