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Democracy in Iran: Why It Failed and How It Might Succeed

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The Green Movement protests that erupted in Iran in 2009 amid allegations of election fraud shook the Islamic Republic to its core. For the first time in decades, the adoption of serious liberal reforms seemed possible. But the opportunity proved short-lived, leaving Iranian activists and intellectuals to debate whether any path to democracy remained open. Offering a new fr The Green Movement protests that erupted in Iran in 2009 amid allegations of election fraud shook the Islamic Republic to its core. For the first time in decades, the adoption of serious liberal reforms seemed possible. But the opportunity proved short-lived, leaving Iranian activists and intellectuals to debate whether any path to democracy remained open. Offering a new framework for understanding democratization in developing countries governed by authoritarian regimes, Democracy in Iran is a penetrating, historically informed analysis of Iran's current and future prospects for reform. Beginning with the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Misagh Parsa traces the evolution of Iran's theocratic regime, examining the challenges the Islamic Republic has overcome as well as those that remain: inequalities in wealth and income, corruption and cronyism, and a "brain drain" of highly educated professionals eager to escape Iran's repressive confines. The political fortunes of Iranian reformers seeking to address these problems have been uneven over a period that has seen hopes raised during a reformist administration, setbacks under Ahmadinejad, and the birth of the Green Movement. Although pro-democracy activists have made progress by fits and starts, they have few tangible reforms to show for their efforts. In Parsa's view, the outlook for Iranian democracy is stark. Gradual institutional reforms will not be sufficient for real change, nor can the government be reformed without fundamentally rethinking its commitment to the role of religion in politics and civic life. For Iran to democratize, the options are narrowing to a single path: another revolution.


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The Green Movement protests that erupted in Iran in 2009 amid allegations of election fraud shook the Islamic Republic to its core. For the first time in decades, the adoption of serious liberal reforms seemed possible. But the opportunity proved short-lived, leaving Iranian activists and intellectuals to debate whether any path to democracy remained open. Offering a new fr The Green Movement protests that erupted in Iran in 2009 amid allegations of election fraud shook the Islamic Republic to its core. For the first time in decades, the adoption of serious liberal reforms seemed possible. But the opportunity proved short-lived, leaving Iranian activists and intellectuals to debate whether any path to democracy remained open. Offering a new framework for understanding democratization in developing countries governed by authoritarian regimes, Democracy in Iran is a penetrating, historically informed analysis of Iran's current and future prospects for reform. Beginning with the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Misagh Parsa traces the evolution of Iran's theocratic regime, examining the challenges the Islamic Republic has overcome as well as those that remain: inequalities in wealth and income, corruption and cronyism, and a "brain drain" of highly educated professionals eager to escape Iran's repressive confines. The political fortunes of Iranian reformers seeking to address these problems have been uneven over a period that has seen hopes raised during a reformist administration, setbacks under Ahmadinejad, and the birth of the Green Movement. Although pro-democracy activists have made progress by fits and starts, they have few tangible reforms to show for their efforts. In Parsa's view, the outlook for Iranian democracy is stark. Gradual institutional reforms will not be sufficient for real change, nor can the government be reformed without fundamentally rethinking its commitment to the role of religion in politics and civic life. For Iran to democratize, the options are narrowing to a single path: another revolution.

