Moreover, as we have already seen in so many other countries, a commitment to neoliberalism is utterly unsuitable as a means for overcoming socio-economic problems like those facing Iran. President Rouhani's economic "reform course" has thus failed to facilitate sustainable and socially responsible economic development. Since he took office, relative poverty and income inequality have in fact risen.

Iran – a "regulated democracy"?

Under Rouhani's presidency, the political system in Iran has often been referred to as practically a "semi-democracy", or a "regulated democracy", etc., a claim that lacks any basis in reality and can be seen more as a self-definition propagated by some of the regime elites.

Analyses of Iran's political system often cite the parallel existence of a republican and a theocratic pillar. According to this view, the republican pillar manifests itself in the direct election of the president and the parliament, whereas the theocratic pillar comprises the other institutions, including the Supreme Leader. The problem with this model is that the republican pillar is actually not one at all, as neither the president nor the members of parliament are really elected in free and democratic elections because all the candidates are first vetted for their loyalty to the regime by the Guardian Council.

Iranians vote during presidential elections on 29 April 2016 (photo: Getty Images/AFP)
Polls that bring no change – or they would be banned: elections ensure the survival of the Iranian regime in its existing parameters. Despite the Islamic Republicʹs penchant for pseudo-elections, elections alone are no proof of the existence of true democracy. To achieve the latter would require political freedoms, the like of which are not generally evident in Iran

Elections in Iran thus tend to ensure the continuation of the regime within the limits it itself has defined. Nevertheless, the unpredictable results do lead to some policy changes and redistributions of power within the political elite. It would thus be more logical to see the Islamic Republic of Iran as a variant of so-called electoral authoritarianism. And yet, regardless of political practice in Iran, we already know that elections do not per se provide proof of the existence of democracy. Democracy also entails political freedoms that are largely absent in the Islamic Republic.

Iran's stability stands on feet of clay

The hypothesis has also continually been put forth that Iran is the only stable country in the region – unlike other states that have been swept up in the "Arab Spring". This assumption fails to recognise, however, that the country's apparent state of stability, on closer examination, is standing on feet of clay. This was compellingly demonstrated most recently by the uprising at the turn of the year. The fact is that there exists in Iran today, similar to other countries in West Asia and North Africa, a mixture of socio-economic malaise and political immaturity on the part of the majority of the population, offering fertile ground for future uprisings against the regime.

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