Islamic Republic of Iran, Government Offices and Ideological Organizations

Last Updated: 6-27-2005

Constitutional Governmental Offices

The December 1979 Iranian constitution defines the political, economic and social order of the Islamic republic. It declares that Shi’a Islam of the Ja'afari sect is Iran's official religion. Secular and religious leaders, as well as councils, govern the country. Frequently, the duties of secular and religious officials overlap. (from:

Rahbar-e Moazam

"The Rahbar-e Moazam (supreme leader), is a Wali Faqih [jurist guardian] or, in the absence of a single leader, a three- or five-man council of religious leaders. The constitution stipulates that this national religious leader (or council) is to be chosen from the clerical establishment on the basis of qualifications and the ‘high esteem of the Iranian Muslim population.’ The leader is chosen by the Majlis-e Khobregan (Council of Experts) - a group of 86 (83?) clerics.

The supreme leader (or council) is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and appoints the highest judicial authorities; all must be religious jurists. The leader (or council) also appoints the six religious members of the Shura-e-Nigahban (Council of Guardians).

Majlis-e Khobregan

Majlis-e Khobregan (Council or Assemply of Experts) - chooses, appraises, and can, in theory, dismiss the Supreme Leader, is made up of 86 (83?) clerics who have been elected by universal suffrage - but only after candidates first have been vetted by the Council of Guardians. The Council of Experts was first constituted on 10 December 1982, to designate a successor to then Wali Faqih (religous leader), the Ayatollah Khomeini. The second Council of Experts was elected in October 1990, while the most recent council was elected in October 1998. Conservatives and hard-liners dominate the current Council of Experts. ...
In the 1998 election the Council of Guardians rejected "more than half of the nearly 400 candidates... who registered to run. ... no specifics provided." This included the "9 women and 40 laymen" and "most of the reformist clergy" who had allied to be candidates. Voter turnout was officially 46%. (from: Wright p.73)


Shura-e-Nigahban (Council of Guardians) is a powerful monitoring group that acts, in effect, as the upper house of parliament and can annul legislative acts. It has 12 members: Six religious members appointed by supreme leader; six lay members, all lawyers, are first named by the High Council of the Judiciary and then approved by the Majlis-e-Shura e Eslami (Islamic Consultative Assembly)... Council of Guardians, ... During the presidency of Khatami, the Council of Guardians... routinely humiliated [reformers] by disqualifying Khatami supporters from seeking office, and by vetoing all legislation that would increase democracy or protect rights.

Guardian Council vetoes parliamentary bill it considers outside the Shari`ah. Fare enough, that's its job, but "only in exceptional cases does the Guardian Council give its reasons for rejecting parliamentary resolutions as contrary to the shari'a. Occasionally, to use Madani's words, it points in `the direction of the contradiction,` or the desired corrections, but often in so vague and brief a form that it is difficult even for experts to understand. Although MPs have insisted on being informed of the council's reasoning, and Montazeri and other authorities have made similar recommendations, the council has not changed its behaviour. There are indications that from time to time it has presented its reasons for rejecting parliamentary resolutions by word of mouth to the president of the parliament, members of the competent parliamentary committees, or to Khomeini; but such cases are in all likelihood exceptions. The Guardian Council has insisted that it will formulate its views on the basis of its won ejtehad and that it is not obliged to give reasons for them. Nor is there any access to these reasons through the minutes of the council because no such minutes exist." (from: Schiraz, p.248)


The president of the republic is elected by universal suffrage to a four-year term by an absolute majority of votes and supervises the affairs of the executive branch. The president appoints and supervises the Council of Ministers (members of the cabinet), coordinates government decisions, and selects government policies to be placed before the assembly.

Majlis-e-Shura e Eslami

The Majlis-e-Shura e Eslami (Islamic Consultative Assembly [aka parliament]) consists of 270 members directly elected to a four-year term. The Council of Guardians reviews all legislation from the assembly. While the council's six lay members vote only on limited questions of the constitutionality of legislation, the six religious members consider all bills for conformity to Islamic principles.

Shura-ye Tashkhis-e Maslahat-e Nezam

Shura-ye Tashkhis-e Maslahat-e Nezam (Committee to Determine the Expediency of the Islamic Order, or Council for Expediency) was established in February 1988. It resolves legislative issues on which the Islamic Consultative Assembly and the Council of Guardians fail to reach an agreement. Since 1989, it has been used to advise the national religious leader on matters of national policy as well. It is composed of the heads of the three branches of government, the clerical members of the Council of Guardians, and members appointed by the national religious leader for three-year terms. Cabinet members and "Majlis-e-Shura e Eslami" committee chairs may also serve as temporary members when issues under their jurisdictions are considered.

