The Iranian government can possibly be compared in some aspects to the once-authoritarian governments of China and Mexico before those states opened their borders to international capital globalization, but the main differentiating point, especially as disdainfully viewed by the capitalist proponents of so-called ‘western’ democracy, is the Islamic element of the Iranian state. Pro-capitalist western media sources consistently propagandize Iran as being undemocratic in nature, but this is mainly political slander that is quite baseless since 98% of the Iranian population is Muslim (Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph, 2013, 599) and 98% of a population represents a democratic majority.
In addition to the Iranian government structure being equally divided among executive, judicial, and legislative branches, the Iranian presidency is elected by the general populace, the 290 seat unicameral legislative branch is elected by the general populace (Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph, 2013, 609), and the Assembly of Experts is elected by the general public (Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph, 2013, 601). Considering that all citizens of Iran over the age of 18, both male and female, have the right to vote (Kesselman, Krieger, and Joseph, 599), it is quite unclear how anyone who actually takes the time to study Iran with a bit of cultural relativity can make the statement that it is not a democratic Islamic state.
China and Mexico, on the other hand, have seen sweeping political structural reforms, based predominantly on materialistic political and economic strife, throughout the decades of international capitalist consolidations and evolutions from industrialism to modern capital globalization. During the 1950s, the People’s Republic of China “took decisive steps towards socialism” (Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph, 2013, 629) and “private property was almost completely eliminated through the takeover of industry by the government and the collectivization of agriculture” ( Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph, 2013, 629). Under the authoritarian period under Mao Zedong, China conducted multiple political reforms such as the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in attempts to industrialize the state under Communism, and at times unleashed oppressive government crack downs under Zedong, such as the destruction of “countless historical monuments and cultural artefacts because they were symbols of China’s imperial past” (Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph, 2013, 629) and attacking any political opponents “thought to be guilty of betraying his version of communist ideology, known as Mao Zedong Thought” (Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph, 2013, 629). Of course, during this period of closed-market authoritarianism, western capitalist critics categorized China and Communism as evil, but today is bestowed with lower import tariffs to many capitalist states. This is a played-out tactic of capitalist propaganda, once used against China and the Soviet Union, and today is used against Iran.
After Mao’s death in 1976, Xiaoping’s leadership ushered in an era where “state control of the economy was significantly reduced” (Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph, 2013, 630) and “private enterprise was encouraged” (Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph, 2013, 630) with “unprecedented levels of foreign investment” (Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph, 2013, 630) which began an early deregulation process which made China ripe for global capital integration.
Mexico’s authoritarian period caused similar results, but produced numerous violent and tumultuous changes throughout the state’s government structure. Mexico dabbled in democracy early on after the establishment of “the Mexican Constitution of 1917” (Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph, 2013, 441), but instability and corruption were constant problems in strengthening a collective Mexican government despite “vast new amounts of oil were discovered in the Gulf of Mexico” (Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph, 2013, 442) during the 1970s. Under the presidencies of “Miguel de la Madrid (1982–1988) and Carlos Salinas (1988–1994)” (Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph, 2013, 442), reforms were put into place to “limit the government’s role in the economy and to reduce barriers to international trade” (Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph, 2013, 442), and the joining of NAFTA under Salinas’ began an early deregulation process which would be ripe for global capital exploitation.
Iran has also seen political changes such as the White Revolution, which attempted “to promote economic development and such social reform as extending the vote to women” (Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph, 2013, 584), but the most important Iranian government reformation was not based on economics or political strife. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 transformed the Iranian state into an Islamic state and “a new constitution was drawn up in late 1979 by the Assembly of Experts” (Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph, 2013, 587) which integrated the principals of Islam into the state structure (Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph, 2013, 587). Khomeini himself “argued that Islam and democracy were compatible since the vast majority of people in Iran respected the clerics as the true interpreters of the shari’a, and wanted them to oversee state officials” (Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph, 2013, 589) to ensure Islamic principles.
In closing, it appears that Iran is more democratic now than China or Mexico have ever been, possibly even the United States, and that these accusations of undemocratic rule, to include those incorporated into the course textbook, are simply productions of western bias and a lack of cultural relativity. A state is not undemocratic because they choose not to have a McDonalds or Walmart on every block. or because their females do not choose to run around have nude and center their social existence on self-destructive Hollywood music videos, or because they do not choose a money worshipping society, and a state is not undemocratic because they do not wish to deregulate state natural resources and be raped by foreign capitalists.
Mark Kesselman, Joel Krieger, and William Joseph. Introduction to Comparative Politics, 6th edition. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2013.