IRAN: COUNTRY PROFILE
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Copyright (c) 2000 Quest Economics: Janet Matthews Information Services
1906 Persia, ruled by the Qajar dynasty with a Shah (emperor) as head of
state, adopted its first imperial constitution.
1921 A Cossack officer, Reza Khan, carried out a military coup, becoming
prime minister in 1923.
1925 The Shah was deposed by the National
Assembly and Reza Khan was subsequently elected Shah.
1935 Persia was renamed Iran.
1941 After the Shah sided with the Nazis, British and Soviet forces entered
Iran and removed the Shah from power, replacing him with his son, Mohammed
1951 Iran's Assembly approved the nationalisation of the oil industry.
1954 Agreement was reached which granted drilling concessions to eight
foreign oil companies.
1963 The Shah assumed complete control of government.
1979 Following several years of growing opposition the Shah was overthrown
by forces loyal to the exiled religious leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, who took
power on 11 February. The Islamic Republic of Iran was established.
1980-90 War with Iraq broke out after Iraq invaded Iran over a disputed
border area. After a cease-fire was signed in 1988, 10 years of destructive
and attritional war ended with a peace agreement signed in August 1990.
1996 At the general election in April, the Combatant Clergy Society (CCS)
retained its position as the largest single group with some 120 deputies,
down from 150-160 in the previous Assembly. The CCS lost around 20 seats to
independents and the newly-formed reformist group, the Servants of
Construction, which took 80 and was allied with President Ali Akbar Hashemi
Mohammed Khatami won the presidential election in May 1947, and re-appointed
Hassan Habibi as vice president.
2000 In February parliamentary elections, supporters of President Khatami and
their reformist allies won a convincing majority.
Iran became an Islamic Republic in April 1979, having previously been a
monarchy under the Shah. The constitution of the Islamic Republic was
formally adopted in December 1979. The constitution also provides for
representation in the Majlis of non-Islamic minorities, Zoroastrians, Jews
and Christians. However, power is wielded mainly by the Shi'a clergy.
Form of state
The Wali Faqih (Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution) retains overall
control of all branches of government, including the judiciary and the
revolutionary guard. He declares war and peace and can veto presidential
nominations. His role combines spiritual leader, theological protector
and supreme authority. The structure of the constitution is effectively
split between the president, who is elected every four years, and the
Faqih, although the Faqih maintains overall control.
The Wali Faqih, in his role as theological protector, appoints the Council for
the Protection of the Constitution. All legislation adopted by the Majlis is
scrutinised by the council to ensure that it is in keeping with Islamic
principles and laws. The council consists of six religious lawyers.
The Council of Guardians is composed of 12 jurists and clerics, and has
supervisory powers over elections and a right of veto over all legislation if
it does not conform with Islamic law and the constitution. It is independent
of the Faqih.
In 1986, the Expediency Council was established to mediate between the Majlis
and the Council of Guardians. It is designed to resolve political decisions
which cannot be solved through the main channels, but it is controlled by the
A further adjunct to the Faqih's power is the Assembly of Experts which
consists of 83 clerics who elect the next Faqih, interpret the constitution
and approve Majlis decisions. The cumulative effect of this plethora of
legislative institutions is that despite the enhancement of the president's
power, following reform in 1989, he remains tightly constrained by these
institutional checks and balances.
The Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis Shura-e-Islami), is elected every
four years. For the elections of February 2000, it was expanded from 270 to
290 members. Although MPs are technically independent, the Assembly is now
very loosely divided along party political lines between the conservative
clergy groupings and the reformist May 23 Front, named after the day of
President Khatami's victory in 1997. The Majlis is elected by universal
suffrage, with a voting age of 15.
judiciary is organised independently of the other branches of
government. There are two types of courts: public and special. The Penal
Courts, Special Civil Court and Islamic Revolution Courts adjudicate on
the basis of Islamic laws, fixed since 1979 for a wide range of crimes.
Majlis (parliamentary) elections:
Main opposition party
Conservative coalition, led by the Combatant Clergy Society.
Other political parties
Executives of Construction
Party, Islamic Coalition Association, Militant Clerics Association,
Kargozaran Party. In addition, there are several Kurdish rebel groups,
including the Kurdish Communist Party of Iran (Komala), the Kurdish
Democratic Party of Iran (KDP-Iran) and the National Liberation Army
(NLA, based in Iraq).
