I don’t really know if any political observer predicted, before the 1979 Revolution, influential role Iran would come to play on the ideological and political levels in the Arab World. No one could have imagined that this rather marginal country, isolated because of its Persian language and the weight of history, would, one day, come to shape events in the Arab region. Yet, over the past thirty years, the influence of Iran has continued to grow.
Perhaps it is the images of men of religion in control of all government policies and administering most state institutions such as the police, the army, the treasury, and directing public opinion that wet the appetite of Arab Islamist politicians. It is no longer sufficient, in their opinion, to have a representative in government, or a center for Islamic studies and fatwas (religious edicts). Accordingly, government should be based on the “Islamic Republic” model. Islamists across the Arab Worlds haven’t yet learned the lessons of the theocratic state in Iran , where, nowadays, the only remnants of religion are the turbans worn by government employees.
Most of the government institutions in the Islamic Republic are staffed with graduates from Shiaa religious institutions (Hawzat) and not the former students of specialist universities or professional civil servants. This is the case in legislative and political, technical and civil institutions. Turban clad officials also control most government ministries, the military forces, intelligence units, and even Iran ’s nuclear program. Hujatolislam Immam Hassan Rawhany who obtained a degree in Islamic jurisprudence didn’t become responsible for religious matters. Instead, he worked at the national television station, and, later, on the nuclear file.
Evidently, turban wearing officials rely on specialized staff in the process of decision-making, but, they remain the ultimate authority. In some cases, ministers are familiar with the area they work in. Oil Minister, Bijan Zanganeh, holds a degree in Electric Engineering, but was considered for the post because of his role in the cultural affairs of the revolution.
The Islamic theocracy at work in Iran is no less successful that any Arab civilian government; the country is also rife with corruption, favoritism, and haphazard decisions. As such, the theocratic government doesn’t differ much from its counterpart. In both religious civilian models we find a regime that is concerned, primarily, with its best interest and security, and not the continuity of its founding ideology.
The first crisis of Iranian theocracy occurred when religious figures broke with diplomatic tradition and stormed the US Embassy in Tehran , keeping the staff hostage for over 400 days. At the time, the first Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic, Mehdi Bazargan, resigned in disapproval, followed by the President A Abu al-Hassan Bani Sadr who fled under the cover of darkness, in protest at the incorrect implementation of the principles of the revolution.
With time, the Islamic character of the Iranian government has waned. It is now more liberal and free, but men in turbans still hold most posts in government. In effect, government circles now resemble a club for theocrats where members are safe in adversity, as if they were part of a union or a league.
The only equivalent to the situation in Iran can be found in the history books, by looking at the institution of the Church, during Europe ’s Middle Ages, when all powers were concentrated with the clergy. During the Muslim Caliphate, however, a clear distinction between men of religion and those who dealt with matters of daily life existed. A mere example of the tolerance and specialization that were widespread is the assignment of a Jew to oversea the Treasury.