- Iran Rising: The Survival and Future of the Islamic Republic by Amin Saikal by by Amin Saikal
The question of dictatorship's survival is one of the crucial questions of scholars in comparative politics. In Iran Rising, Amin Saikal strongly argues that the key to solving the puzzle of authoritarian survival in Iran is the regime's primary strategy of fusing what he calls "the jihadiijtihadi, or combative/reformist approach" of governance (p. vii).
Rooted in the ideas of its founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, applying this strategy has allowed the regime the flexibility to change with the times. By utilizing this approach, which is embodied in Iran's political institutions, the Islamic Republic's leaders have created a pluralistic authoritarian regime that has been able to neutralize domestic and external threats while transforming Iran into a "middle power" in the region (p. 13).
The book, comprising eight chapters (including the introduction and conclusion), aims to analyze the process and causes of the regime's oscillation between religious legitimacy and pragmatic policies over four decades. Saikal develops this central theme by examining Iran's political history (Chapters 3–4), economic and military capacities (Chapter 5), and regional and foreign policies (Chapters 6–7).
The introduction, which serves as the theoretical foundation of the book, focuses on the discussion of the jihadiijtihadi approach in Ayatollah Khomeini's ideas. In Khomeini's view, to create an Islamic government, the vali-ye faqih, or the governing jurist, should implement a combative/reformist approach. While the combative/jihadi strategy focuses on the Islamization of politics and everyday life, the reformist/ijtihadi approach helps the ruler to shape a modern and robust regime (p. 4).
Based on this foundation, the second chapter connects the Saikal's previous book on Iran, The Rise and Fall of the Shah (Princeton University Press, 2009), to this volume. This chapter is a brief survey of the theories and processes of the 1979 revolution and the domination of Islamists after the collapse of the Pahlavi regime.
Chapter 3 focuses on the creation of a theo-political order under Khomeini's rule. Since 1979, Khomeini and his inner circle have reactively and proactively transformed Iran. Using the combative/jihadi approach, Khomeini was able to consolidate his power and "assertively implement" his vision of an Islamic order (p. 68). Khomeini also applied his reformist/ijtihadi approach to construct a modern and resilient state. In politics, for example, Ayatollah Khomeini supported the creation of a limited pluralistic system, which led to the emergence of three main political factions in the years to come: conservative, pragmatist, and reformist (pp. 86–87).
Chapter 4 continues the discussion of applying the combative/reformist strategy under the rule of Supreme Leader Ayatollah 'Ali Khamenei (1989–). To consolidate his power, immediately after becoming supreme leader, Khamenei built a power base of his own, managed the relations between political factions, and filled the ranks of the clerical and state machinery with loyal people. This chapter ("Islamic Order under Khamenei") is a short but precise survey of the history of the Islamic Republic since 1989, and the four different administrations under Khamenei's rule.
During the presidencies of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989–96) and Mohammad Khatami (1997–2004), the regime moved from a combative/jihadi to reformist/ijtihadi course, featuring the liberalization and privatization of Iran's economy under the former and limited political development under the latter. The presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005–12) was an effort to return to the Islamic Revolution and the combative/jihadi method of governance. And, finally, Hassan Rouhani's victory in 2013 marked a return to the reformist/ijtihadi approach to ensure the continuity of the regime. [End Page 669]
Chapter 5 focuses on explaining the regime's resource capabilities in terms of economic, hard power, and soft power. In analyzing the Iranian rentier economy, the author identifies three main features of the regime's political structure that explain the poor management of the economy: the bifurcation of the political system, state-led development, and a...