Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Iran election: Five things to know


Middle East powerhouse Iran votes on Friday in a snap election to replace President Ebrahim Raisi following his death in a helicopter crash last month.

Here are five facts about the Shiite Muslim country of 85 million people known as the Islamic Republic of Iran.

From Shah to mullahs

Formerly the ancient empire of Persia, Iran was dominated during part of the 20th century by the Pahlavi dynasty.

Shah Mohammad Reza, accused of authoritarianism and criticised for his modernist reforms, fled in 1979 after months of protests.

His main opponent, Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, returned from exile and immediately established an Islamic republic, one of the few that exist in the world.

The authority lies with its supreme leader, who since 1989 has been Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, successor to Khomeini.

The supreme leader’s power is greater than that of the president, who is elected by universal suffrage.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was set up as the ideological defenders of the Islamic Republic after the 1979 revolution.

Veil of contention

Since 1979, Tehran has imposed a strict Islamic code on women, officially to protect them. In public, they are obliged to wear loose clothing and a hijab — a veil covering their hair and neck.

Respect for the veil is required of all Iranians and foreigners, while morality police patrol the streets to ensure compliance.

In September 2022, massive protests broke out across the country after Masha Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, died following her arrest by the morality police in Tehran for allegedly breaching the strict dress code.

Hundreds of people were killed and thousands were arrested in the protests.

Iran, which topped the table for the most recorded death penalties in 2023, has executed nine men in cases related to the protests, according to Amnesty International.

Iran and Israel: arch-enemies

Under Raisi, Iran sought improved relations with China and Russia while mending ties with Arab neighbours, mainly its major regional rival Saudi Arabia, to avert deeper isolation.

But its relations with Israel remain particularly fraught and have only grown more tense since Iran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas launched the October 7 attack on Israel that started the bloodiest-ever Gaza war.

Iran is officially committed to the destruction of what it calls the “Zionist entity”, and in April for the first time launched a direct attack against Israel involving hundreds of missiles and drones, most of which were intercepted.

Nuclear fallout

In 2015, Iran reached a landmark agreement with major powers to accept limits on its nuclear programme in exchange for easing sanctions.

But the United States, under then-president Donald Trump, withdrew from the hard-won deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions.

Iran responded by rolling back most of its commitments.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran is the only non-nuclear weapon state to enrich uranium to the high level of 60 per cent — just short of weapons-grade — while it keeps accumulating large uranium stockpiles.

The IAEA has said that Tehran now has enough material to build several atomic bombs.

Filmmakers: prized and jailed

Iran’s cinema is unparalleled in the region, with modern masters including the late Abbas Kiarostami and Asghar Farhadi, a two-time Oscar winner.

But working in film in Iran today can be risky for those who speak out against the authorities.

Several prominent directors have been arrested or jailed, including Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, who was in the spotlight at this year’s Cannes festival after he fled Iran to escape a jail sentence.

He is now living in exile in Europe.



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