Supreme Court and High Council of the Judiciary

Judicial authority is constitutionally vested in the Supreme Court and the four-member High Council of the Judiciary, two groups with overlapping responsibilities, but one head. Together, they are responsible for supervising the enforcement of all laws and for establishing judicial and legal policies....judges, who have jailed scores of reformists, including editors, writers, economists, and mayors, among others; virtually all of the top judges are anti-reform clerics...

Provinces and Universities - Although most provincial governors are not clerics, in each province the assent of the Supreme Leader's representative, invariably a cleric, is required for most of the important decisions he makes. The same is true of the heads of universities.

Concept of Velayat-e Faqih - The "guardianship of the jurist" proposed by Khomeini can be understood as an expansion of the "guardianship" that Islam proposes in the case of orphaned minors, with the whole Islamic community in the role of orphan and the ruling jurist in the role of the adoptive parent. On his return from exile, following the Shah's flight in 1979, Khomeini said he was invoking "the guardianship that I have from the holy lawgiver [the Prophet]" to appoint an interim government. He announced that opposition to this government would be "blasphemy."

[Since the role of VF was sort of tailor-made for Khomeini with his enormous popularity and prestige, it would have seemed natural to downgrade the post after he was gone. Instead] Khomeini's eleventh-hour constitutional amendments pointed the other way; the revised constitution increased the Supreme Leader's formal powers, and described his authority, with an explicitness absent from the original, as "absolute." Furthermore, Khomeini, in some of his last statements, implied that the Supreme Leader could make any decision he considered to be in "the interests of Islam and the country." In the eyes of some, this gave him the authority to create divine injunctions.

Some Other Governmental Bodies

National Security Council

"The National Security Council is composed of the

  • presidents of the three branches of government,
  • chief of the General Staff of the armed forces,
  • functionary responsible for matters of planning and the budget,
  • deputies appointed by the leader,
  • minister for foreign affairs,
  • minister of the interior, and
  • minister for security.
  • whichever minister has authority over the problem being dealt with at a given moment,
  • highest-ranking officers of the army
  • highest-ranking officers of the Revolutionary Guards.
  • President of the Islamic Republic presides over the council. "The council's decisions are binding once they have been confirmed by the leader....
    The Security Council often makes decisions or intervenes in matters which lie far beyond the limits of authority set out for it in the constitution. As the president of the judiciary Ayatollah Yazdi, reports, the council draws up plans for fighting against the `cultural invasion instigated by the West and its allies within the country` and restraining `social immorality`." [source: Resalat 19.10.90 and 20.11.91]
    "It is chiefly in this council that foreign policy is decided. According to the president of parliament, Hajjat al-Eslam Nateq Nuri, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs only carries out the preparatory phase for these decisions. `Consequently, parliament does not play an important role in connection with foreign policy.`" [source: Kayhan 8.2.92](from: Schirazi p.96-97)
    Supreme Council for Social Revolution

    "The Supreme Council for Social Revolution, as we saw in Chapter 4, is another institution with legislative powers which was not elected by the people. The council's goals and tasks are defined in its statutes which were drafted by Khomeini himself in 1986. They clearly demonstrate the extent of this council's activity in areas which in a democratic system would normally be dealt with by parliament. Amongst its tasks are `working out the principles for cultural policies under the government of the Islamic Republic, and defi9ning the goals and the direction of plans for culture, education and research` as well as the `spread and reinforcement of the influences of Islamic culture in all areas of society, and the intensification of the cultural revolution and the development of general culture.` The resolutions passed by this council have regularly appeared since 1986 in a separate part of the stature-books published annually by the Ministry of Justice. They are referred to as `operational regulations,` `statues`, `orders` and so on but in reality they have the character of laws."
    One MP by the name of Mohammad Khamene'i "cited a series of examples" of how the Judiciary `overstepping the law and has usurped the position which is exclusively reserved for parliament` "which include the annulment of 10 articles of the civil code." [source: Masa'el-e jomburi-ye Eslami-ye Iran 23.10.83 pp.10 f, 59f and 64] (from: Schirazi, p.97)

    Other Non-Elected Bodies

    To appreciate the full extent of intervention in legislation by non-elected institutions, it is also necessary to mention the

