A woman shows the ink stain on her finger, to prove that she has voted, outside the Iranian consulate in central London, June 14, 2013.
Stefan Wermuth / Reuters

Democracy in the Islamic Republic is a peculiar institution: it is designed to reinforce the legitimacy of the theocracy. Various vetting bodies, all ultimately controlled by the clergy, routinely nullify parliamentary legislation. The Majlis, Iran's parliament, has long been a mere echo chamber for the ruling elite, an escape valve for regime-loyal dissent.

The curiousness of Iran's theocratically managed democracy is amplified by elections (like the ones just held) and the Iranian press, which reports on the campaigns and the differences among the political elite as if they were the left-right contests seen in the West. President Hassan Rouhani and his supporters styled themselves as hope-and-change candidates. By instinct, the Western press used the same vocabulary. In truth, the elections of 2016 did signal change, but not the kind the Western press had in mind. Rather, they spelled the end of Iran's once-vivacious reform movement and the death of the "Islamic

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  • RAY TAKEYH is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of the forthcoming book The Pragmatic Superpower: Winning the Cold War in the Middle East.
  • REUEL MARC GERECHT is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
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