Episode#2: The Mule

In Episode #2: The Mule, I talk about the Islamic Republic of Iran’s political system and how complicated and yet straightforward it is. This complicated political system creates a lot of room for the Iran’s government/regime to manipulate not only its own population but also the other governments. 

I make a comparison between this political system and a mule, which is an inbreed between horse and donkey. And why should we – as the West – keep this characteristic of Iran’s Political System in mind when dealing with Iran’s Islamic Republic?

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Like a Mule, Islamic Republic has the features of a few political systems which assembles its structure yet does not fully comply to all the components of these systems.

Like a Mule, the political system of Iran is stronger, more stubborn, and more resistant than its parents; yet also like a Mule, it cannot reproduce itself and will not give rise to a new generation.

Hallo – This is Somaye Dehban, a devoted Dutchified Iranian whose life is quite interwoven with politics.

I am the creator and host of Your Native Analyst, a podcast for anyone who has ever wondered what is REALLY going on in Iran and the Middle East. And how on earth does that affect us in Europe and the Netherlands.

Join me every 2nd Tuesday of the month to hear about the reality of life in that part of the world.

Now let’s unveil this episode of Your Native Analyst.

Welcome to the second episode of Your Native Analyst – Thank you for showing up and tunning in.
How did you like the first episode of this podcast? The recording of that episode was quite heavy for me, and hearing myself stating that I have been living in exile for so long was quite disturbing. It’s like I knew it but I did not want to admit it. But now you all know.
For this episode, I have chosen to talk about the Islamic Republic of Iran’s political system and how complicated it is. This complication creates a lot of room for the Iran’s government or better to say regime to manipulate not only its own public but also the outside world.
To explain this complication, I make a comparison between Islamic Republic and a Mule. A Mule is an inbreed between horse and donkey, and it is a common animal in Iran. You may be surprised by the similarities and the threats. The threats that we – the Netherlands and Europe – should keep a close eye on.

Since its inception as a new political system in 1979, Islamic Republic of Iran has strengthened and deepened its roots not only in Iran and the region but also in the Western World.

Have you ever wondered which theoretical and empirical descriptions of “power” and “political systems” have been employed by Islamic Republic over the last four decades of its existence?

This regime has survived an eight year long war, has survived many major protests by its public and yet has not only sustained its existence but also has surprisingly out-grown all its rivals.

I believe it begs the question, what lessons can be learned by us – the ones living in the Netherlands and Europe – from this system?

Considering the role that Islamic Republic of Iran is playing in (de)stabilizing the region and extending its so-called “hidden” arm in Europe and our very own lowlands, it’s of great importance to understand the political system and power in Iran from a different angle to be able to “plan ahead and strategically”.

I believe the potential of Iran’s young and growing population under the pressure of the regime, which could be deployed and mobilized for the agenda of Islamic Republic, is a heavy factor that cannot and shall not be overlooked;

Moreover, considering the aging of Iran’s Supreme Leader which contemplates on his passing away in the next decade, the discussion on who will be his successor is tightly linked to understanding the power structure in Iran.

The growth of extremism in the region and the widening divide between religious groups are among many reasons to take a closer look at the political system of Iran.

Moreover, considering the recent protests in Iran, regardless the outcome of them, it is crucial to contextualize the events in a more academic setting and lower the threshold of speculations on the future of Iran. I will get into this dimension in upcoming episodes.

Before getting started with the analysis of Islamic Republic’s political system, let me tell you a bit more about Mule:

Mule is a common animal in Iran. It is an inbreed of a donkey and a horse, mostly used as carrier of heavy baggage in hard to reach mountain areas (mainly in the boarder with Iraq). Figuratively I see the political system of Islamic Republic of Iran an inbreed or hybrid of political systems.

Like a mule, Iran has the features of a few political systems which assembles its structure yet does not fully comply to all the components of these systems.

Like a Mule, the political system of Iran is stronger, more stubborn, and more resistant than its parents; yet also like a Mule, it cannot reproduce itself and will not give rise to a new generation.

And like a Mule, it can be quite unpredictable when put under pressure.

The Islamic Republic of Iran incorporates elements of multiple (classical) political systems, such as Democracy, Republic, Theocracy and Competitive Authoritarianism.

For instance, there are democratic elements in Iran’s political system: the country has general elections which elects the President and members of the Parliament as well as local councils. However, there are other Assemblies and Councils that ratify the nomination of any candidates who runs for a public office – meaning people can only elect candidates who have already been selected by a certain individuals at the top – and these individuals are all directly or indirectly selected by the supreme leader.

Not every citizen can vote on every decision directly; power is concentrated; individual rights are not at the forefront of the system, and the level of freedom of speech and media does not meet the requirements of democratic systems.

