The of Wilayat al-Faqih faces as a concept

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The Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 was a seminal event that brought
to centre-stage the clergy as the ruling institution in the country. The
doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih, which underpins this revolutionary change,
is not just a theory, but a working model of politics being currently
practiced in a modern nation-state like Iran, with a transcendental appeal
beyond its borders. The first essay in this section is an enquiry into the
phenomenon and explores diverse aspects related to it. In view of Iran’s
rise as a regional power, the significance of studying the institutions of
Iran and the basis of their legitimacy increases manifold. This essay is a
contribution in that direction.

In the introductory part of this essay, the author has discussed the
jurisprudential origin of the doctrine, with its historical evolution based on
the distinct interpretation of the Shiite School of Islam. In the next section,
the practical implementation of the doctrine is discussed, and the
consequence of it is carefully investigated with particular focus on the
nuances of Ayatollah Khomeini’s interpretation. The discussion goes further
into the challenges the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih faces as a concept and
as a political doctrine. From the different competing narratives of political
formation in parallel to the doctrine, to the debates within the religious
domain, the arguments are examined, and their manifestation in setting up
and challenging the Wilayat al-Faqih discourse is investigated. The essay
brings in some important arguments from the clergy, both inside and outside
Iran, to put the challenges to the doctrine in a proper perspective.

One of the significant areas covered in this essay is concerned with
the appeal of the doctrine beyond Iranian borders. Here, the author
provides an exclusive section to explore the doctrine’s influence in
countries like Lebanon, Iraq, and Pakistan. Readers can also note the
important remarks made in the context of India. The essay concludes with
a discussion on developments in the practical interpretation and
implementation of the doctrine, and the succession issue of Iran’s Supreme
Leader in the future. There is a detailed analysis of the role of Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei in consolidating the rule of juris consult and the challenges
of the succession issue. In the conclusion, some observations are made
based on the whole thesis of the essay.

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The change in regime in Iran in 1979 transformed it from being a
pillar supporting the dominant US position in the region into becoming
one of its most implacable foes. The differences between the two grew
with the passage of years, and were made nearly unbridgeable by the
stand-off over the nuclear issue. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
(JCPOA) was the result of an exercise in the diplomacy of exploring the
art of the possible.

The second chapter examines developments pertaining to three key
areas as they have evolved in the post JCPOA period. These include the
status of the Iran-United States ties; issues relating to sanctions relief and
Iran’s economic situation; and the regional strategic situation. JCPOA was
limited to the nuclear issue and not a grand bargain. Concerns pertaining
to each other’s regional behaviour and policy goals remain; these have
prevented a further thaw in US-Iran interactions. While the monetary
benefits of the deal have not yet fully materialized on the ground, the
limited promise of the deal to translate into regional geo-political goodwill
is yet to be realised. The attitude of the new US administration could make
the situation even more difficult.

The third chapter examines how Iran is perceived in the region, and
how the US-Iran relationship is an important factor in regional politics.
Directly, indirectly, or through proxies, Iran has been involved, or is seen
to be accentuating, many regional conflicts and tensions in the region, and
its influence extends far beyond its immediate borders to Iraq, Lebanon,
Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen. This has increased fears and apprehensions
amongst its regional rivals and competitors, such as Egypt, Israel, Saudi
Arabia, and Turkey over Iran’s hegemonic intentions. These countries are
increasingly uncomfortable with the Iranian influence in regions, which
they consider as their own spheres of influence—that is, the Arabian
Peninsula and Levant. The authors argue that the Obama administration’s actions in limiting US involvement in the Middle East and concluding the
nuclear deal with Iran, has created the conditions for Iranian regional
ascendance, increased its staying power, and that the growing Iranian
influence will have implications for the region. For India, the resultant
growing Saudi-Iranian tension will be worrisome, especially when New
Delhi seeks close politico-strategic partnerships with both the Gulf States. 

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