Track Perisa Feb 25, 2017

The establishment of the theocratic regime in Iran by the late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini  not only has transformed the governance in Iran into a totalitarian and suppressive but also have had huge impacts on Iran’s  foreign policies.[i]

Khomeini developed the Shi’i doctrine known as  wilayat al-faqih (the governance of jurisprudent) in the way  that he  as a jurisprudent be the representative on earth of the Hidden Imam , the Ithna Ashari Shia’s Twelfth Imam who they  believe he disappeared in the 10th century and  will return to rule the world in justice. He adopted the system of government based on  the principle od wilayat al-faqih (vilayat-ifaqih in Persian language).

Shortly after the seizure of political power in Iran by the Ithna AsharI Shi’i movement that overthrew the late shah of Iran in 1979, Khomeini carried out a major transformation in  Iran’s foreign relations by consistently rejecting the contemporary international system, and putting  in its place a new system based on his own version of Islamic principles inspired by the Imam Mahdi. .

Khomeini stated that there should be no boundaries for the imam and that his form of Shi’i  ideology was  to be exported to all other Muslim countries. He came forward to claim the leadership, not only of all Shi’i Muslims in the world, but of all Muslims everywhere. His Islamic Republic is based on the slogan of the ‘liberation’ of mankind. Muslim governments which did not accept his leadership, and which therefore in his eyes had forms of government which he had declared to be ‘oppressive,’ must be overthrown.  The founder of the Islamic Republic in Iran classified Muslim countries that clearly rejected his system of governance as rejectionists or enemies, and therefore it would  be necessary to bring about a revolution in these countries so that truly Islamic governments  be installed. In his view, Iran was uniquely qualified to assume the role of world leader. But this definition had exceptions. For example, Syrian regime is a secular Ba’ath party, and presumably the Syrian people were therefore oppressed. Yet Khomeini did not issue a call for the overthrow of the late Syrian dictator Hafiz Assad government, for the very good reason that it was  from the beginning a staunch supporter of his regime. It is worth mentioning that the Syrian ruling elite mainly come from Alawite, another branch of Shi’i sect.

The constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran states that the government of the Islamic Republic has the duty of formulating its general policies with a view to the merging and union of all Muslim peoples, and it must constantly strive to bring about the political, economic and cultural unity of the Islamic world.

The leaders of the ruling party repeatedly stressed that the Islamic revolution could not be contained within the borders of Iran In 1979.  In 1981, the then president of Iran, Ayatollah  AlI Khamanai, (currently Iran’s Supreme Leader) declared that ‘there are no geographic boundaries for the Imam’; the Islamic revolution, like the gentle spring breeze, does not recognize gates and walls, distance, barriers or frontiers.’

The prevailing ideology of the Khomeini’s regime was known as ‘the imam’s line’; it had both an internal and an external aspect. The imam’s line was designed to destroy any initiative on the part of the masses and to crush opposition within Iran. The export model of this ideology sought to mobilize the revolutionary fervour of the masses, particularly in the Arab Gulf countries which have substantial Ithna Ashari  Shi’i populations, and to attempt the overthrow of the Sunni regimes in those countries; the goal was to establish in such countries Islamic states similar to that in Iran.

Khomeini’s particularly tempting targets were those countries in which Shi’is were on even terms, numerically speaking, with Sunnis, and those in which Shi’is constituted an actual majority of the population but were ruled by a Sunni elite such as  Iraq and  Bahrain.

Khomeini’s brand of Islam hugely influenced the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic in a variety of ways and was used both to motivate and to justify policy choices. He tried to export the revolutionary ideology of the Islamic Republic by sending agents to subvert a number of governments in the Gulf region. Throughout 1979 and 1980, agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran were active in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Kuwait. In November 1981, Ithna Ashari Shia demonstrated in the streets of Bahrain shouting ‘God is most great! Khomeini is our leader’. In September 1982 the Iranian religious leader, Hujjat al-Islam Musavi Khuayni led a band of Shia to Mecca on the occasion of the pilgrimage and stated that his aim was to ‘smash the conspiracies of the deviated people  referring to  the Saudi royal family.  In the autumn of 1983, there was an abortive pro-Khomeini coup in Qatar.

The most dramatic result of this policy however, was the outbreak of war between Iran and Iraq in September 1980, a war claimed lives of hundred thousands of lives.  Khomeini  was the one who provoked a ‘pre-emptive strike’ on the part of Iraq by calling on the Shia in Iraq  to rise up against the Ba’ath government and demand autonomy for themselves.

By exporting, the Islamic revolution in Iran, Khomeini attempted to radically change the balance of power in the Gulf region and the Middle East in general and precipitate alliances and allegiances.

Threatened by  Khomeini’s ambition to export the Islamic revolution, the Arab Gulf states established the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) in 1981 to create collective security through closer defence ties among the signatories: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. One of major principal aims of the GCC was to frustrate attempts by Khomeini to subvert their own regimes.

Khomeini’s wilayat al-faqih  theory of governance which permits the Shi’i religious leaders attain political power and control of the state, not only  has led to the establishment  of a totalitarian and one-party state and  affected Iran’s foreign relations but also disturbed the balance of power in the region and the Middle East in general.

[i] Based on ‘Council The Added Touch’: Ithna Ashari Shi’ism as a Factor in the Foreign Policy of Iran’ by Roger Savory  published in International Journal, Vol. 41, No. 2, Southwest Asia, Spring, 1986.


About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.