Theoretically very close to a democracy, a republic often has a constitution or charter that lays out laws to protect certain rights. In a republic, the power is vested in the people, who elect representatives. Therefore a republic can be a democracy, aristocracy, or oligarchy.

With such a broad definition, it’s difficult to dispute that Iran is a republic, especially after the 1979 revolution when Iran declared itself an Islamic Republic. Like the Islamic Republics of Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Iran citizens indirectly vote for a Supreme Leader. In line with the requirements of a republic, the head of state is not a monarch and the leaders govern according to law.

However, in Iran, the Supreme Leader, has the ultimate power in deciding who else can be elected: he nominates the ones he selects to be elected; hence, it is difficult to argue that Iran’s sovereignty resides mostly “with the people.” Two major constitutional rights that are part of a republic do not appear to apply in Iran: one of them states that it is forbidden to investigate the beliefs of individuals, but many sources report instances of religious persecution in Iran. The other is freedom of expression – a ruling that has not been upheld in Iran.

In a theocracy, although there is an official division between political leadership and religious authority, there is no strict separation of state and religion; it is a system in which God is considered the ruler and God’s laws are interpreted by the religious authorities.

Political leaders hold the power, but laws must conform to a religious doctrine. Iran shows elements of theocracy in its own political system. Shia Islam, the official religion of Iran, dictates Shia law. Some argue that Iran is a characteristic example of a constitutional theocracy.

Although, it is true that Iran’s laws must conform to religious standards, the system doesn’t entirely line up: in a constitutional theocracy, it’s the political leaders, not the religious leaders, who have the power; in Iran, the Supreme Leader is both the highest political and religious authority.

If we consider Iran’s previous regime – the one known as Shah’s area – as a competitive authoritarian, the replacing system has definitely taken the authoritarian direction to stabilize its existence. In their paper “The rise of Competitive Authoritarianism,” Levitsky and Way state: “many regimes have either remained hybrid or moved in an authoritarian direction.

It may therefore be time to stop thinking of these cases in terms of transitions to democracy and to begin thinking about the specific types of regimes they actually are.” Elections without democracy is a characteristic example of the practices of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In the last two decades, after the election of President Khatami in May 1997, a so-called “reformist” group came to existence which claimed that a change – a reform – needs to take place in Iran but within the existing system of Islamic Republic. Many believe that reformist are the same “wolf in sheep clothing” because reforming a system that by construct is incapable of reform is nothing but a mirage.

But why has it been so challenging for the so-called West to deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran during the last four decades? The answer lies in Iran’s controversial political system, which does not fit the framework of any historically known political system.

Iran is the first Islamic Republic; this category has been in use since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran; thus there were no precedents as to how to cooperate politically with such a system.

I believe that the specific combination of elements stemming from different political systems, has made Islamic Republic quite capable of manipulating the observes. The language barrier has also been an issue that Islamic Republic has benefited from quite heavily. Over the years Iran has built its own network of the so-called “fake-journalists” (like fake-news) who work on high level western journals and news agencies and echo the talking points of the government and the regime. I will share more on this in the upcoming episodes.

The Political System of the Islamic Republic works on two levels:

nationally, regulating and governing the public, offering socio-political mobility and freedom to some extent, and, on the other hand, imposing control aligned with religious and cultural boundaries.
internationally, it promotes and maintains its status through displaying elements of modernity inherited from Persian culture as well as manifesting its power by choosing (virtual) foes like the United States and Israel.

So we talked about different elements of various political systems that are traceable in Islamic Republic. In series of articles I have further elaborated on these systems. If you are signed up to my newsletters you will get notified about them.

We also talked about how Islamic Republic as a political system have manipulated its own public and the international community.

One last element that I should tell you about the Mule, that inbreed between donkey and horse, is that when mule gets tired – because of overload or because of thirst or hunger – it commits suicide. Yes, the mule – the animal – drop itself from the cliffs into the deep valleys of the mountains, whether it is carrying goods or humans. And the strange part is, you never know when the mule is tired, when it is done!

The only thing you can do is to keep observing every single move of it, all the time, and do not trust that it is standing on its feet now cause in the next blink it may be on its back, at the depth of the valley.

What was the unveiling moment of this episode for you?

Did you hear about something that impacted your view on the reality of life in that part of the world and how it impacts us on this side of the world?

I hope you gained a deeper insight into the complexity of politics and how it affects us regardless of our regions.

Want to hear more?
Sign up for my thematic newsletters to get notified about each episode and more. You can do this by going to my website: somayedehban.com/newsletters.

Until the next unveiling – bedrood.