The Changing Nature
of the Iranian Regime
There is no debate over the basic character of Iran's ruling elite. Iran is ruled by a group of religious leaders and their lay associates who share a belief in the legitimacy of a theocratic state, based on Ayatollah Khomeini's interpretation of Shi'ite Islam. Regardless of how the Iranian people may now feel about the Islamic revolution, there is no separation of state and religion.
Clerics continue to dominate all branches of government, and the executive branch and Majlis are dominated by Shi'ite Muslim clergymen and their lay allies. The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the Leader of the Islamic Revolution. He functions as the Chief of State, and is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, also a cleric, serves as the Islamic Republic's president. Other government officials, including senior ministers, members of the Council of Guardians, and most members of the Majlis, are all carefully screened to ensure their loyalty to the religious regime.
The Iranian Constitution, which was approved by a popular referendum in 1980 and revised in 1989, declares that the "official religion of Iran is Islam and the sect followed is Ja'fari Shi'ism," although it states that "other Islamic denominations shall enjoy complete respect." The Constitution provides for a Council of Guardians composed of six Islamic clergymen, and six lay members who review all laws for their consistency with Islamic law and the Constitution. The Council plays an important role in ensuring religious rule because it screens political candidates for ideological and religious suitability. It accepts only candidates who support a theocratic state, but clerics who disagree with government policies have also been disqualified. The Council reasserted its right to such powers in July, 1995, although it rejected portions of a new election law that required candidates to be university or Islamic theology school graduates. 54
There is a debate, however, over the changes taking place within Iran's ruling elite--the extent to which it is growing more pragmatic or moderate or remains radical and extremist. There is a debate over the amount