|Iran Table of Contents
The government under the monarchy had been highly centralized. Although in theory the shah was a constitutional monarch, in practice he wielded extraordinary power as head of state, chief executive, and commander in chief of the armed forces. The shah was actively involved in day-to-day decision making and played a pivotal role as the most important formulator of national goals and priorities.
During the Revolution, the authority that had been concentrated in the shah and exercised through the bureaucracy based in Tehran was severely eroded; many governmental functions were usurped by several hundred komitehs that sprang up in urban neighborhoods, towns, and villages throughout the country. By the time the provisional government of Bazargan had acceded to power, these komitehs, usually attached to local mosques, were reluctant to surrender to the central government any of the wide-ranging powers they had assumed. Their determination to retain substantial power was supported by most members of the Revolutionary Council, a body formed by Khomeini in January 1979 to supervise the transition from monarchy to republic. The Revolutionary Council remained independent of the provisional government and undertook actions, or sanctioned those actions carried out by the revolutionary committees, that were in conflict with the policies pursued by the Bazargan cabinet. Inevitably, the provisional government, which wanted to reestablish the authority of the central government, would come into conflict with the komitehs and the proliferation of revolutionary organizations.
Bazargan's lack of essential backing from the Revolutionary Council, and ultimately from Khomeini, made it virtually impossible for his government to exercise effective control over arrests, trials, the appointment of officials, military-civilian relations, and property confiscations. Consequently, the various revolutionary organizations and the komitehs persistently challenged the authority of the provisional government throughout its brief tenure. Bazargan's apparent powerlessness even extended to the realm of foreign policy. When a group of college students overran the United States embassy in downtown Tehran, Bazargan and his cabinet were unable to prevent American personnel from being held as hostages. Acknowledging the impotence of his administration, Bazargan resigned after only nine months in office.
The issue of central versus local control that had plagued the Bazargan government continued to be a matter of political contention in 1987. Although the extreme diffusion of power that characterized the Bazargan government no longer prevailed in 1987, in comparison with the pre- revolutionary situation, political power in Iran was relatively decentralized. This arrangement represented a balance between two vocal factions within the political elite. A procentralization faction has argued that the goals of an Islamic republic can best be achieved and maintained only if the institutions of government are strong. In contrast, a decentralization faction has insisted that bureaucratization is inherently destructive of long-term objectives and that the future of the Revolution can only be ensured through extensive popular participation in numerous revolutionary organizations.
More about the Government and Politics of Iran.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress