City and village councils are elected by public vote to four-year terms. Councils elect mayors, supervise municipalities, and implement social, economic, constructive, cultural, educational, and other welfare affairs.


Formal political parties are relatively new in Iran, and most conservatives still prefer to work through political pressure groups rather than parties. Often political parties or groups are formed prior to elections and disbanded soon thereafter.

A loose pro-reform coalition called the Second Khordad Front, which includes political parties as well as less formal pressure groups and organizations, achieved considerable success at elections to the sixth Majles in early 2000. The coalition includes: Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF), Executives of Construction Party (Kargozaran), Solidarity Party, Islamic Labor Party, Mardom Salari, Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization (MIRO), and Militant Clerics Society (Ruhaniyun). The coalition participated in the seventh Majles elections in early 2004.

The Islamic Revolutionary Party (IRP) was Iran's sole political party until its dissolution in 1987. Groups that support the Islamic republic include Ansar-e Hizballah, Muslim Students Following the Line of the Imam, Tehran Militant Clergy Association (Ruhaniyat), Islamic Coalition Party (Motalefeh), and Islamic Engineers Society. Active pro-reform student groups include the Office of Strengthening Unity (OSU). Opposition groups include Freedom Movement of Iran, the National Front, and Marz-e Por Gohar.

Various armed political groups that have been repressed include Mujahidin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO), People's Fedayeen, Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI), and Komala.

Iran is divided into 30 provinces (ostanha).


Iran has two kinds of armed forces: the regular forces and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, totaling about 545,000 personnel. Both fall under the command of the ministry of defense. The regular armed forces have an estimated 420,000 troops in three branches: ground forces (350,000 troops), navy (18,000 sailors), and air force (52,000 airmen). The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has an estimated 125,000 personnel in five branches: Qods force (special forces), Basij (paramilitary), navy, air force, and the ground forces.

Iran also has a paramilitary volunteer force called the Basij, which includes about 90,000 full-time, active-duty uniformed Basij members, up to 300,000 reservists, and a further 11 million men and women who could be mobilized.

Iran's military capabilities are kept largely secret. In the early 2000s, official announcements have highlighted the development of weapons such as Fajr-3 (MIRV) missile, Hoot, Kowsar, Fateh-110, Shahab-3, and a variety of unmanned aerial vehicles.

Iran is a founding member of the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO).


Kish Island is a free-trade zone, which is fast becoming a major tourist destination.

Iran's economy is marked by a bloated, inefficient state sector, over-reliance on the oil sector, and statist policies that create distortions throughout the nation. Most economic activity is controlled by the state. Private sector activity is typically small-scale workshops, farming, and services.

Relatively high oil prices in recent years have enabled Iran to amass nearly $60-billion in foreign exchange reserves, but have not eased high unemployment and inflation. The proportion of the economy devoted to the development of weaponry remains a contentious issue with leading Western nations.

In the early twenty-first century, the service sector contributed the largest percentage of the GDP, followed by industry (mining and manufacturing) and agriculture. About 45 percent of the government's budget came from oil and natural gas revenues, and 31 percent came from taxes and fees. Government spending contributed to an average annual inflation rate of 14 percent in the period of 2000-2004.

In 2004, the GDP was estimated at $542 billion of purchasing power parity, or $8,100 per capita, 71st on a list of 181 nations. Because of these figures and the country's diversified but small industrial base, the United Nations classifies Iran's economy as semi-developed.

Over 20 percent of Iran's GDP is controlled by bonyads, which are Iranian charitable trusts. Initially set up during the time of the shah of Iran, they were used to funnel money into the shah's personal coffers. After the Iranian Revolution, the bonyads were used to redistribute oil income among the poor and the families of martyrs.

Iran is OPEC's second-largest oil producer, exporting over three million barrels of oil per day. Moreover, it holds 10 percent of the world's confirmed oil reserves. Iran also has the world's second-largest natural gas reserves (after Russia).

The 2007 administration continues to follow the market reform plans of the

Iranian budget deficits have been a chronic problem, in part due to large-scale state subsidies (totaling some $30 billion per year) that include foodstuffs and especially gasoline.

