|Background: Known as Persia until 1935, Iran became an Islamic republic
in 1979 after the ruling monarchy was overthrown and the shah was forced into exile.
Conservative clerical forces established a theocratic system of government with
ultimate political authority nominally vested in a learned religious scholar.
Iranian-US relations have been strained since a group of Iranian students seized the
US Embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979 and held it until 20 January 1981. During
1980-88, Iran fought a bloody, indecisive war with Iraq that eventually expanded into
the Persian Gulf and led to clashes between US Navy and Iranian military forces
between 1987-1988. Iran has been designated a state sponsor of terrorism for its
activities in Lebanon and elsewhere in the world and remains subject to US economic
sanctions and export controls because of its continued involvement. Following the
elections of a reformist president and Majlis in the late 1990s, attempts to foster
political reform in response to popular dissatisfaction have floundered as
conservative politicians have prevented reform measures from being enacted, increased
repressive measures, and consolidated their control over the government.
Government type: theocratic republic
Currency: 10 Iranian rials (IR) = 1 toman; note - domestic figures are generally referred to in terms of the toman
Geography of Iran
Location: Middle East, bordering the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, and the
Caspian Sea, between Iraq and Pakistan
People of Iran
Almost two-thirds of Iran's people are of Aryan origin--their ancestors migrated from Central Asia. The major groups in this category include Persians, Kurds, Lurs, and Baluchi. The remainder are primarily Turkic but also include Arabs, Armenians, Jews, and Assyrians.
The 1979 Islamic revolution and the war with Iraq transformed Iran's class structure politically, socially, and economically. In general, however, Iranian society remains divided into urban, market-town, village, and tribal groups. Clerics, called mullahs, dominate politics and nearly all aspects of Iranian life, both urban and rural. After the fall of the Pahlavi regime in 1979, much of the urban upper class of prominent merchants, industrialists, and professionals, favored by the former Shah, lost standing and influence to the senior clergy and their supporters. Bazaar merchants, who were allied with the clergy against the Pahlavi shahs, have also gained political and economic power since the revolution. The urban working class has enjoyed somewhat enhanced status and economic mobility, spurred in part by opportunities provided by revolutionary organizations and the government bureaucracy.
Unemployment, a major problem even before the revolution, has many causes, including population growth, the war with Iraq, and shortages of raw materials and trained managers. Farmers and peasants received a psychological boost from the attention given them by the Islamic regime but appear to be hardly better off in economic terms. The government has made progress on rural development, including electrification and road building but has not yet made a commitment to land redistribution.
Most Iranians are Muslims; 89% belong to the Shi'a branch of Islam, the official state religion, and about 10% belong to the Sunni branch, which predominates in neighboring Muslim countries. Non-Muslim minorities include Zoroastrians, Jews, Baha'is, and Christians.
Population: 68,017,860 (July 2005 est.)
SOURCES: The World Factbook, U.S. Department of State
Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > Iran > Map Economy History