Modern Iran is an authoritarian theocratic republic that follows the Khomeinism political ideology. However, some followers of Khomeini believe that the Khomeinism ideology was supposed to be a democratic ideology or an ideology that could be democratic . Can Khomeinism really be part of a democratic system? Is there a part of the political beliefs and ideals of Ruhollah Khomeini that is inherently authoritarian that would disqualify Khomeinism from being implemented in a democracy?

2 Answers 2


As I understand it, the intention in the Iranian revolution was to create an Islamic democratic republic, not a theocracy or authoritarian state. The point to keep in mind here is that all democratic republics are by nature balancing acts between various interests and concerns. In the US model, which Iran follows, executive, legislative, and judicial powers are divided into ostensibly independent and co-equal branches, and the friction between these separated branches prevents — again, ostensibly — the collapse of the government into dictatorship or tyranny. Because Iran aimed to be an Islamic republic, they created a fourth branch which was given the power to maintain coherence to Islamic religious principles. Thus it has the Guardian Council, which appoints certain ministers and has veto power over legislation that is deemed to be contrary to Muslim ideals, and the Supreme Leader, who is effectively Chief Executive for certain matters pertaining to faith.

This idea is not entirely novel or unheard of. The British parliamentary system has the House of Lords, which — though it is far weaker than the Guardian Council — serves the same general purpose: to guard the nation as a whole against 'moral' drift that can occur because of populism in the House of Commons. The US Supreme Court has the function of maintaining the consistency of constitutional norms, which is clearly distinct from the Court's purely 'legal' function of hearing and evaluating matters of law. The state of Israel was expressly designed as a religious democratic republic, and implemented the design (arguably) with some success. And let's be honest: more than a few Americans would be overjoyed to see a fourth branch of US government created, whose job it was to guarantee that US law met certain basic Christian standards. Should such a branch be created, those people would see the US as an improved democracy, not a diminished one, because they would view that branch as a safeguard against the intemperate and immoral masses.

I'm not qualified to say whether or to what extent Iran has achieved this ideal. I've never made a close study of practical Iranian politics, and the persistent stream of anti-Iranian and anti-Islamic messaging in the US makes casual analysis extremely difficult. But in principle the concept of a religious democratic republic is perfectly feasible, merely adding one more separate power to measure off against other powers in the grand balance.

  • I am a little bit skeptic about the sentence: "Because Iran aimed to be an Islamic republic". The Iranians wanted just to get rid of a tyrant. Khomeini got most of the support because he was the most known leader among the opposition. Whether they really wanted an Islamic state or whether the Islamic state managed to impose itself in the power vacuum is open for discussion.
    – FluidCode
    Mar 7, 2020 at 16:07
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    @FluidCode: speculation on motivations is always problematic. The question in my mind is if they merely wanted an Islamic autocracy, why not model their government on Saudi Arabia, rather than the US system? No doubt they could have found a new Shah to replace the old Shah... But they went out of their way to set up democratic institutions. You're right though, it's not an easy question. Mar 7, 2020 at 16:15
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    I'd dispute this description of the House of Lords. Its current role is to scrutinise legislation in a more detailed and unhurried way than the Commons, and to do so with less partisan politics (as no party has a majority, and there are a large number of independents). As a result, its value lies in asking the Commons to "think again". I'd argue that morals doesn't come into it, as the Commons almost always gets its way (and can overrule the Lords after a delay) - and that's despite the presence of bishops in the Lords. Mar 7, 2020 at 18:05
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    @TedWrigley: it's true that the Lords may object to parts of legislation on moral grounds; but they also object for technical, practical, legal and other reasons too. Hence I'd still argue that the description of the purpose of the Lords as moral guardians or similar is still not accurate - or at least, not the whole story. Mar 7, 2020 at 18:29
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    (+1) Though actually this fourth branch is overwhelmly powerful, rendering Iran as a failed democracy because the other three branches are effectively subservient to the religious one.
    – Rekesoft
    Mar 9, 2020 at 12:57

As someone who has been brought up in Iran after the revolution, I would say that Khomeinisme is not a democratic Ideology.

The article 110 of Islamic Republic's constitution(endorsed by Khomeini and implemented during his lifetime) shows simply that Khomeinisme as well as Islamic Republic are far from any kind of democracy:

Following are the duties and powers of the Leadership:

1.Delineation of the general policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran after consultation with the Nation's Exigency Council.

2.Supervision over the proper execution of the general policies of the system.

3.Issuing decrees for national referenda.

4.Assuming supreme command of the armed forces.

5.Declaration of war and peace, and the mobilization of the armed forces.

6.Appointment, dismissal, and acceptance of resignation of:

a.the fuqaha on the Guardian Council.

b.the supreme judicial authority of the country.

c.the head of the radio and television net- work of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

d.the chief of the joint staff. e. the chief commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps.

f.the supreme commanders of the armed forces.

7.Resolving differences between the three wings of the armed forces and regulation of their relations.

8.Resolving the problems, which cannot be solved by conventional methods, through the Nation's Exigency Council.

9.Signing the decree formalizing the election of the President of the Republic by the people. The suitability of candidates for the Presidency of the Republic, with respect to the qualifications specified in the Constitution, must be confirmed before elections take place by the Guardian Council, and, in the case of the first term [of the Presidency], by the Leadership;

10.Dismissal of the President of the Republic, with due regard for the interests of the country, after the Supreme Court holds him guilty of the violation of his constitutional duties, or after a vote of the Islamic Consultative Assembly testifying to his incompetence on the basis of Article 89 of the Constitution.

11.Pardoning or reducing the sentences of convicts, within the framework of Islamic criteria, on a recommendation [to that effect] from the Head of judicial power.

The Leader may delegate part of his duties and powers to another person.

I think this is enough to prove that such country cannot be democratic. There are many examples that prove antidemocratic nature of this ideology, but talking about them is out of the scope of this post. For some examples you can take a look at this post.

For example execution of political prisoners in 1988 in Iran was ordered by Khomeini and his fatwa for assassination of Salman Rushdi are two examples of the antidemocratic nature of Khomeinisme.

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