In This Review

Iran Rising: The Survival and Future of the Islamic Republic
Iran Rising: The Survival and Future of the Islamic Republic
By Amin Saikal
Princeton University Press, 2019, 344 pp.

This survey of Iranian politics and society relies on secondary sources and so offers little new material. Its value comes from its lucid exposition of the Islamic Republic’s two main ideological and policy axes: the jihadists, embodied by the country’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and the ijtihadists, the more flexible and rational pragmatists, two of whom, Mohammad Khatami and Hassan Rouhani, have been elected president. The current supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, bridges both camps but favors the jihadists. Saikal gives a good explanation of Iran’s illiberal pluralism and the checks and balances that operate among its institutions. He also leads the reader through a careful analysis of Iran’s relations with regional and global powers. Throughout, he rightly stresses the country’s resilience in the face of conflict and sanctions. For any foreign country, he says, war with this middle power would be extremely costly. He does not anticipate regime change, only shifts in the balance of power back and forth between the jihadists and the ijtihadists.