FEATURED | The Political Elite Culture in Iran : Three Periods Analysis
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FEATURED | The Political Elite Culture in Iran : Three Periods Analysis

By Mohammad Ali Khosravi and Shohreh Shahsavari Fard
Department of Political Sciences, Tehran Markazi Islamic Azad University, Tehran, Iran

FEATURED | The Political Elite Culture in Iran : Three Period Analysis

Image Attribute: Behesht-e-Zahra, Tehran / Creative Commons

In political systems, there are at least two types of political culture: the political culture of the elite and the political culture of the mass. The political elite culture deals with the privileges, feelings, and behavioral patterns of those who influence political recruitment and who exert significant impact on the system outputs. The political culture of the mass is also shaped by the people’s attitudes and tendencies (i.e., as a whole) towards politics which does not significantly influence the outputs of the system [1]. Hence, the political culture is the sum of interaction among the four elements of mass culture, elite culture, nation’s historical and political experience, as well as the ruling political structure. 

In this regard, Nafisi [2] holds that the elite’s and the masses’ perception of political reality, the behavior of leaders, the performance of institutions, the beliefs of political leaders and the elite, the modernization and development of industrial societies, the status of independent groups, as well as the performance of mass media all play an important role in the formation and the establishment of political culture.

Iranian political culture has been influenced by various sources. On the one hand, historic, geographic, demographic, and economic conditions; and on the other, religions and ideologies, family education, special cosmology of Iranian society, some aspects of the Iranian public culture are rooted in the history of Iran which has been persisted by the authoritarian political system. Each of these resources has influenced the development and maintenance of such consequential and limited political culture in Iranian society.

“Rene Gruse” considers Iran as the land of crossing cultures, groups, and general historical main streams [3]. The fact that Iran is located at the crossroads of events plays an important role in forming the Iranians’ identity, power structure, and political system. 

One of the sources of all competitive beliefs and various behaviors of Iranians arises from the country’s geographic and historical conditions. From this perspective, this society which has been in the way of history and civilization, its people are confronted with both positive and negative aspects of personality. On the one hand, Iranians possess open and flexible insight towards new conditions; and on the other hand, the country has been regarded as a crossroad exposed to cultural metamorphosis and greater compliance with other cultures.

Therefore, Iranian researchers consider Iranian culture as an obedient rather than a participatory one for a variety of reasons. In such a culture, individuals are not able to cooperate with one another effectively and cannot trust each other. These issues result in the emergence of negative attitudes in the realm of political power. Yd. dr such a culture, people, strong cooperation and trust are unable to be weak. These issues will arise negative attitudes to political power.

In Eslami Nodoushan's book entitled “Iran and its solitude”, [4] he considered Iranian characteristics as: 

a) Extremism; 

b) Fatalism and Determinism; 

c) Mistrust; 

d) Secrecy; 

e) Being Emotional; 

f) Being obedient to the all-knowing government.

Iran’s evolution in 1979 represents the beginning of a new revolution in the contemporary Iranian. Since the political culture Islamic Revolution can be sub-categorized into three periods.

Because this three period was accompanied by a new discourse in the political history of the country. The first period of eight years (1990-1998) continued with the presidency of Hashemi Rafsanjani. Moreover, the second period began from June 1998 until 2006 during which Khatami ran the presidency. Furthermore, the three, eight years (2006-2014) continued with Ahmadinejad running the presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Political Elite Culture in the Rafsanjani’s Government

Generally, if we want to examine the status of development indicators and improvement of civil society organizations in the country in this period (1990-1998) based on political elite culture, we can refer to following cases:

1. The law of activity of parties, political associations and trade and Islamic associations was not implemented in the government of the Hashemi, so that the number of permits issued by the Commission of Ministry of Parties did not exceed 39 cases, while in the first 14 months of Khatami’s government, this number rose to 25 [5].

2. The law of urban and rural councils was not implemented despite all efforts made in this regard, while it was implemented at the beginning of the Khatami government. Despite the ability of the political elite to provide some political freedoms in the framework of the constitution to encourage public participation, publications and books, especially with critical approach, found no opportunity to have activity in this period [6].

3. While with official permission of government, numerous magazines were published, many of them can be called non-religious and even some magazines, such as “Iran Farda” “Kian” “Adineh”, “Donyaye Sokhan”, “Salam” and “Jahane Eslam” that belonged to opposite group within the regime, the left side, were allowed to be published [7].However, total number of magazines and newspapers that reflected critical or opposite views was limited and they did not have so ability to maneuver.

4. Despite the government’s efforts to create political stability in the country, in practice, this was not realized and the government could not create unity and cohesion among forces of the power block, but rather its core followed a monopoly in government and political obstruction occurred. The incidence of eliminating and negative political competitions and their growth was considered a serious obstacle to policy development in this period [8].

Therefore, elite political culture had not some features in this period that can be compatible with possibility of political realization, and even, in some cases, it was behaved in a way that if there was a structure that could approach us to political development and promotion of civil organizations closer, it was decided to destroy them.

