The challenge of incorporating popular mandate into the sovereignty of god in Iran

Stream: Panel 25 - Comparative Politics: Faithful Contestations: Democratic Learning Curve of Islamists
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 11.30 am – 1.00 pm


The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) projects its form of government that brings Islam and democracy together. Accordingly, the IRI is at once legitimised by following Islamic teachings and enjoying popular support. This perspective masks an underlying contradiction at the heart of the IRI which has caused periodic crises, at times presenting it with existential challenges. The contradiction hinges on the question of sovereignty and source of political legitimacy. Divine rule and popular mandate point to very different modes of government and political rule. This is why the procedural commitments to elections and popular mandate has presented the IRI with surprising challenges, most recently with the election of Hassan Rouhani who has negotiated a nuclear deal with Western powers. While the deal promises to remove crippling sanctions and boost Iranian economy, it also subjects Iran to an unprecedented inspection regime which many in the political elite view as humiliating and oppressive. This paper explores the uneasy relationship between divine and popular sovereignty, and how the government of president Rouhani has leveraged his popular mandate for change to push back against ideological red lines. The paper will conclude with an assessment of the extent to which this push for reform against ideological pillars of the state, most notably divine sovereignty, may be successful in reversing the hierarchy of authority in the IRI.


Shahram Akbarzadeh (Presenter), Deakin University
Shahram Akbarzadeh is Research Professor of Middle East & Central Asian Politics based at Deakin University and holds the prestigious ARC Future Fellowship. His research interests lie in Middle East politics, Central Asia politics, political Islam and extremism and Islam in the West. He has published more than 40 refereed papers in leading international journals. Among his latest publications are a sole-authored book on Uzbekistan and the United States, a co-authored book on US Foreign Policy in the Middle East, and a co-authored book on Muslim Active Citizenship in the West.

James Barry (Presenter), Deakin University
James Barry is an Associate Research Fellow with Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation (ADI). James’ research interests involve the intersections of religious, linguistic and national conceptions of identity in the Middle East, specifically Iran. James speaks Armenian and Persian-Farsi.James has published in a variety of journals, including the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, the Muslim World and Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations. James was also involved in research on decision-making among irregular maritime arrivals to Australia or living in Indonesia, particularly migrants from Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. James was a lecturer at Monash University from 2012 to 2014.