The problem with this book is that it does not deliver what the title promises. In a study of any country’s political elite one expects biographic data and discussions of geographic origins, educational achievements, socio-cultural characteristics, and career patterns of a set of individuals identified as constituting a country’s political elite, followed by analyses of how certain members of society are recruited into the elite and socialized into its modus operandi. Very little of that can be found in this book – elite recruitment, for instance, is addressed in less than a page. Instead, we have a narrative of how domestic and foreign policy in Iran have evolved over three decades, analyzed through the prism of factional rivalries.
In the first two chapters, the author approaches the political system of Iran from the perspective of political science. She identifies the three main factions that have been competing for power in Iran and traces their evolution and changing fortunes over the last three decades.
The book is ambitious in that it attempts to cover all policy areas that matter: economics (chapter 3), culture (chapter 4), and foreign policy (chapters 5-7). While very little in these chapters is new, the information they contain has been painstakingly assembled, logically presented, and dispassionately explained. The book is thus very useful as a reference work: if one wants to know, for instance, what relations with the Middle East were like while Khomeini was alive, how the press was treated under President Khatami, or what efforts Europeans have made to diffuse the nuclear crisis. Because one can quickly locate the sections that contain competently written summaries of relevant data, events, and statements.
The book’s last two chapters are its most original. In chapter 6, the author discusses Iran’s policy towards Europe, and in chapter 7, she examines the policies of the member countries of the European Union toward Iran. In this last chapter, the author gives us a fascinating overview of the different policies pursued by the major players, Italy, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, and provides useful and hard-to-find data about trade flows. She also explains how these national strategies interact with policy initiatives of the European Union.
The best that can be said about this very expensive book is that an awful lot of work went into it. The bibliography of secondary sources, all of whose items are dutifully cited in the book and have therefore been read by the author, is 18 pages long. Anybody looking for an article or book about any subject relating to politics in the Islamic Republic of Iran is likely to find something useful in this bibliography.
There is nothing objectionable about this book, aside flagrant mistakes when it comes to transliteration and translation. For example, there are enough Englishlanguage books about Iran for everyone to know that Showra-ye Negahban is commonly translated as “Council of Guardians,” not “Council of the Guardian” – a quick perusal of Iran’s constitution, official translations of which are available on the Internet, would have yielded that information too. The author apologizes for “inconsistencies” in the transliteration of Persian words and names; the problem is not inconsistency but the fact that too many transliterations are just plainly wrong.