Political Elite Culture in Khatami Government

This period (1998-2006) was accompanied by a new discourse in the political history of the country that its result was replacement of “construction” by the discourse of “democratic civil society”. This discourse emphasized on the importance of pluralism, rule of law, and civil rights. The expansion of discourse of cultural pluralism in the world, changed the view of some Iranian rulers to citizens and efforts were made by government and parliament for the rights of citizenship. In this regard, some actions were done in democracy that was revolutionary, including law of councils enforcement, approving the equality of compensation of religious minorities with Muslims, facilitating the conditions for the development of non-governmental organizations, presenting the proposal of jury formation, trying to develop a plan and define political offenses, providing the draft of electoral law reform, ban on torture plan, reforming press law and paying attention to organizing the NGOs and parties, etc.

Before Khatami government, only 38 parties, groups and political organizations had the operating license in the form of civil organization in country. However, after May 23 of 1997, 76 parties and political groups with different orientations and perspectives emerged. Statistics show that since second half of 1997 to the first half of 2010, almost 182 parties, groups and political organizations received the operating license according to Article 10 of the Commission. In the second half of 1997 and 1998 that that the head of Interior Ministry was Abdollah Nouri, 8 and 42 licenses were issued for political activities, respectively. In the years of 1999, 2000, and 2001 that Khatami government ended, 19, 21, and 45 licenses were issued for political activity, respectively. In the second government of Khatami to December of 2004, about 90 licenses of political activities were issued for political parties and organizations.

Despite these efforts, due to sovereignty and the continuation of the political culture of the previous period, not only we see consolidation of political and civil institutions, but also use of this slogan by the government has increased tension and political and social conflicts in the society. Perhaps its reason backs to the fact that our political elite are not feeling good with relativism and pragmatism and tend to see everything black and white.

In fact, the era of Khatami was era of struggle and tension between the reformist and conservative parties and effects of this tension can be clearly seen in the behavior of the political elite with press and the political parties, in a way that some of them were closed and some of them were arrested.

Perhaps, the main reason of these tensions in the social space of that time was due to fact that some of our political elite had not clarified their position with many of fundamental definitions related to political development and free political society and they had not clear position in some concepts and definitions as well as their transposition.

Political Elite Culture in Ahmadinejad Government

With the beginning of the ninth government and Ahmadinejad’s first period presidency, Iran’s political and cultural space closed to idealism of early revolution. With beginning of this period, (2006-2014) the emotional behaviors resulting from idealism can be seen in political elite dealing with people and in the interactions among themselves. In fact, his government is a manifestation of populism. These considerations suggest a multi-layered and complex nature of Ahmadinejad’s government. In describing the new conditions, one researcher attributed some features of this government, although it was exaggerated, confirming the complexity and multi-layered nature of that period. These features include: Deep fundamentalism, romanticism, populism, relying on oil and micro-bourgeoisie, the revival of traditional political discourse, public-centered, anti-modernity, anti-West and their practices such as Holocaust, reluctance to democracy and the values of civil society, negative developing attitude on end of development, rejection of theoretical foundations and confronting with West, particularly in the nuclear program and the slogan of the destruction of Israel, paying less attention to view of other people, especially scientists and intellectuals, poor relationships among universities and academic specialists with government officials resulting from their individualism on the affairs of the country.

If we want to analyze the performance of the political elite at this time with a realistic view, we must say that absolute imagination, idealism, and being in search of utopian community are seen in this period. That is why political elite paid less attention on cohesion and stability, but put more importance on tension and conflict.


[1] Pai, L. (2001). Crises and Sequences in Political Development (pp. 161-162). Tehran: Institute for Strategic Publications.

[2] Nafisi, R. (2000). Political Culture and National Identity. Journal of National Studies, 2, 177-191

[3]  Abtahi, A. (2003). Pathology of Iranian Political Culture. Politic Science Journal, 4, 39.

[4] Eslami Nodoushan, M. A. (1998). Iran and Its Solitude (2nd ed., p. 10). Tehran: Tehran Publishing Center.

[5]  Eftekhari, A. (1999). The Changing Face of Homeland Security. Quarterly Strategic Studies Journal, 4, 35.

[6] Bashirieh, H, (2004). History of Political Sociology of Iran (p. 809). Tehran: Contemporary Publications.

[7] Ghobad-Zadeh, N. (2002). Pathological Narrative of the Gap between System and People in the Second Decade of the Revolution (p. 133). Tehran: Culture of Dialogue Publications.

[8] Khajeh-Sarvi, A. R. (2003). Political Competition and Political Stability in Iran (p. 339). Tehran: Revolution Documents Center Publications.

Cite this Article:

Mohammad Ali Khosravi, Shohreh Shahsavari Fard (2016) The Ruling Elite Political Culture in Contemporary Iran. Open Journal of Political Science,06,274-283. doi: 10.4236/ojps.2016.63025

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