The Struggle Continues in Iran

By John Limbert

John Limbert is a Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the U.S. Naval Academy and the author of numerous books and articles on Iran.  During a 34-year dip­lomatic career, he served mostly in the Middle East and Islamic Africa (including two tours in Iraq), was Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, and served as deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Iranian affairs.  He worked in Iran as a university and high school teacher, and served at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, where he was held hostage in 1979-81.  

Hassan Rouhani’s decisive victory in the Iranian presidential elections held last week reveals that after 38 years, Iranians are still struggling to re­solve the conflicts and contradictions unleashed by the original Islamic Revolution of 1979. That movement, which united millions under the banner of making Iranians, at long last, masters in their own house, has yet to answer a basic question: Which Iranians will be masters and in what kind of house?

Within a few years of the Shah-led monarchy’s collapse in February 1979, the religious radicals who shared Islamic Revolution leader Ayatolah Ruhollah Khomeni’s idiosyncratic and authoritarian vision of an Islamic state had driven their Marxist, nationalist, and traditionalist coalition partners to prison, exile, or irrelevance. As part of that victory, an elite of 20-30 religious leaders, joined by ties of family, business, and shared ideology, took power in 1979, and despite losses to age and assassinations, has tenaciously maintained its grip on key posts both inside and outside the formal “republican” structures. The names are familiar: Khamene’i, Jannati, Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Mahdavi-Kani, Va’ez-e-Tabasi, Dastgheib, Emami-Kashani, Shahroudi, Mohammad-Yazdi, and others.

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