  • Supreme Administrative Council Showra-ye `Ali-ye Edari
  • the Supreme Council for Supporting the War Showra-ye `Ali-ye Poshtibani-ye Jang and a few other economic institutions which are responsible of the leader alone. In addition to these council mention must also be made of mayors who, in the municipalities, make a series of decisions affecting taxation, urban development and other such matters for which they have no legal authority." and have been the source of demonstrations in protest against their "oppressive and arbitrary character." [source: massive revolts in the cities of Mashhad and Arak in 1992, etc.] (from: Schirazi, p.97-98)
    Revolutionary Courts

    "Legal prosecution of opponents of the regime is either carried out by the Revolutionary Courts (Dadgah-e Enqelab) or the Special Courts for the Clergy (Dadgah-e Vizheh-e Ruhaniyat). The Revolutionary Courts were originally ad hoc institutions presided over by shari'a judges (hokkam-e shar'). In 1983, these courts were obliged to attach themselves to the Ministry of Justice. The execution of thousands of the regime's opponents after the revolution was ordered by them. The general fear inspired by the Revolutionary Courts is so great that whenever the government wishes to put an abrupt stop to a particular practice, such as driving up prices, it simply threatens those responsible with prosecution in the revolutionary courts. The Special Courts for the Clergy pass sentence on political or moral offences committed by the clergy." (from: Schirazi, p.154)

    Representatives of the Imam (Namayandegan-e Emam).

    ... are one of the most important institutions of supervision and propaganda. They act as a kind of extended arm of the leader in all the chief educational, administrative and security agencies and other state institutions, and use their considerable power to intervene in the running of those organisations. (from: Schirazi, p.154)

    Imams of the Friday Prayers (Emam-e Jom'eh)

    ... lead the faithful in the performance of the Friday prayer, are appointed directly by the leader or through the Secretariat of Friday Imams in all the cities. They are in practice a powerful authority that stands over the local governors and mayors, although their official functions is to supervise religious activity, propagate the doctrine of VF and agitation." (from: Schirazi, p.154)

    Political-Ideological Bureaux (Darfarha-ye `Aqidati-Siyasi)

    Organisations of control and agitation. ... `an essential and vital foundation of the regime of the Islamic Republic` (Khamene'i) installed in all areas of the state apparatus... meant to provide ideological instruction to state employees and watch over them in their work place." (from: Schirazi, p.154)

    Organisation of Islamic Propaganda (Sazman-e Tablighat-e Eslami)

    Produces and distributes publications inside and outside Iran. ... came into existence in 1981 (from: Schirazi p.154)

    Organization for Jihad in the Universities (Jehad-e Daneshgahi)

    a student organisation loyal to the ideology of the regime. It emerged in connection with the cultural revolution and is entrusted with the task of Islamicisation in the universities and combating the forces which work against this goal.... is under the supervision of the Supreme Council for the Cultural Revolution. This organisation had recently been extremely active under the name of `Ansar-e Hezbollah` and during the elections to the 5th Majles took strong action against candidates who did not belong to the conservative faction on 2.4.1996 it held its first congress and took on the character of a political party. (from: Schirazi, p.152)

    Security Groups

    Sepah-e Pasdaran - Islamic Revolutionary Guards, "a popular volunteer force which is to number 20 million." The Revolutionary Guard has been made responsible to the Ministry of Intelligence, it can be assumed that this organisation will disposes over its own separate intelligence apparatus. The Revolutionary Guard was set up under the government of Bazargan and has since developed into a full-scale army with air force and navy branches. Its task is to combat both external and internal enemies [including] narcotics trafficking. In 1991, in the wake of the unexpected outbursts of rioting by a discontented population in several cities, the Guard formed `a special unit for the security of the cities.`"
    They form without a doubt the strongest institution of the revolution. They defend the hierocracy against its opponents and at the same time are an instrument through which the distribution of power can be influenced. (from: Schirazi, p.151)

    "The Pasdaran-e Enqelab, or the Revolutionary Guard, was formally established under a decree issued by Khomeini on 5 May [1979]." (from: Bakhash, p.63)

    Corruption "....Even the Revolutionary Guards, the guardians of public morality, have become corrupt. Hefty fees paid in advance keep the Pasdaran away from parties of the rich where alcohol is served. Lesser bribes in lesser social classes smooth the departure of religious vigilantes who have burst through the door to shut off Western music and collect a payoff..." (from: Mackey, p.371)

