Hybrid Regime and Rentier State: Democracy or Authoritarianism in Iran?

By Zahirinejad, Mahnaz | Hemispheres, October 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Hybrid Regime and Rentier State: Democracy or Authoritarianism in Iran?


Zahirinejad, Mahnaz, Hemispheres


Introduction

Hossien Mahdavi (1970)1 considers rentier states as those states that receive, on a regular basis, substantial amounts of petro-dollars as an external rent. External rents are in turn defined as rentals paid by foreign individuals, concerns or governments of a given country. Mahdavi believes that massive amounts of foreign currency and credit, generated by petroleum development, flooded into the state coffers and turned at least some oil-producing countries into rentier states. The problem is that the oil revenues received by the governments of the oil exporting countries have very little to do with production processes of their domestic economies and the inputs from the local economies.

Consequently, distributing rents is the main function of rentier states. In addition, the rents empower the state and break linkages between the people and the state, making rentier states independent from society. It must be considered that rentier states are likely to tax their populations less heavily and in most cases taxation is low. Therefore, the rentier state maximizes its power via the strength of its authority and its dependency on oil revenue. In other words, oil revenue is the source of a rentier state's power both domestically and globally. This makes rentier states autonomous from society, societal demands, and political accountability and transparency. Thus, it can be seen that an authoritarianism regime is one product of a rentier state.

In the case of Iran, oil income accounts for 50% of the national budget and is the main source of the government's budget. Iran holds some of the world's largest deposits of proven oil and natural gas reserves, ranking it the world's fourth-largest and second-largest reserve holder of oil and natural gas, respectively. Iran also ranks among the world's top 10 oil producers and top 5 nat ural gas producers. Iran produced almost 3.4 million barrels per day (b/d) of petroleum and other liquids in 2014 and an estimated 5.7 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of dry natural gas in 2013.2

In 1979, the Pahlavi regime ended, but the disadvantages of the rentier state have remained. Since the revolution, the state has held multiparty elections, but the persistence of authoritarian forms of rule in different sectors has remained. Thus, a question is raised as to whether the Iranian state is still authoritarian or not. To understand this issue, on the basis of accepted theories of hybrid regimes, the structure of political systems and state policies in these sectors will be analyzed.

The Theory of Hybrid Regimes

"Hybrid regimes" is a term employed by scholars to describe new regimes, most of which emerged during the 1960s and the 1970s. Considering the resiliency of a few pre-war regimes, the failure of many democracies in Latin America, and the political evolutions of many newly independent countries in Asia and Africa, scholars focused their efforts on grasping the origins and nature of the emerging regimes. These regimes, despite holding multiparty elections, still demonstrate a persistence of authoritarian forms of rule and thus pose significant challenges for typological classification. As a result of this dilemma, scholars have created a host of concepts to capture the mixed, or "hybrid", nature of these regimes. Hybrid regimes, simply defined, are states that can neither be labelled as wholly democratic or wholly authoritarian.3

The products of hybrid regimes have been classified in two forms: variants of democracy or authoritarianism. While the first approach stresses the democratic nature of hybrid regimes, the second emphasizes their authoritarian form of rule despite the 'guise' of democratic institutions.4 This is because these countries may have a multi-party system and regular elections but there is a problem with developed law or political liberties for instance. This is due to the fact that some elements which are associated with democracy and are easier to be established in the shorter term, such as elections, exist in these countries, but other elements such as the rule of law, which is dependent on deeper structures and needs a longer term to become established, do not. …

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