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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Profile

Area: 1.648 million sq km (636,296 sq miles)
Population: 75.1 million (2010 estimate)
Capital City: Tehran (population (2006 census) approx 7.5 million)
People: The majority are Persian, but there is a significant Azeri minority. Other ethnic groups include Kurds, Arabs, Lurs, Baluchis and Turkmen
Languages: Persian (Farsi) is the national language. Azeri is the next most widely spoken language, most Azeri speakers living in the northwest around Tabriz. Other minority languages include Kurdish, Arabic, Luri and Baluchi
Religion(s): The official religion is Shi'a Islam. The majority of the population are Muslims, approximately 89% are Shi'a, 10% are Sunni, mainly Kurds. The rest are mainly Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian or Bahá'í
Currency: £1 = 17372 (Nov 2011) Iranian Rials (10 Rials=1 Toman)
Government: Islamic Republic
Head of State: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i
President: Dr Mahmud Ahmadinejad
Foreign Minister: Ali-Akbar Salehi
Membership of international groups/organisations: see International Relations for more details

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ECONOMY

Basic Economic Facts

GDP (IMF 2011): $475.052 billion
GDP per capita (PPP): (IMF 2011) $12,258.164 GDP Growth Rate: 2.5%
Inflation Rate: 22.5%
Unemployment Rate: 15.3%
Major Industries: Oil accounts for approximately 80% of all export earnings. Other main trading areas are petrochemicals, mineral products, agriculture, textiles, construction materials, metal fabrication, and food processing. Major trading partners (OECD): China, UAE, Japan, India, Germany, South Korea, Italy, Russia and Turkey.

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HISTORY

BBC News Iran Timeline. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-14542438)

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Iran have been cut off and restored several times since the 1979 Revolution. On 29 November 2011, with the acquiescence of the Iranian authorities, student Basij militia entered the British Embassy in Tehran and a residential compound in the north of the city and caused extensive damage. The Embassy is currently closed and British diplomats have been withdrawn. Iranian diplomats in the UK were ordered to leave London on 2 December 2011. Diplomatic relations have not been severed and the UK is currently exploring other ways of ensuring that UK interests in Iran are protected.

The UK wants Iran to be a secure and prosperous country, co-operating with and respected by the international community, but we will maintain a robust dialogue on issues of concern. These issues include: Human rights and fundamental freedoms; Iran's nuclear programme; (http://ukiniran.fco.gov.uk/en/about-us/working-with-iran/human-rights-iran/) Iran's support for terrorism and groups seeking to undermine regional security.

United States/Iran relations have not formally been restored since they were broken off in 1980, although the US State Department recently opened a “virtual” online Embassy (http://iran.usembassy.gov). In March 2009 President Obama offered a Tehran “new beginning” in US-Iran relations, if Iran agreed to meet its international obligations. However Iran’s response to this was complicated by the aftermath of the June 2009 Presidential elections in Iran, which were met by widespread international criticism.

Iranian Nuclear Programme / Sanctions. (http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/global-issues/counter-proliferation/nuclear-2010/regional-issues/iran-regional/)

Iran and the Middle East

The UK has serious concerns about the role Iran is playing in the Middle East. This includes Iran’s backing of Hizbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas and other Palestinian Rejectionist Groups. This undermines international efforts to foster stability and security in these countries, and has caused serious tensions with Iran’s neighbours. Its support to militia groups in Iraq and the Taleban in Afghanistan also undermines efforts to foster stability and security, despite Iran’s claims to support stability and pledging of funds for reconstruction in both countries.

Iran does not accept the two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. Iranian leaders have argued that Israel's existence is illegitimate, because it came about as a result of the destruction of Palestine. President Ahmadinejad’s statements have been met by widespread international outcry and condemned by countries across the world, as well as the United Nations Security Council. The Iranians have had ample opportunity to clarify what they meant and yet they have continued to use inflammatory language about the State of Israel and the Holocaust. Such comments only undermine regional security and international confidence in Iran’s willingness to act as a respectable member of the international community.

Iran takes a critical approach to the Middle East Peace Process and we are concerned at the material and political support Iran provides to groups undermining peace in the Middle East through violence.