Since the late 1990s, Iran has increased its economic cooperation with other developing countries, including Syria, India, Cuba, Venezuela, and South Africa. Iran is also expanding its trade ties with Turkey and Pakistan and shares with its partners the common goal of creating a single economic market in West and Central Asia, much like the European Union.

Exports totaled $63.18 billion in 2006. Export commodities were petroleum (80 percent), chemical and petrochemical products, fruits and nuts, and carpets. Export partners were Japan 16.9 percent, China 11.2 percent, Italy 6 percent, South Korea 5.8 percent, Turkey 5.7 percent, Netherlands 4.6 percent, France 4.4 percent, South Africa 4.1 percent, Taiwan 4.1 percent.

Imports totaled $45.48 billion in 2006. Import commodities were industrial raw materials and intermediate goods, capital goods, foodstuffs and other consumer goods, technical services, and military supplies. Import partners were Germany 13.9 percent, United Arab Emirates 8.4 percent, China 8.3 percent, Italy 7.1 percent, France 6.3 percent, South Korea 5.4 percent, and Russia 4.9 percent.


Iran's population increased dramatically during the latter half of the twentieth century, reaching 70,049,262 in 2006. More than two-thirds of the population is under the age of 30, and nearly one-quarter of its people are 15 years of age or younger. The Iranian diaspora is estimated at over four million people who emigrated to North America, Europe, South America, and Australia, mostly after the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Iran also hosts one of the largest refugee populations in the world, with more than one million refugees, mostly from Afghanistan and Iraq.


The main ethnic groups are Persians (51 percent), Azeris (24 percent), Gilaki and Mazandarani (8 percent), Kurds (7 percent), Arabs (3 percent), Baluchi (2 percent), Lurs (2 percent), Turkmens (2 percent), Qashqai, Armenians, Persian Jews, Georgians, Assyrians, Circassians, Tats, Pashtuns, and others (1 percent). There is little ethnic conflict, although the Kurds, living on Iran's western border, have pushed for autonomy. Nomadic tribal groups in the southern and western regions have been difficult to control. The Arab population of the southwestern province of Khuzestan has aspired to break away from Iran.


Ninety percent of Iranian people belong to the Shi'a branch of Islam, the official state religion, and about 8 percent, mainly Kurds, belong to the Sunni branch. The remaining 2 percent are non-Muslim religious minorities, mainly Bahá'ís, Mandeans, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians. The latter three minority religions are officially recognized, and have reserved seats in the Majles' (Parliament). However the Bahá'í Faith, Iran's largest religious minority, is not officially recognized, and since the 1979 revolution, persecution has increased with executions and access to higher education denied.

Religious distribution in Iran.

The state religion of “Ithnaashara,” or Twelver Shi'ism, was established by the Safavid Dynasty in the seventeenth century. Shi'a Muslims revere the descendants of Fatimah, daughter of the prophet Muhammad, and her husband, Ali, Muhammad's cousin. Twelve Imams are recognized, all of whom were martyred except the twelfth, Muhammad al-Mahdi, who disappeared, but it is believed that he will return at the end of time with Jesus to judge mankind. Husayn ibn Ali, one of two sons of Fatimah and Ali, the central figure in Iranian Shi'ism, was martyred in a struggle for power between rival sects, which became Shi'a and Sunni. The Islamic months of Muharram and Safar are time for ritual mourning for Husayn, with processions, self-flagellation, and 10-day dramatic depictions of the martyrdom. Also revered is Imam Reza, the eighth leader of Shi'a Muslims, who is buried in the northeastern Iranian city, Mashhad. His shrine is a key pilgrimage destination for Shi'a Muslims.

Among religious minorities in Iran, Zoroastrians date back more than two thousand years, Iranian Jews date back to the removal to Babylon, and Assyrian Christians, who follow a non-Trinitarian doctrine, have lived continually in Iran since the third century C.E.

Arab and Baluchi populations in the south and Turkish populations in the north and west are Sunni Muslims. The Baha'i movement, a semi-mystical nineteenth-century departure from Shi'ia Islam, is homegrown. It won converts from Islam, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity, and has spread from Iran to every nation on earth. Sufis focus on a meditative path that may include group chanting and dance.