61.9 million (1999
estimate). The population growth rate for 1992-98 was 1.6 per cent per
annum, and this is projected to remain the same for the period
1998-2015. During this period, the birth rate is projected to drop by
0.8 per cent. As a result of the falling birth rate and improved
healthcare, the proportion of the population aged 65 and over is
projected to rise from 4.5 per cent in 1997 to 4.8 per cent by 2015. In
1998, average life expectancy at birth was 69 years and 61 per cent of
the population lived in urban areas.
Predominantly Persian (55 per cent), with the second largest
group being Azeris, concentrated in the north-west. Also Afghans, Kurds,
Baluchis, Lurs, Turkmen, Arabs and nomads.
Islam of the Twelver Shi'a sect is dominant. A Sunni Muslim
minority is concentrated in fringe areas of Iran. There are also small
Baha'i, Christian, Jewish and Zoroastran communities.
market and unemployment
The labour force totalled 18 million in
1997. The average annual growth rate in the labour force for the period
1992-98 was 4.4 per cent, and this is projected to fall to 3.2 per cent
over the period 1997-2010. Women account for 25 per cent of the labour
The central bank's official figures put the active
population at a lower figure of 17.3 million (1998-99), and the employed
population at 15.0 million. This gives an unemployment rate of 13.3 per
cent. The actual figure may be higher if the workforce is larger than
official government figures suggest, and some unofficial estimates put
the rate as high as 30 per cent in 1998.
The average take-home
pay of an Iranian working for the government (about half of urban
dwellers) is not enough to cover the average family's food and rent.
Workers often have two or three jobs in addition to their official one.
Employment by sector 1990-97
% of workforce*
Agriculture 30 73
Industry 26 9
* Statistics may not equal 100 per cent due to the
Source: World Bank, World Development
Education is compulsory
for eight years from the ages of six to 14. This is not fully effective
in rural areas. Primary education is free and lasts for five years.
Secondary education begins at 11 years and lasts for up to seven years,
with a first course of three years and a second course of four years.
Education became a state monopoly following the 1979 Revolution,
but a law passed in 1987 provided for the creation of private schools
under certain conditions.
In 1999, the official estimate of the
literacy rate for the whole population was 80.5 per cent. Among 15-24
year olds, the literacy rate for males was 95 per cent, and the rate for
females was 90 per cent. In 1996, the percentage of the relevant age
group enrolled in education was 98 per cent for primary, 77 per cent for
secondary, and 17 per cent for tertiary. Public spending on education
was equivalent to 4.0 per cent of GNP in 1996.
The combined Ministry of Hygiene, Medical Care and Education is
the authority responsible for health and medical care, controlling all
related offices and organisations in the private sector as well as those
directly funded by the state.
Between 1990 and 1997, 4.2 per
cent of annual GDP was spent on health care; 2.5 per cent of this was
public expenditure and 1.7 per cent private. The number of physicians
per 1,000 population in the same period was 0.3 while the number of
hospital beds per 1,000 population was 1.4. In 1998, 90 per cent of
Iranians had access to safe water, 81 per cent had access to sanitation
and 16 per cent of children under 5 were classed as malnourished.
In 1998, the mortality rate for infants was 26 per 1,000 live
births. Under-five mortality was 35 per 1,000. Adult mortality was 165
per 1,000 for men and 162 per 1,000 for women.
large number of organisations, usually autonomous, are responsible for
social welfare. Various foundations manage sequestered property worth
billions of US dollars. They are responsible for the care of families of
men killed in the war with Iraq, for war refugees and for rural
development. At the local level in the cities and towns, mosque
committees (komitehs) have funds which can be made available for poorer
families considered deserving of support. The country's rationing
system, giving coupons for limited quantities of staple foods and other
items at heavily subsidised prices, is also run through mosques.
The Foundation for the Refugees of the Imposed War operates
under the authority of Iran's Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. It
is responsible for the welfare of over two million of the country's
internal refugees, or displaced persons, from the Iran-Iraq war. The
Foundation takes total responsibility for refugee families, including
finding accommodation, rations, education for their children and medical
treatment where necessary.
Iran's Social Security Organisation,
which comes under the authority of the Ministry of Hygiene, Medical Care
and Education, is responsible for insuring 2.5 million Iranians, of whom
617,000 work in the state sector. The social security scheme covers some
260,000 factories, workshops and offices. Social security funds pay out
regular benefits to 370,000 people.