    Basij (Persian for "mobilized") - originally the Basij was famous as a "militia of young volunteers ... dispatched in human waves against Iraqi tanks and artillery" in the Iran-Iraq War. (from: Wright, p.15-6)
    It was composed of "adolescents and volunteers from amongst the lumpenproletariat. Its membership in Tehran alone has been reported as approximately 100,000 and in 1995 it was said to have 1.7 million members among high-school students throughout the country." (from: p.151-2, Schirazi)
    Today, it "is made up of volunteers from all walks of life, including schoolchildren, students, teachers, doctors, engineers, and other professionals, is a paramilitary organization which today numbers nine million; it is headed by Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) general Mohammad Hejazi." No longer on the battlefield, one of the organization's main functions is to act as "moral police," enforcing - sometimes violently - Islamic cultural codes of behavior, such as the requirement that women veil themselves in public and the prohibition on male-female fraternization. Basij members played a central role in breaking up the 1999 student riots, and are active in quelling anti-regime riots and demonstrations, mainly in the provinces." (from:

    Jihad-I-Sazendagi - reconstruction brigade for building small welfare projects.

    Komiteh-e Enqelab (Revolutionary Committees) - local, municipal bodies operation from mosques for local administration and internal security.

    komitehs - the neighborhood committees that served as watchdogs - more like rottweilers, actually - on social behavior. [The Basij and komitehs] were eventually merged. But after the wars, the Basij often stepped in to perform the same kind of jobs. (from: Wright, p.15-6)

    Revolutionary Committees emerged during the revolution. They orginally included the members and sympathisers of an array of groups but after several purges evolved into security forces chiefly employed against the opposition. Over the years they increasingly took on more routine policing tasks and in 1991 were fused with the conventional police in a new organisation known as the Niruha-ye Entezami (Forces of Order). (from: p.152, Schirazi)

    Niruha-ye Entezami (Forces of Order). Merger of Komiteh-e Enqelab and police in 1991. (Schirazi, p.152)

    Party of God (Hezbollah)

    "this title does not designate a separate independent organisation but loosely bound groups of thugs who are regularly sent out, usually from headquarters located in a mosque, to suppress by violent means undesirable activities of a cultural or moral nature." (from: Schirazi, p.153)


    Is a security bureau which has representatives in every state organisation and bears chief responsibility for matters of security in the administration. (Schirazi p.153)

    Khaharan-e Zeinab (Sisters of Zeinab)
    Nasehin (Admonishers)
    Sar Allah (Revenge of God)
    "... a series of groups who constantly turn up with new names or new forms of organisation whose task is to uphold chastity and morality in the streets and to suppress sources of unrest." (from: Schirazi, p.153)

    Organizations and Parties Involved in the Revolution


    The Coalescing Islamic Mission. The Mission, soon to be known in the clandestine movement only as the hayat, was to emerge as a vital link in the small but growing organization." (from: Taheri, p.149)

    Revolutionary Council

    Established in January 1979. (p.64) Clerical members of Revolutionary Council who were "Khomeini's own men" and later started the IRP: Motahhari (assassinated in May), Beheshti, Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Mahdavi-Kani, Bahonar. (from: Bakhash, p.51) "With the fall of the monarchy on 11 February [1979], the council acquired extensive new powers". (May 1979) The revolutionary Council was at the same time designated as the supreme decision-making and legislative authority in the country. It was the Revolutionary Council that, sitting in Khomaini's presence, proposed and approved Bazargan's appointment as prime minister and confirmed his ministerial choices." (from: Bakhash, p.65)

    Hezb-e Jomhuri-ye Eslami, aka Islamic Republic Party

    Formed circa May 1979. "by Beheshti and the other clerics of the Revolutionary Council ... (p.65)
    IRP "emphasized Khomaini as leader, refrained from criticizing the revolutionary courts and committees, harshly attacked the liberal and secular parties, and envisioned restrictions on political groups considered as un-Islamic." (p.67, Bakhash)
    Islamic Republican Party (IRP) was "essentially a reconstruction of the Revolutionary Council [which had been] replaced by the new constitution." (p.297, MacKey)
    `in June 1987 ... Rafsanjani as speaker of the Majlis and Ali Khamenei as president persuaded [Khomeini] to dissolve the Islamic Republican Party. The purpose was to alleviate some of the unbearable pressure the party’s core constituency put on the government to move even further in the direction of a state-controlled economy.` (from: p.348, Mackey)