A young man wanting to be a cleric may train in a religious school. When he has completed a course of study, he takes up residence in a community needing a cleric. Overtime, he may build a reputation as a “mujtahed” capable of interpreting Islamic law, and as he gains respect and followers, he may rise to become an ayatollah (literally, “Reflection of God”).

Shrines of Islamic saints are important. A pilgrimage to a shrine is a common. Longer pilgrimages to Karbala, Mashhad, or Mecca are respected. There are 30 holidays in Iran revolving around the birth or death of the various Shi'a imams.

Roles of men and women

Women have always had a strong role in Iranian life. Women have served in government since the 1950s. The marriage age for women has increased to 21 years, while the birthrate has fallen to 2.45 percent. Education for women is universal, and education for girls has increased steadily. All professions are theoretically open to women, but the Iranian government's requirement to cover the hair and the female form limits the type of jobs available. Revolutionary guards have mutilated women for showing too much hair or for wearing lipstick.

In Iran, it is considered manly for men to be emotionally sensitive, artistically engaged, and aesthetically acute, while women can be emotionally distant and detached. Open weeping is common for either sex, as is kissing and hand holding between members of the same sex. Physical contact between members of the opposite sex, such as shaking hands, is avoided except between relatives. A proper Iranian man or woman will not be in a closed room with a member of the opposite sex (except for his or her spouse).

Marriage and the family

Kurdish wedding dance in Sanandaj, Iran.

Marriage in Iran merges two families, giving each family extensive rights and obligations. Therefore, the families want to be certain they are compatible before any marriage takes place. A mother is on the lookout for good marriage prospects for her children. Once a prospect is selected, the mother lets her counterpart in the other family know that a proposal would be made, or would be welcome. The husband makes the proposal.

A man of marriageable age has a right of first refusal for his father's brother's daughter-his cousin. This type of marriage consolidates wealth from the grandparents' generation. A love match with someone outside the family is not impossible, but the family visitation and negotiation must be observed.

A cleric draws up a marriage contract. The bride brings a dowry consisting of household goods and her clothing. An amount is written into the contract as payment for the woman should divorce occur. The wife belongs to her husband's household, but retains her name, and may hold property separate from her husband. A celebration is held after the contract is signed, and is a prelude to the consummation of the marriage. In many areas, it is important that the bride is virginal, and the bed sheets are inspected. The new couple may live with their relatives until they set up their own household.

Polygyny is allowed, but not widely practiced. Divorce is less common than in the West. Families prefer to stay together, since it is difficult to untangle the close relationships between the two families. Children of a marriage belong to the father. After a divorce, men assume custody of boys over three years and girls over seven. Women sometimes renounce their divorce payment to get custody.

Branches of an extended family may live in rooms in the same compound, but have separate eating and sleeping arrangements. Members of extended families have wide rights to hospitality in the homes of even their most distant relations. Family members tend to socialize with each other.

Male children inherit full shares of their father's estate, wives and daughters half-shares. The patriarch is the oldest male of the family, and he demands respect from other family members. The extended family aims to extend its influence into as many spheres as possible. Some family members will go into government, others into the military, others join the clergy. Families try to marry their children into powerful families.

Small children are indulged. Older children often raise younger children, especially in rural settings. The father is the disciplinarian of the family, and is responsible to protect family honor. If a girl remains chaste, virginal, modest, and has beauty and education, she can marry well. If she fails in this, she may ruin her own life, and the reputation of her family. Boys are more indulged than girls, and are taught to protect family honor.

Land ownership

Absentee landlords for hundreds of years used a sharecropping arrangement with tenant farmers. Based on a principle of five shares-land, water, seed, animal labor, and human labor-the farmer received at most two-fifths of the produce, since he supplied only the human and animal labor. Landlords hired laborers to work for wages. Land reforms in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in sharecropping farmers receiving land, while the wage farmers received nothing.

Nomadic tribes claim grazing rights along their route of migration, with the rights parceled out by family affiliation. Government officials contest this.

Landowners on their death have willed large tracts of land, including whole villages, as well as other property, to the religious bequest (waqf) trust. The Pahlavi rulers sought to break the economic power of the clergy, who controlled this vast property empire, by nationalizing it, an action vehemently opposed by the clergy before the revolution.