Iran’s relations with other countries in the Middle East are often tense. Arab governments in particular are deeply concerned by Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the Middle East, including on the nuclear issue. The UK has a regular and detailed dialogue with countries in the Middle East to develop a shared understanding of how to address these challenges.

Iran has attempted to characterise the dramatic events in the Middle East in the first part of 2011, including the removal of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as inspired by the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It claimed support for freedom in the Arab world at the same time as suppressing protests in Iran. It has also sought to capitalise on the unrest in Bahrain by seeking to portray itself as the defender of Bahrain’s Shi’a Muslims and criticising the deployment of GCC forces. However, following the Arab Spring, Iran’s relations with many of its neighbours have deteriorated further, particular with the Gulf States. There is also concern at Iran’s role in helping the Syrian regime suppress protests in Syria.

The FCO’s Annual Report on Human Rights (http://fcohrdreport.readandcomment.com/human-rights-in-countries-of-concern/iran/)

The UK is deeply concerned about the lack of respect for human rights in Iran, not least the widespread use of the death penalty, with the highest number of executions per capita in the world. Freedom of expression and opinion is also a serious concern – in December 2011, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Iran was the ‘world’s worst jailer’ of journalists. Many human rights defenders and lawyers were imprisoned after the sustained crackdown following the disputed elections in 2009. The systematic persecution of the members of the Baha’i faith in Iran is also a cause of great concern.

The UK is determined that Iran should be held to account for violations of its international human rights obligations and in 2011 was actively involved in the following initiatives to strengthen the international focus on Iran’s human rights record:

-- the appointment by the UN Human Rights Council on 24 March of an UN Special Rapporteur on Iran human rights.

-- the introduction of EU targeted sanctions against 61 individuals this year responsible for human rights abuses in Iran.

-- a UN General Assembly resolution on Iran human rights which passed on 21 November with a record support.

For more details see. (http://fcohrdreport.readandcomment.com/human-rights-in-countries-of-concern/iran/)

Cultural relations with the UK

The British Council was forced by Iran to suspend its operations in Iran on 31 January 2009. Please visit www.britishcouncil.org (http://www.britishcouncil.org) or follow https://www.facebook.com/britishcounciliran (https://www.facebook.com/britishcounciliran) for further details.

In September 2010, the British Museum lent the 2500 years old Cyrus Cylinder (the Cylinder is often cited as the first declaration of human rights) to the National Museum of Iran for an exhibition. The Cylinder was found during a British Museum excavation at Babylon in Iraq in 1879, and has been in the British Museum since that time. It has now returned to the British Museum.

Visits

In September 2011, Foreign Secretary William Hague met his Iranian counterpart in the margins of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). In September 2009, the previous Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, met Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, at UNGA and again, at the Afghanistan Conference, in January 2010. Foreign Secretary William Hague met Mr Mottaki at UNGA in September 2010

The Foreign Affairs Committee visited Iran in November 2007 as part of their work on the report 'Global Security: Iran', which was published in March 2008. The FAC had previously visited in October 2003.

Saeed Jalili, then Deputy Foreign Minister for Europe, visited the UK in September 2007. Jalili visited the UK again in November 2007 as Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.

Manouchehr Mottaki, Foreign Minister, visited the UK in January 2006 to attend an international conference on Afghanistan.

Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw visited Tehran on 25 September 2001. One of the main aims of his visit was to discuss the international fight against terrorism following the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in the US on 11 September. He paid four more visits to Iran, the last in October 2003.

In February 2001, Mo Mowlam became the first British Cabinet Minister to visit Iran since the revolution. The visit centred on efforts to curb drug trafficking from Afghanistan through Iran and into Europe, in part through signing a Memorandum of Understanding on drugs issues.

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GEOGRAPHY

Iran is bounded to the north by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea, to the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and to the west by Iraq and Turkey. It is nearly seven times the size of the UK and twice the size of Turkey. The centre and east of the country is largely barren desert, punctuated by oases. There are mountainous regions in the west along the Turkish and Iraqi borders and in the north, where the Alborz Mountains rise steeply from a fertile belt around the Caspian Sea.

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT

We discourage UK companies from undertaking new business with Iran on account of our concerns over its nuclear programme. Consequently the Government does not provide any support for trade with Iran.

