What Awaits Iran?

The recent demonstrations differ from previous waves of discontent, but political change in Iran is bound to be painful and slow.

Shiite clerics have always played an active and essential role in Iranian public affairs. Safavid shahs (1501-1736) found them extremely useful in proselytizing Persians from Sunnism into Shiism. They also extended political legitimacy to Qajar shahs during most of the 19th century. Clerics in Shiism are more involved than Sunni counterparts in the lives of their religious communities. Shiite Muslims, following their religious doctrine, need continuous guidance from senior clerics; otherwise, they would go astray. Toward the end of the last decade of the 19th century, a revered ayatollah rose to the center stage of Persian politics upon the urging of nationalist and clerical compatriots. Shiite Clerics Pioneer Iran’s Political Development In 1890, Nasir al-Din Shah issued the Tobacco Concession, which granted a British company the right to monopolize the country’s tobacco industry. In response to widespread public grievances against the humiliating terms of the concession, Ayatollah Mirza Shirazi issued a binding religious edict that banned the sale and consumption of tobacco products. Shirazi’s decision emptied the concession of its meaning and coerced the shah to annul it. Then, in 1901, Mozaffar al-Din Shah authorized the D’Arcy Concession, which gave exclusive rights to a British company to prospect for oil […]

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Hilal Khashan
Hilal Khashan is a Professor of political science at the American University of Beirut. He is a respected author and analyst of Middle Eastern affairs. He is the author of six books, including Hizbullah: A Mission to Nowhere. (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2019.) He is currently writing a book titled Saudi Arabia: The Dilemma of Political Reform and the Illusion of Economic Development. He is also the author of more than 110 articles that appeared in journals such as Orbis, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Middle East Quarterly, Third World Quarterly, Israel Affairs, Journal of Religion and Society, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, and The British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies.