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Whitaker's Almanack: Iran

Information on Iran

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Jomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Iran – Islamic Republic of Iran

Whitaker's Almanack Definitions

  • Area – 1,648,195 sq. km
  • Capital – Tehran; population 7,190,400 (2009 est)
  • Major cities – Ahvaz, Esfahan, Karaj, Mashhad, Qom, Shiraz, Tabriz
  • Currency – Iranian rial of 100 dinar
  • Population – 78,868,711 rising at 1.24 per cent a year (2012 est); Persian (51 per cent), Azeri (24 per cent), Gilaki and Mazandarani (8 per cent), Kurdish (7 per cent), Arab (3 per cent), Lur (2 per cent), Baloch (2 per cent), Turkmen (2 per cent) (est)
  • Religion – Muslim (Shia 89 per cent, Sunni 9 per cent) (est); small Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian and Baha'i minorities; Sufism is growing, but Shia orders of Sufism are being persecuted by the state
  • Language – Persian (official), Turkic, Kurdish, Luri, Balochi, Arabic, Turkish
  • Population density – 45 per sq. km (2010)
  • Urban population – 69.5 per cent (2010 est)
  • Median age (years) – 26.8 (2011 est)
  • National anthem – 'Sorud-e Melli-e Jomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Iran' ['Anthem of the Islamic Republic of Iran']
  • National day – 1 April (Republic Day)
  • Death penalty – Retained
  • CPI score – 2.7 (2011)

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Climate and Terrain

Apart from narrow coastal plains on the Gulf coasts and the shores of the Caspian Sea, the interior is a plateau consisting of barren desert in the centre and east. This is enclosed by high mountains in the west and north, with smaller ranges on the eastern border and the southern coast. Elevation extremes range from 5,671m (Kuh-e Damavand) to −28m (Caspian Sea). Earthquakes are frequent. The climate is arid or semi-arid in the interior, and subtropical on the Caspian shores. Average temperatures in Tehran are 1°C in January and 31°C in July.

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History and Politics

Under the 1979 constitution, overall authority rests with the spiritual leader of the republic, who is appointed for life by the Assembly of Experts; this consists of 83 clerics who are directly elected and decide religious and spiritual matters. The executive president is directly elected for a four-year term, renewable once. Ministers are nominated by the president but must be approved by the legislature. The unicameral Consultative Council (Majlis al-Shoura) has 290 members who are directly elected for a four-year term on a non-party basis; five seats are reserved for religious minorities. Laws passed by the legislature must be approved by the Council of Guardians of the Constitution, six theologians appointed by the spiritual leader and six jurists nominated by the judiciary and approved by the legislature; it also has a supervisory role in elections. In 1997, the Constitutional Surveillance Council, a five-member body, was established to supervise the proper application of constitutional laws.

The incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the outright winner after the first round of voting in the 2009 presidential election, but the result was challenged by the other candidates, who alleged electoral fraud. Following massive protest rallies, the Council of Guardians confirmed Ahmadinejad's victory and ruled out an annulment; further popular protests were suppressed. Since the protests in summer 2009, the regime has ruthlessly suppressed opposition (the Green Movement) and purged liberals from official positions. Conservative candidates retained the majority of seats in the Majlis in the 2012 legislative election.

Spiritual Leader of the Islamic Republic and C.-in-C. of Armed Forces, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, appointed June 1989
President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, elected 24 June 2005, re-elected 2009
First Vice-President, Mohammad Reza Rahimi


Defence, Ahmad Vahidi
Economic Affairs and Finance, Shamseddin Hosseini
Foreign Affairs, Ali Akbar Salehi


16 Prince’s Gate, London SW7 1PT
T 020-7225 4208 W
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, vacant


198 Ferdowsi Avenue, 113116–91144 Tehran
T (+98) (21) 6405 2000 W
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, vacant

Foreign Relations

Between 1980 and 1988, Iran was engaged in a bitter war with Iraq over the Shatt-al-Arab waterway. Iran remained neutral in the Gulf War (1991) and the Iraq War (2003), but it has been accused since of subverting reconstruction in Iraq by arming Shia insurgents.

Since the 1978 revolution, Iran’s relations with the West, and especially the USA, have been strained. It has not cooperated with international efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East, and has long been suspected of sponsoring terrorism by Islamic fundamentalists, especially in Lebanon and Palestine, and now is believed to be supplying arms to the Taliban.

Since 2002 international relations have deteriorated further because of concerns over Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, especially its acquisition of the ability to enrich uranium. Iran insists that this is for power generation and is not a precursor to developing nuclear weapons, but refuses to halt the programme or cooperate with the IAEA. The UN has passed six resolutions since 2006 calling on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing and to comply with its IAEA obligations and responsibilities; four of the resolutions imposed or extended sanctions on trade and travel. In an escalation of the nuclear row, the European Union imposed an oil embargo on Iran in January 2012, after the country reportedly began to enrich uranium at its underground plant in Fordo. Economic sanctions were strengthened following an attack on the British embassy in November 2011, followed by the expulsion of the British ambassador to Tehran.

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All aged 16–49, 2010 estMalesFemales
Available for military service23,619,21522,628,341
Fit for military service20,149,22219,417,275

Military expenditure – US$7,463m (2008)*

* Figure does not include paramilitary spending

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Economy and Trade

Iran was one of the best-performing economies in the Middle East owing to its vast reserves of oil and natural gas, but its performance has been deteriorating; the predominantly state-controlled economy is inefficient and inflexible, with little diversification and only a limited, small-scale private sector. Unemployment and underemployment are serious problems, and there is a flourishing unofficial economy. Falling oil prices in 2008–10 and UN sanctions since 2008 have exacerbated Iran's economic problems.

Oil and gas extraction and processing dominate the economy, but other industries include petrochemicals, textiles, construction materials, food processing, metal fabrication and armaments. Agricultural production includes wheat, rice, other grains, sugar beet and sugar cane, fruit, nuts, cotton, dairy products, wool and caviar.

The main trading partners are China, the UAE, South Korea, Japan and India. Principal exports are petroleum (80 per cent), chemical and petrochemical products, fruit and nuts, and carpets. The main imports are industrial raw materials and intermediate goods, capital goods, foodstuffs, consumer goods and technical services.

GNI – US$328,593m; US$4,520 per capita (2009)
Annual average growth of GDP – 2.5 per cent (2011 est)
Inflation rate – 22.5 per cent (2011 est)
Population below poverty line – 18 per cent (2007 est)
Unemployment – 15.3 per cent (2011 government est)
Total external debt – US$17,900m (2011 est)
Imports – US$62,700m (2010)
Exports – US$100,900m (2010)


Trade – US$38,200m surplus (2010)
Current Account – US$24,406m surplus (2010)

Trade with UK20102011
Imports from UK£285,807,268£179,844,606
Exports to UK£194,666,672£359,333,086

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Airports – There are 319 airports and airfields; the principal airports are at Tehran and Shiraz

Waterways – Iran's seaports include Asaluyeh, Bushehr and Abadan on the Persian Gulf and Bandar Abbas on the Strait of Hormuz. The 850km of navigable waterways are mainly on the river Karun and Lake Urmia

Roadways and railways – There are 172,927km of roadways, including 1,429km of motorways; there are 8,442km of railways

Telecommunications – 26.85 million fixed lines in use and 67,5 million mobile subscriptions (2010); there were 8.2 million internet users in 2009

Internet code and IDD – ir; 98 (from UK), 44 (to UK)

Major broadcasters – The state-run IRIB network operates national and international networks in an industry dominated by satellite channels

Press – Major newspapers include the English-laguage daily Tehran Times and the conservative daily Kayhan

WPFI score – 94,56 (175)

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Education and Health

Primary education, between age six and 14, is compulsory and free.

Literacy rate – 85 per cent (2008 est)
Gross enrolment ratio (percentage of relevant age group) – primary 108 per cent; secondary 84 per cent (2009 est); tertiary 43 per cent (2010 est)
Health expenditure (per capita) – US$269 (2009)
Hospital beds (per 1,000 people) – 1.4 (2004–9)
Life expectancy (years) – 70.35 (2012 est)
Mortality rate – 5.94 (2012 est)
Birth rate – 18.52 (2012 est)
Infant mortality rate – 41.11 (2012 est)

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