However, outside of the current sanctions regime, the Government cannot, at present, prevent UK companies from taking on new work in Iran. Those that do must proceed at their own risk. If business dealings get into trouble, the Government will not be able to assist.

Further details and guidance can also be found on the UKTI website (http://www.businesslink.gov.uk/bdotg/action/detail?itemId=1086236126&r.i=1086235569&r.l1=1079717544&r.l2=1084228483&r.l3=1084100244&r.l4=1084127310&r.s=m&r.t=RESOURCES&type=RESOURCES) and HM Treasury website. (http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/fin_sanctions_iran.htm)

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POLITICS

Constitution

The present Constitution was adopted after the 1979 revolution. It stipulates that Iran is an Islamic Republic and the teachings of Islam are to be the basis of all political, social and economic relations.

Overall authority is vested in the Supreme Leader, currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is chosen by the Assembly of Experts, an elected body of 86 religious scholars chosen from all over Iran. The Supreme Leader is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

The executive branch is headed by a President, elected by universal adult suffrage for a term of four years and restricted by the Constitution to no more than two consecutive terms in office.

Legislative powers are held by the Majles, consisting of 290 elected members who represent regional areas or religious communities for a four-year term. Iranian Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews have dedicated Majles representatives. The Majles also approve the members of the Council of Ministers, the Iranian equivalent of the UK's Cabinet, who are appointed by the President. The Council of Guardians reviews legislation passed by the Majles for constitutionality and adherence to Islamic law. It is composed of six theologians appointed by the Supreme Leader and six jurists nominated by the judiciary and approved by the Majles. The Council of Guardians also has the power to vet candidates for the Majles, local councils, the Presidency and the Assembly of Experts. It has used this function with increasing severity over time.

The Council for the Discernment of Expediency was created in 1988 to resolve disputes over legislation between the Majles and the Council of Guardians. In August 1989 it became an advisory body on national policy and constitutional issues for the Supreme Leader. It is currently led by former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and includes the heads of all three branches of government and the clerical members of the Council of Guardians. The Supreme Leader appoints other members for a three-year term.

Political parties were legalised in 1998 after a 13-year ban and are still at an early stage of development. Parties must accept the principle of Velayat-e Faqih meaning rule by the Islamic Jurist or 'Faqih' – the Supreme Leader.

Factions, particularly in the Majles, are most often defined broadly as 'reformist' or 'conservative'. The dominant faction in the Majles is currently Abadgaran, the Development Coalition of Islamic Iran, whose platform is conservative.

Recent Political Developments

The last Presidential election took place in June 2009. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected following a strongly disputed result, President Ahmadinejad secured 62.6% of the vote, while Mir Hossein Mousavi received 33.8%. There were serious concerns about fraud and vote-rigging which led to protests by thousands of opposition supporters. At least 20 people were killed and over 5,000 arrested. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supported the official result and Mr Ahmadinejad was re-elected for his second term.

Ahmadinejad was elected on a populist conservative agenda promising social justice, economic redistribution and an anti-corruption campaign. One of his most ambitious undertakings has been the removal of government price subsidies. The Supreme Leader has been generally supportive of the president's policies, although he has criticised the government for failing to curb inflation. However, there have been increasingly public signs of tension between the Supreme Leader and the President during 2011.

The last Majles election was in March 2008, when about a third of candidates were disqualified from standing. The EU expressed “deep regret and disappointment” over the high level of disqualifications, making the election neither free nor fair.

Following the Iranian Presidential elections, there were significant demonstrations in Iran’s larger cities on 12 June 2009 and again on 27 December 2009. After a period without significant demonstrations, there were demonstrations staged in February, March and June 2011. During this period at least two opposition leaders were placed under house arrest and a large number of protesters were taken into custody. Demonstrations were held in Tehran, Esfahan and Shiraz and possibly other cities. Police and security forces were deployed in large numbers.

In 2009 and again in 2011, senior regime figures and the Iranian state media claimed that foreign governments including the UK were behind the demonstrations. Following these false claims against the UK, two British diplomats were expelled from Iran on 29 June 2009 and nine Iranian members of the Embassy staff were detained on 27 July 2009.

BBC website: Iran's Political System (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-14541327)

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Last Updated: December 2011

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