Is Iran a Theocracy, a Democracy, or Both? (Worksheet)

Understanding Iran's government structure from a government official's perspective

View of inside of the Iranian Parliament. CREDIT: Mahdi Sigari via Wikipedia

On November 15, 2011, Mohammad Javad Ardashir Larijani spoke at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs on a variety of topics concerning Iranian politics. At the time of the talk, he was a senior advisor to the head of the Judiciary and secretary general of the High Council for Human Rights of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Previously, he has served as a Majlis representative (member of Parliament), the director of Majlis Research Center, and a vice minister of foreign affairs.

In the excerpt found on the top right sidebar, Mohammad Javad Ardashir Larijani explains why he views Iran's government as a "democratic structure based on Islamic rationality," and what exactly that means. The text can help students understand how Iran in the government's eyes is a hybrid of a theocracy and democracy. The full text of the talk can be found here.

Discussion Questions:

1. Why does the speaker dislike the concept of secular liberalism for Iran?
2. What is "Islamic rationality" and how does it differ from Islamism?
3. Do you think a "democratic structure based on Islamic rationality" accurately describes Iran's government? Use evidence to explain your answer.
4. Based upon what you know about the Iranian Revolution (1978-79), why do you think Mohammad Javad Ardashir Larijani places such an emphasis on "culture" when describing the current Iranian government structure?
5. Do you agree with the statement that "in order to be democratic, you do not have to be Western"? Use evidence to explain your answer.


This activity works well in a comparative government, global, or world history class.