39 review for Democracy in Iran: Why It Failed and How It Might Succeed

  1. 5 out of 5

    Murtaza

    Very grim appraisal of the track record and future of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The government has politicized all spheres of life from culture to economy while cutting out an ever-widening proportion of society from political power. As Parsa describes, the regime is essentially a polarized faction at odds with the population but lording over it by virtue of having control of the state. Its track record of failure in various fields is laid out here in painstaking detail. Alienated from the p Very grim appraisal of the track record and future of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The government has politicized all spheres of life from culture to economy while cutting out an ever-widening proportion of society from political power. As Parsa describes, the regime is essentially a polarized faction at odds with the population but lording over it by virtue of having control of the state. Its track record of failure in various fields is laid out here in painstaking detail. Alienated from the people, the people are also alienated back in turn. Even among conservatives the space for who is acceptable has narrowed further and further, while the failures of the narrow ruling elite pile up. In such a situation pathways to reform are constricted and revolution becomes a more likely outcome. Parsa compares the development of Iran with that of South Korea, which started from a similar low and authoritarian base but managed to develop towards democracy. The presence of oil in Iran seems to have played a negative political role, as it encouraged and legitimized state intervention in the economy instead of allowing zones of autonomous socio-economic life to grow. The revolutionary decision by the clergy to become directly involved in politics, even governing the country itself, has removed them from their once-esteemed role in society and discredited their ideology in the eyes of many Iranians. The elites of the regime are unlikely to compromise because they lack good exit strategies or opportunities in a democratized Iran, Parsa argues. The stranglehold works well for them both politically and economically, while few appealing alternatives beckon. Revolutions are always possible but it also seems possible that the Islamic Republic could continue stumbling along more or less indefinitely, growing its repressive capacities in the face of popular discontent. Parsa seems to assume that democratization is an inevitability, or that history proceeds teleologically in a Francis Fukuyama-ish way. Recent events in the ostensible democratic heartlands of the West suggest that this may not be the case. Iranians are people who hold themselves to a high standard, and, as this book argues, the record of the Islamic Republic has been poor enough to win the enmity of many of them. Parsa makes a careful case for why the current regime is unlikely to make significant compromises anytime soon and faces imminent threats to its existence. Despite that, nothing is inevitable and similar predictions can be found at least as far back as the 1990s.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    This book is an academic political science text that looks at Iran since the Islamic Revolution in the 1970s. The author follows the history up to the present, showing how the Iranian people wanted more freedom and democracy, but the regime is focused on creating an Islamic theocracy and promoting Islamic cultural values. The author gives detailed descriptions of events, and uses political science terminology and methods to analyze the history. The author's conclusion is that attempts at reformi This book is an academic political science text that looks at Iran since the Islamic Revolution in the 1970s. The author follows the history up to the present, showing how the Iranian people wanted more freedom and democracy, but the regime is focused on creating an Islamic theocracy and promoting Islamic cultural values. The author gives detailed descriptions of events, and uses political science terminology and methods to analyze the history. The author's conclusion is that attempts at reforming the system have failed, and it can only be overthrown by revolution. I would have liked more detail about how the author thinks this could work, but I thought it was both an excellent history and great analysis.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Faisal Al juhani

    أولى قراءاتي في الشأن الإيراني يشرح الكتاب عن التطور والتحول السياسي في إيران بعد الثورة الإسلامية ويحاول أن يثبت بأن الثورة الإيرانيه لم تكن دينية. وكيف تحول خطاب المرشد من مبدأ الحريات إلى القمع . ذكر الكاتب في العنوان يرى الكاتب بصعوبة إصلاح النظام الإيراني من داخل النظام ولذلك بسبب ممانعة النظام لأي إصلاح لذلك يرى بأن الثورة قادمة للإطاحة بالنظام الإسلامي الإيراني قم بكتابة مراجعة وتلخيص للكتاب مع إيضاحات في مدونتي https://fa10isal.wordpress.com/2020/0... أولى قراءاتي في الشأن الإيراني يشرح الكتاب عن التطور والتحول السياسي في إيران بعد الثورة الإسلامية ويحاول أن يثبت بأن الثورة الإيرانيه لم تكن دينية. وكيف تحول خطاب المرشد من مبدأ الحريات إلى القمع . ذكر الكاتب في العنوان يرى الكاتب بصعوبة إصلاح النظام الإيراني من داخل النظام ولذلك بسبب ممانعة النظام لأي إصلاح لذلك يرى بأن الثورة قادمة للإطاحة بالنظام الإسلامي الإيراني قم بكتابة مراجعة وتلخيص للكتاب مع إيضاحات في مدونتي https://fa10isal.wordpress.com/2020/0...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Kinberg

  5. 5 out of 5

    S. Johnson

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    Anthony Garafalo

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    Eric Randolph

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    B

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    Pushtigban

  10. 5 out of 5

    Shohreh Amin

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    Yong

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mao

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    Jeanne Andersen

  14. 5 out of 5

    Asa

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    Courtney

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    William

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    John Dravenstott

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    Ross

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    Eaustin01

  20. 5 out of 5

    Safiullah Khan

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    Tim

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    Aamir Khan

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    John H

  24. 5 out of 5

    Skycaptain

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    Xis

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    Angela Karnes

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    Jack Hu

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    Colin

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    Michael

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    Hany

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    Gelane Diamond

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    Steve Hager

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    Michael Trusty

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    Parker

  35. 5 out of 5

    Samantha Ben Avraham

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    Drew Pinkley

  37. 4 out of 5

    Mégane Vilain

  38. 5 out of 5

    Rahul Adusumilli

  39. 5 out of 5

    Henry Escobar

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