The Post-Revolution Constitution of Persia

  October 09, 2021   Read time 4 min
The Post-Revolution Constitution of Persia
The constitution endowed the Supreme Leader with wide-ranging authority. He could “determine the interests of Islam,” “set general guidelines for the Islamic Republic,” “supervise policy implementation,” and “mediate between the executive, legislative, and judiciary.”

The main task at hand after the revolution was the drafting of a new constitution to replace the 1906 fundamental laws. This prompted a somewhat uneven struggle between, on the one hand, Khomeini and his disciples, determined to institutionalize their concept of velayat-e faqeh, and, on the other hand, Mehdi Bazargan, the official prime minister, and his liberal lay Muslim supporters, eager to draw up a constitution modeled on Charles de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic. They envisaged a republic that would be Islamic in name but democratic in content. This conflict also indicated the existence of a dual government.

On one side was the Provisional Government headed by Bazargan and filled by fellow veterans from Mossadeq’s nationalist movement. Some cabinet ministers were members of Bazargan’s Liberation Movement; others came from the more secular National Front. Khomeini had set up this Provisional Government to reassure the government bureaucracy – the ministries as well as the armed forces. He wanted to remove the shah, not dismantle the whole state. On the other side was the far more formidable shadow clerical government. In the last days of the revolution, Khomeini set up in Tehran a Revolutionary Council and a Central Komiteh (Committee).

The former acted as a watchdog on the Provisional Government. The latter brought under its wing the local komitehs and their pasdars (guards) that had sprung up in the many mosques scattered throughout the country. It also purged from these units clerics closely associated with other religious leaders – especially Shariatmadari. Immediately after the fall of the shah, Khomeini established in Tehran a Revolutionary Tribunal to oversee the ad hoc courts that had appeared throughout the country; and in Qom a Central Mosque Office whose task was to appoint imam jum’ehs to provincial capitals.

For the first time, a central clerical institution took control over provincial imam jum’ehs. In other words, the shadow state dwarfed the official one. Bazargan complained: “In theory, the government is in charge; but, in reality, it is Khomeini who is in charge – he with his Revolutionary Council, his revolutionary Komitehs, and his relationship with the masses.” “They put a knife in my hands,” he added, “but it’s a knife with only a handle. Others are holding the blade.”

Bazargan’s first brush with Khomeini came as early as March when the country prepared to vote either yes or no in a referendum on instituting an Islamic Republic. Bazargan wanted to give the public the third choice of a Democratic Islamic Republic. Khomeini refused with the argument:“What the nation needs is an Islamic Republic – not a Democratic Republic nor a Democratic Islamic Republic. Don’t use the Western term ‘democratic.’ Those who call for such a thing don’t know anything about Islam.”

He later added: “Islam does not need adjectives such as democratic. Precisely because Islam is everything, it means everything. It is sad for us to add another word near the word Islam, which is perfect.” The referendum, held on April 1, produced 99 percent yes votes for the Islamic Republic. Twenty million – out of an electorate of twenty-one million – participated. This laid the ground for elections to a 73-man constituent body with the newly coined name of Majles-e Khebregan (Assembly of Experts) – a term with religious connotations. In August, the country held elections for these delegates. All candidates were closely vetted by the Central Komiteh, the Central Mosque Office, and the newly formed Society for the Militant Clergy of Tehran (Jam’eh-e Rouhaniyan-e Mobarez-e Tehran). Not surprisingly, the elections produced landslide victories for Khomeini’s disciples. The winners included fifteen ayatollahs, forty hojjat al-islams, and eleven laymen closely associated with Khomeini. The Assembly of Experts set to work drafting the Islamic Constitution.

The final product was a hybrid – albeit weighted heavily in favor of one – between Khomeini’s velayat-e faqeh and Bazargan’s French Republic; between divine rights and the rights of man; between theocracy and democracy; between vox dei and vox populi; and between clerical authority and popular sovereignty. The document contained 175 clauses – 40 amendments were added upon Khomeini’s death.25 The document was to remain in force until the return of the Mahdi. The preamble affirmed faith in God, Divine Justice, the Koran, Judgment Day, the Prophet Muhammad, the Twelve Imams, the return of the Hidden Mahdi, and, most pertinent of all, Khomeini’s concept of velayat-e faqeh. It reaffirmed opposition to all forms of authoritarianism, colonialism, and imperialism. The introductory clauses bestowed on Khomeini such titles as Supreme Faqeh, Supreme Leader, Guide of the Revolution, Founder of the Islamic Republic, Inspirer of the Mostazafen, and, most potent of all, Imam of the Muslim Umma – Shi’is had never before bestowed on a living person this sacred title with its connotations of Infallibility. Khomeini was declared Supreme Leader for life. It was stipulated that upon his death the Assembly of Experts could either replace him with one paramount religious figure, or, if no such person emerged, with a Council of Leadership formed of three or five faqehs. It was also stipulated that they could dismiss them if they were deemed incapable of carrying out their duties. The constitution retained the national tricolor, henceforth incorporating the inscription “God is Great.”

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