Human Rights in Iran: The Abuse of Cultural Relativism

By Reza Afshari | Go to book overview

Chapter 15
The Rights to Participate in the Political
Life of the Country and to Peaceful
Assembly and Association

As discussed in Chapter 2, although the Islamic Constitution allowed for a republic, velayat-e faqih (the vice-regency of the Islamic Jurist) circumscribed the right to participate directly in elections for the Majlis (parliament), the presidency, and other elected positions. This contradictory constitutional arrangement bedeviled the political clerics in the 1990s.

The Guardian Council acted as the political watchdog of velayat-e faqih. It was composed of six clerical jurists who were appointed by the faqih (Supreme Leader) and six lay jurists who were nominated by the Head of the Judiciary, himself an appointee of the faqih. The Constitution bestowed upon the Guardian Council the power of rejecting parliamentary bills that it deemed contradictory to the shari‘ah. The Council’s main task, therefore, was to deal with the conflicts inherent in the juxtaposition of the sovereignty of the faqih and the sovereignty of the people. Up until the Majlis elections in early 2000, it accomplished the task in favor of the faqih.


The Extraconstitutional and Constitutional Exclusions

A successful implementation of velayat-e faqih depended on forceful exclusion of all secular nationalist and leftist forces from Iran’s political scene, since such a rule by definition left no room for legislative interactions and compromises with political parties that did not believe in the Shiite theocracy. The earliest regulations for parliamentary elections passed by the clerically dominated Revolutionary Council in 1980 made sure only those who had expressed strong allegiance to the Islamic Republic could stand for election. The reality was that all prospective candidates who remained truly independent of clerical factions were forcibly prevented from seeking elected offices. It was an unofficial and extralegal exclusion. The institutionalization of velayat-e faqih in the 1980s was contingent upon prior

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