Current State of Civil Society in Iran

Research on post-revolutionary Iranian affairs initially focused on the causes of the revolution. In the mid-1980s the focus shifted to the new republic's policies and teleology. This preoccupation with the revolution and the emerging new regime led researchers to virtually neglect the Iranian civil society.

The author argues that it is time to look at developments in Iran through a new prism. While the need to study and analyze the actions, policies and behavior of the government itself, it is imperative for a better understanding of societal forces to engage in some scholarly research on Iranian civil society and its prospect for growth. As many prominent scholars have argued and the historical developments in Eastern Europe and elsewhere have shown, sustainable democracy and economic development hinge on continuous flourishing of the institutions of civil society.

This article focuses mainly on a discussion of various dimensions of Iranian civil society including aspects of emerging political, ideological, and philosophical trends, the tendencies associated with various members of the political elite, prominent intellectual dissenters and the state of a number of important professional, economic and cultural institutions and organizations.

The article suggests that a civil society is indeed in the process of formation in iran and that its survival and growth will depend on the emergence of an equilibrium between the has come government and non-governmental sectors. It further argues that the growth of civil society coupled with fundamental reforms in government's structure and functions are key elements in the process of economic development and the establishment of a democratic society. The article, therefore, attempts to identify the forces that either hinder or encourage this process.

The author has based his analyses and arguments mostly on personal interviews with Iranians of differing social, economic, and political backgrounds. He has also drawn upon articles and discussions on social issues that have recently appeared published in Iranian print media.

Hooshang Amirahmadi
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