    Hezb-e Jomhuri-ye Khalq-e Mosalman, aka Islamic People's Republican Party

    Hezb-e Jomhuri-ye Khalq-e Mosalman was an attempt to create a moderate, more liberal counterweight to the IRP. "was founded by a group of bazaar merchants, middle-class politicians, and clerics associated with Khomaini's chief rival in Qom, Ayatollah Shariatmadari." In contrast to the IRP, the IPRP emphasized collective religious leadership, criticized the unruly behavior of the revolutionary committees and the harsh judgment of the revolutionary courts, was ready to cooperate with the secular parties, and demanded free access for all to the broadcast media." It "immediately came under attack from the" IRP. "IPRP offices in Karaj, Arak, Saveh, Ardabil, and Khalkhal were attacked." (from: p.68-9 Bakhash ) MPRP was finally banned January 1981. (Schrazi p.125)

    Iran Freedom Movement

    National Front

    National Democratic Front

    "Of the three major movements of the political center, two - the National Front and the Iran Freedom Movement - predated the revolution. The Freedom Movement had been more outspoken against the Shah, and its enthusiasm for Islam was not shared by the more secular National Front. Both groups, however, were dedicated to constitutionalism and the parliamentary system, both were fully represented in the provisional government. The third group - the National Democratic Front (NDF) - was new. It was founded by Hedayatollah Matin-Daftari, a grandson of Mossadegh and lawyer who had been active in human rights causes. He now hoped to draw on the Mossadegh heritage to reestablish a coalition of the middle classes and the intelligentsia, but somewhat to the left of the National Front. The NDF emphasized political freedoms, guarantees for individual rights, access for all political groups to the broadcast media, the curbing of the revolutionary guards, courts, and committees, economic programs favoring the mass of the people, and a decentralized system of administration based on popularly elected local councils." (from: p.68 Bakhash )

    Fadayan-e Khalq

    Mojahedin-e Khalq

    "Fadayan-e Khalq and Mojahedin-e Khalq, acting separately, posted similar programs. Both demanded the cancellation of all security arrangements with the United States, expropriation of multinational companies, nationalization of agricultural and urban land, banks and large industries, administration of the army and other institutions by people's councils, creation of a `people's army,` regional autonomy for Iran's ethnic minorities, and host of measures to benefit the workers and the peasants." (from: p.68, Bakhash)

    Parallel Institutions of the Velayat-e faqih

  • "Borrowing from Western models, the republican constitution called for three separate branches of government - executive, judicial and legislative - to provide checks and balances. But the theocracy also had another parallel layer of power: Virtually every branch of government had a shadow position of institution with equal power - at least equal usually led by, loyal to or largely made up of clerics."
  • the regular army, navy and air force had shadow counterparts in the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij, the militia of young volunteers later made famous when dispatched in human waves against Iraqi tanks and artillery.
  • the police for years had a counterpart in the komitehs, the neighborhood committees that served as watchdogs - more like rottweilers, actually - on social behavior. The two forces were eventually merged. But after the wars, the Basij often stepped in to perform the same kind of jobs.
  • in the judiciary, the civil and criminal courts had counterparts in the Revolutionary Courts headed by clerics that tried subversive crimes considered to be challenges to the revolutionary system - always in closed door proceedings.
  • the Iranian Parliament's 270 members were shadowed by the 12-member Council of Guardians, which was empowered to veto new laws if they were deemed un-Islamic and to vet the credentials of candidates for public office. The conflicts between the two bodies became so heated that Ayatollah Khomeini created the Expediency Council in the mid-1980s to arbitrate between Parliament and the Council of Guardians. Along the way, however, it has also become a policymaker, advising the Supreme Leader on major controversies and offering verdicts on issues that couldn't be solved through regular channels. [source: The Economist, Jan. 18, 1997, p.7]
  • In local government, the provincial governors, appointed by the Ministry of Interior in Tehran, had to watch over their shoulders for what was said by the local Friday prayer leaders appointed by the Supreme Leader.
  • Even the formal economy had its counterpart in the myriad foundations that were technically offshoots of government but in fact operated on their own - and controlled an extraordinary percentage of the Iranian economy.
  • the presidency had its shadow in the Supreme Leader. (from: Wright, p.15-6)

    (now known as "Fox News Country Watch.")

    `Dual Control`, Iran Survey, The Economist, Jan. 18, 1997, p.7

    Bakhash, Shaul, The Reign of the Ayatollahs : Iran and the Islamic Revolution, New York, Basic Books, 1984

    Faruki, Kemal A. "The Islamic Resurgence: Prospects and Implications", from Voices of Resurgent Islam, 1983 p.280

    MacKey, Sandra, The Iranians : Persia, Islam and the Soul of a Nation, 1998

    Schirazi, Asghar, The Constitution of Iran, Tauris, 1997

    Taheri, Amir, The Spirit of Allah : Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution, c1985

    Wright, Robin, The Last Revolution, c2000