Iran promises to be in the headlines well through this decade as the world watches its nuclear program and the fervor of the Arab Spring continues to stir a youthful opposition movement years in the making. Here are some of the key issues to understand about the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Supreme Leader position was created by the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and the first to hold this title was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. There has only been one other supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who took power the day after Khomeini died and has been ruling ever since. But the ruling structure doesn't stop there.
The Supreme Leader is the last word on all dealings in the Islamic Republic, even the confirmation of an elected president, and an international mouthpiece for the Islamic Revolution as the second ayatollah to serve as the conservative figurehead since 1979.
Ahmadinejad is a civil engineer by trade who won favor with the ruling theocracy through unappointed governorships and administrative roles. The former mayor of Tehran after winning a city council seat with just 12 percent voter turnout; he's a hardliner who regularly tangles with the international community and has drawn criticism from within Iran for putting forth such a combative stance.
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, father of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, was a Twelver. So is the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Twelvers -- not other Shiites or Sunni Muslims -- believe that al-Mahdi will return as a messiah with Jesus to bring peace to the world and establish Islam as the ruling faith across the globe. The apocalyptic catch? The Mahdi is expected to appear when the world is wracked in utter chaos and war.
The country and vast surrounding lands were known as Persia (derrived from the ancient kingdom of Parsa and the Persian empire) until 1935, when Iran came into international use (though in local use long before that) for the country whose boundaries we see today. The Islamic Republic of Iran was founded in 1979 following the revolution.
On June 12, 2009, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faced off against three challengers in Iran's presidential election. Despite huge turnout, Ahmadinejad was quickly declared the winner by a landslide over strong reformist candidate and former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Mousavi's supporters, wearing the campaign color green, poured out into the streets to protest what was widely perceived as a fraudulent election.
Iran continues to defy the international community's calls to halt its nuclear program. Here are key known facilities within that program.
Obama promised to extend his hand if Iran would unclench its fist, but will the U.S. even get Iran to the bargaining table in the first place? Most of the Islamic Republic's response to the U.S. has been in the form of challenging Obama to prove that he was a "change" from the Bush administration. Ahmadinejad has even challenged Obama to debate multiple times.
The United States accused Iran in October 2011 of being behind a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington D.C. Tehran hotly denied the accusations, in which two men were charged and Treasury Department sanctions were levied on a total of five people (including four members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force). To anyone who has followed the tenuous relationship of Iran and Saudi Arabia, the plot on its face alone would seem plausible from the standpoint of a hearty helping of motive: There is no love lost between these two countries. (Also see: King Abdullah)
While a student at the University of Tehran in 1999, Batebi joined the mass student protests against the government and was photographed holding another protester's bloodied T-shirt. After The Economist ran the photo on its front page, Batebi was tracked down by Iranian authorities and arrested. He was first sentenced to death and then to a term at the notorious Evin Prison, where he was held in a wing reserved for dissidents and supposed enemies of state.
Pourzand filled the role of a key opposition voice, writing articles critical of the regime for reformist newspapers. He was abducted by state security forces in 2001 and put on a private "trial" while denied legal representation in which he was sentenced to 11 years in prison and 74 lashes, which naturally made human-rights organizations cry foul, for an array of charges including “spying and undermining state security” and “links with monarchists and counter-revolutionaries.”
Nearly 78 million people live in Iran. The largest ethnic group is Persian, with 61 percent of the population, and the official religion is Shiite Islam. Learn more about the country from its national symbols to its economy.