The Islamic Republic of Iran provides us with a rather novel, indigenous experiment in political statecraft. Among contemporary political systems, it is unique as a “theocracy” infused with strong democratic elements. As the world’s only theocratic republic, Iran’s political system is organized around the principle that Shiite clergy have a divine right to rule since they are the qualified interpreters of God’s will. The country is led by a chief cleric who has the title of “Supreme Leader” and enjoys rather extensive powers.
Iran’s political system, however, also has strong democratic elements. The constitution recognizes the principle of popular sovereignty and separation of powers, makes frequent references to individual rights, and bestows upon the electorate the right to elect the president, members of parliament, and the Assembly of Religious Experts, as well as local city and village councils. This blending of theocratic and democratic features has led to tension over time. The Islamic Republic’s legitimacy rests in part on popular sovereignty and in part on its conformity to a revealed body of religious law.
The three papers assembled for this panel critically examine some of the key features and institutions of Iran’s consolidated theocracy. The first paper investigates how the political context in which the Vali Faghih wields his political authority necessitates a specific understanding of ethics that transcends the ways of everyday morality. The second paper delves into Ayatollah Khomeini’s theory of the "Rule of the Jurisprudent" by examining it from the angle of political representation. The author maintains that though Khomeini’s theory of *Velayat-e Motlagheh ye Faqih* is more pragmatic and secular than his theory of *Velayat-e Faqih*, its model of political representation is not significantly different. Finally, the last paper adds an empirical dimension to our deliberations on the experience of clerical rule by looking at the social background of over five hundred Friday Prayer Imams who constitute the front line of the clerical officialdom. The paper reveals interesting insights about their backgrounds and about how they carry out their roles as conduits between the ruling elite and the citizenry. (Alireza Shomali)