"Persian" is the name for the primary language spoken by around 40 million in Iran. However, the Iranian languages and their various dialects (totaling an estimated 150-200 million speakers) exceed the Iranian borders and are spoken throughout western China, southern Russia, and eastern Turkey. As part of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages, it is an ancient language, and one of extraordinary grace and flexibility. Having absorbed Arabic vocabulary and many Turkish elements, its vocabulary has expanded to well over 100,000 commonly used words. It is easy to learn, and ideally suited for poetry and literature. The language is remarkably stable; Iranians can read twelfth-century literature with relative ease. Iranian residents whose first language is not Persian are bilingual in Persian and their primary language. Persons whose first language is Persian are usually monolingual.


In Iran, a man in ragged clothes, unshaven, and without any outward trapping of luxury may in fact be rich and powerful, and a well-dressed man driving a fine European car may be mired in debt. Clever youths from poor backgrounds may become educated, and, with the help of persons of power and authority, they rise quickly in status and wealth. The public tends to dismiss awards, promotions, and public accolades. Clerics advance through the informal acknowledgment of their peers. “Ta'arof,” a ritualized system of speech and behavior, allows individuals to interrelate in a harmonious fashion, recognizing each other's status.


Iran has a long history of art, music, architecture, poetry, philosophy, traditions, and ideology. Iranian culture has long been a predominant culture of the Middle East and Central Asia, with Persian considered the language of intellectuals during much of the second millennium C.E. Nearly all philosophical, scientific, or literary work of the Islamic empires was written in Persian and translated to Arabic.


The cuisine of Iran is diverse, with each province featuring dishes, as well as culinary traditions and styles, distinct to their regions. It includes a wide variety of foods ranging from chelow kabab barg, koobideh, joojeh, shishleek, soltani, chenjeh, khoresht (stew that is served with white basmati or Persian rice: ghormeh sabzi, gheimeh, and others), aash (a thick soup), kookoo (meat and/or vegetable pies), polow (white rice alone or with addition of meat and/or vegetables and herbs, including loobia polow, albaloo polow, zereshk polow, and others), and a diverse variety of salads, pastries, and drinks specific to different parts of Iran. The list of Persian recipes, appetizers, and desserts is extensive.

Iranian food is not spicy. Herbs are used a lot, as is fruit from plums and pomegranates to quince, prunes, apricots, and raisins. The main Persian cuisines are combinations of rice with meat, chicken, or fish, and plenty of garlic, onion, vegetables, nuts, and herbs. To achieve a balanced taste, unique Persian spices such as saffron, diced limes, cinnamon, and parsley are mixed delicately and used in some special dishes.

The traditional Iranian table setting firstly involves the tablecloth, called sofreh, which is often embroidered with traditional prayers and/or poetry, and is spread out over a Persian rug or table. Main dishes are concentrated in the center, surrounded by smaller dishes containing appetizers, condiments, side dishes, as well as bread, all of which are nearest to the diners.

Typical table setting and elements of a popular Iranian dish.

Essential accompaniments include a plate of fresh herbs, called sabzi (basil, coriander, cilantro, tarragon, Persian watercress or shaahi), a variety of flat breads, called nan or noon (sangak, lavash, barbari), cheese (called panir, a Persian variant of feta), sliced and peeled cucumbers, sliced tomatoes and onions, yogurt, and lemon juice. Persian pickles (khiyarshur) and relishes (torshi) are also considered essential.

Tea (chai) is served at breakfast and immediately before and after each meal at lunch and dinner, and many times throughout the rest of the day.

The ubiquitous Persian Kebab is often served with both plain rice and a special (yellow cake) rice called tah-chin.

Popular fast foods include chelow kebab (literally "rice and kebab"), and nan-e kebab kebab sandwiches. A preference for American food has resulted in many pizza, steak, hamburger, and fried chicken establishments. Chinese and Japanese cuisine has become popular.

Some traditionally prepared ice cream to top off the meal concludes the Iranian feast.

