The Discourse of Democracy in Iran

Since the presidential elections of 1997, there has been an engaging debate in Iran on the prospects of reform and democratization. During this time period the ideal of democracy has emerged as the focal point of political debates, thus framing central questions regarding relations of state to society, the place of religion in public life and the future of the Islamic Republic. Those currently involved in the democracy debate in Iran can be placed into two principal camps. First are those who would like to reform Islam in order to reconcile it with democracy and to have a pluralistic and more open government. Second are those who would like to reform the constitution in order to separate religion from politics and have a secular democracy. The debate is occurring in the context of mounting social, economic and political challenges, on the one hand, and the growing importance of electoral politics, on the other. The democratic debate in Iran and the common conceptions of pluralism and rule of law that it has projected are products of political changes Iran has gone through over the course of the past two decades. This essay examines the unfolding of the democracy debate within the context of Iran’s changing domestic and international environment, and the growing importance of elections to the country’s politics. It further identifies factors that account for the shift from demands for Islamic reform to demands for constitutional reform.

Ali Gheissari & Vali Reza Nasr
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