Unemployment benefit is one
of the schemes operated by the Social Security Organisation. It has only
limited application in a country where unemployment and underemployment
Tehran (population estimated at
8 million in 1998), Isfahan, Mashhad, Tabriz, Shiraz, Ahvaz, Kerman,
Rasht, Ramsar, Kermanshah and Hamadan.
The Iranian press has changed greatly since the revolution in
1979. Initially the freer political climate encouraged dozens of new
publications reflecting the entire spectrum of opinions in the country.
From 1981, the war with Iraq led to drastic changes, with many closures
of newspapers, magazines and journals, and purges of editors with
liberal, conservative or radical views.
election has resulted in a more independent press, and the establishment
of reformist publications. Before 1997 only a handful of journals and
newspapers existed, mostly mouthpieces for the conservative clerical
establishment. All newspapers and magazines must be licensed; insults to
senior religious figures are a criminal offence. The constitution
guarantees freedom of the press but contains strict sanctions against
publishing material contrary to public morality or that would insult
religious beliefs or libel individuals. The official news agency is the
Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
Dailies: There are six main
national daily newspapers. There are three English-language daily
newspapers published from Tehran, the Tehran Times, Iran Daily and
Weeklies: Weekly newspapers tend to be
special interest publications.
Business: World Economy is
published daily, and is the most popular business publication, although
distribution is generally limited to Tehran.
Radio: There are three national radio channels, Radio Networks 1
and 2 and Radio Quran. Regional and local radio programmes are broadcast
in Arabic, Armenian, Assyrian, Azerbaijani, Baluchi, Bandari, Dari,
Farsi, Kurdish, Mazandarani, Pashtu, Turkoman, Turkish and Urdu. The
external radio service broadcasts in English, French, German, Spanish,
Turkish, Arabic, Kurdish, Urdu, Pashtu, Armenian, Bengali, Russian and
Television: Broadcasting is tightly controlled by the
state and there have been many purges of editors whose views were not
approved of. The state-run television network, Vision of the Islamic
Republic of Iran, has 28 local channels. A 1994 edict banned the sale
and use of satellite dish receivers, although their usage remain
Iranian economic statistics are
published by the central bank in accordance with the Iranian calendar.
Each Iranian year begins on 21 March according to the Gregorian
calendar. The year 1378, for example, corresponds to 21 March 1999-20
Some 86 per cent of Iran's GDP comes from
government-owned businesses, and only 14 per cent from the private
sector. Only a few non-oil manufacturing companies and private or
family-owned trading and agricultural companies are free from state
control. An estimated 40 per cent of the economy is conducted on the
In November 1999 the Council of Guardians rejected
a bill from parliament which whould have exempted foreign companies in
off-shore free trade zones from any threat of future nationalisation.
International observers have raised concerns about the
sustainability of Iran's economic growth because of its high dependence
on oil prices, fears that were borne out by the dramatic falls in oil
prices in 1998 and early 1999. There are also concerns at the
government's apparent willingness to print money to finance state-owned
The non-oil sector of the economy is
dominated by bonyad (state foundations) who tend to focus less on
effective economic management and more on political clientelism. Against
this backdrop, attempts to diversify the economy have proved
The Second Five-Year Development Plan, which ran
until March 2000, aimed at an annual average GDP growth rate of 5.1 per
cent, led by industry and mining (5.9 per cent), agriculture (4.3 per
cent) and services (3.1 per cent), showing the government's recognition
that the economy must reduce its reliance on oil revenues. Oil growth
was expected to slow to 1.6 per cent over the period of the Plan.
Inflation was targeted to fall to an average of 12.4 per cent a year
over the period.
Although official government figures show the
economy to be on course to meet the targets of the five-year plan,
foreign observers have expressed concern over the reporting of figures,
particularly since the economy is dominated by state industries whose
activities are opaque and complex. Reformist President Khatami, since
coming to power in 1997, has attempted to tackle the lack of
transparency in the bonyad in particular, resulting in fierce opposition
from hardline clerics whose assets are tied up in such enterprises.
In 2000 Iran is expected to open up many sectors to investment
and innovation, including agriculture and services; the government
proposes to reduce its stake in commercial banks to 51 per cent and
permit the establishment of private co-operative banks.
Shortages of foreign currency have produced a boom in
counter trade, which obscure
©Copyright 2000, Iranian Trade Association