The traditional drink accompanying meals is called doogh. However many domestic sodas such as Zam Zam Cola and Parsi Col are widely consumed. Both Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola have bottling plants in Mashad. There are several types of sherbets and khak sheer. One favorite is havij bastani, carrot juice made into an ice cream float and garnished with cinnamon, nutmeg, or other spices.

Though strictly banned, alcoholic beverages may be available, but not openly available. The most common beverage is called Arak (liqueur). Vodka is the second most commonly available alcohol, imported from Russia. Beer is imported from northern Europe via Turkey. Wine has been a big part of Iranian culture since ancient times, and this tradition has continued despite restrictions. Wine-producing centers are Qazvin, Orumiyeh, Shiraz, and Isfahan. Red wine is the most common variety.


Women wear non-transparent, loose garments covering all their bodies except for the hands and face. Color is optional but red, orange, pink, or similar colors are not put on during national or private sad occasions. Black is not required. Women wear the chador, a semicircular piece of dark cloth that is wrapped around the body and head, and gathered at the chin. Westernized Iranian women regard this dress requirement as oppressive. Wearing a chador is not mandatory. Men wear non-transparent garments too. They may wear short-sleeve shirts or T-shirts (unlike women), but not shorts, in public. The choice of color is the same for men as well.


The main building types of classical Iranian architecture are the mosque and the palace. The architecture makes use of abundant symbolic geometry, using pure forms such as the circle and square. Plans are based on symmetrical layouts featuring rectangular courtyards and halls.

The post-Islamic architecture of Iran has geometrical and repetitive forms, as well as surfaces that are richly decorated with glazed tiles, carved stucco, patterned brickwork, floral motifs, and calligraphy.

Persians were among the first to use mathematics, geometry, and astronomy in architecture. Teppe Sialk, an important ziggurat near Kashan, built 7,000 years ago, represents one such prehistoric site in Persia whose inhabitants were the initiators of a simple and rudimentary housing technique.

Each of the periods of Elamites, Achaemenids, Parthians, and Sassanids were represented by great architecture. Although Iran has suffered its share of destruction, including Alexander the Great's decision to burn Persepolis, there are sufficient remains to form a picture of its classical architecture.

In the Old Persian architecture, semi-circular and oval-shaped vaults were of great interest, leading Safavid architects to display their extraordinary skills in making massive domes. Domes can be seen frequently in the structure of bazaars and mosques, particularly during the Safavid period in Isfahan. Iranian domes are distinguished for their height, proportion of elements, beauty of form, and roundness of the dome stem. The outer surfaces of the domes are mostly mosaic faced, and create a magical view.

Taj Mahal is one of the greatest examples of Persian architecture outside of Iran.

Persian architects were a highly sought after. For example, Ostad Isa Shirazi is most often credited as the chief architect of the Taj Mahal in India. These artisans were highly instrumental in the designs of such edifices as Afghanistan's Minaret of Jam, the Sultaniyeh Dome, or Tamerlane's tomb in Samarkand, among many others.


Families emphasize education for both boys and girls. Iranian education relies much on rote memorization, following the French system. Children are encouraged in the arts, and are taught to write poetry and learn music, painting, and calligraphy.

Kindergarten, which is not mandatory, begins at the age of five and lasts for one year. Grade school (dabestan) starts at the age of six and lasts for five years. Junior high school goes from sixth to eighth grade. This aims at evaluating the student's proficiency to pursue higher education or vocational/technical education during senior high school (dabirestan), which lasts three years, and which is neither mandatory nor free. It is divided between theoretical, vocational/technical, and manual programs, each program with its own specialties.

Universities, institutes of technology, medical schools, and community colleges provide higher education. The requirement to enter into higher education is to have a high school diploma, followed by a one-year preparation class, and finally pass the national university entrance exam. Higher education is sanctioned by different levels of diplomas: Fogh-Diplom or Kardani (equivalent to a baccalaureate in technical engineering) is awarded after two years of higher education, Karshenasi (also known as a “license”), is given after four years of higher education (bachelor's degree). Fogh License is awarded after two more years of study (master's degree). After which, a new entrance exam allows the candidate to pursue a doctoral program (PhD).

The literacy rate in Iran is 86 percent.

Scientific progress

An eighteenth-century Persian astrolabe. Throughout the Middle Ages, the natural philosophy and mathematics of the ancient Greeks and Persians were furthered and preserved within Persia. During this period, Persia became a center for the manufacture of scientific instruments, retaining its reputation for quality well into the nineteenth century.Photo taken from medieval manuscript by Qotbeddin Shirazi (1236-1311), a Persian astronomer. The image depicts an epicyclic planetary model.

Persians discovered algebra, invented the windmill, and found medicinal uses for alcohol. Today, theoretical and computational sciences are rapidly developing. Theoretical physicists and chemists are regularly publishing. Despite the limitations in funds, facilities, and international collaborations, Iranian scientists remain highly productive in pharmacology, pharmaceutical chemistry, organic chemistry, and polymer chemistry. Iranian scientists are helping construct the Compact Muon Solenoid, a detector for CERN's Large Hadron Collider due to come online in 2007.

Iranian molecular biophysicists have gained an international reputation since the 1990s. High field nuclear magnetic resonance facilities, as well as microcalorimetry, circular dichroism, and instruments for single protein channel studies have been provided. Tissue engineering and research on biomaterials has emerged. In late 2006, Iranian scientists cloned a sheep by somatic cell nuclear transfer.

Fine arts

From the yarn fiber to the colors, every part of the Persian rug is traditionally handmade from natural ingredients over the course of many months.

The Persian carpet is similar to the Persian garden: full of flowers, birds, and beasts. The colors are usually made from wild flowers, and are rich in burgundy, navy blue, and accents of ivory. The proto-fabric is often washed in tea to soften the texture. Depending on where the rug is made, patterns and designs vary.

Caves in Iran's Lorestan province exhibit painted imagery of animals and hunting scenes. Some, such as those in Fars Province and Sialk, are at least 5,000 years old. Painting in Iran is thought to have reached a climax during the Tamerlane era when outstanding masters such as Kamaleddin Behzad created a new style of painting.

Paintings of the Qajar period, are a combination of European influences and Safavid miniature schools of painting. It was during that era when "Coffee House painting" emerged. Subjects of this style were often religious in nature depicting scenes from Shi'a epics.

Of the thousands of archaeological sites and historic ruins of Iran, almost every one can be found to have been filled, at some point, with earthenware of exceptional quality. Thousands of unique vessels alone were found in the Sialk and Jiroft sites.


The earliest references to musicians in Iran are found in Susa and Elam in the third millennium B.C.E. Reliefs, sculptures, and mosaics such as those in Bishapur, from periods of antiquity, depict a vibrant musical culture. Persian traditional music in its contemporary form has its inception in the Naseri era, who ordered the opening of a "House of Crafts," where all master craftsmen would gather for designing instruments and practicing their art.


Iran is filled with tombs of poets and musicians, such as this one belonging to Rahi Mo'ayeri, an illustration of Iran's deep artistic heritage.

Iran's literary tradition is rich and varied as well, although the world is most familiar with Iranian poetry. Rumi is by far the most famous of Iran's poets, although Saadi is considered by many Iranians to be just as influential. Both poets were practitioners of Sufism, and are quoted by Iranians with the same frequency and weight as the Qur'an.


So strong is the Persian aptitude for versifying everyday expressions that one can encounter poetry in almost every classical work, whether from Persian literature, science, or metaphysics. In short, the ability to write in verse form was a prerequisite for any scholar. For example, almost half of Avicenna's medical writings are known to be versified. Persian poetry is recognized worldwide and has served as an inspiration for writers and poets around the world. Works of the early era of Persian poetry are characterized by strong court patronage, an extravagance of panegyrics, and what is known as سبک فاخر, "exalted in style."


The cinema of Iran is a flourishing film industry with a long history. Many popular commercial films are made in Iran, and Iranian art films have won many international film awards. Festivals of Iranian films are held annually around the globe. Along with China, Iran has been lauded as one of the best exporters of cinema in the 1990s.

Many critics now rank Iran as the world's most important national cinema artistically, with a significance that invites comparison to Italian neo-realism and similar movements in the past.

The state also actively monitors the internet, which has become enormously popular amon