Iran's Influence

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Elaheh Rostami-Povey, Zed Books, £18.99

This is the latest addition to Elaheh Rostami-Povey's body of research on political and social movements in the Middle East. This book's main focus is modern, post-revolutionary Iran, her native country, and its people's historical and political movements. Today the Iranian state is often misunderstood and demonised, especially in the interest of imperialist international politics. In reality, Iran is a complex country and the subject of many dynamic struggles, shaped in the main by its own people.

In the first half of the book Rostami-Povey traces Iran's passage through modern history - from its emergence out of dynastic rule via the constitutional revolution of 1906, to the discovery of oil and other natural resources which led to long-lasting oppressive imperialist domination of the region by the opposing powers of Britain and the US and Russia at various points. This also led to massive industrialisation and important nationalist struggles in the 1950s, which bore similarities to concurrent struggles waged in other Middle East countries. Finally, the popular and explosive revolution of 1979 was followed by push and pull for reform and democratisation culminating in the most recent uprising known as the Green Movement.

Rostami-Povey describes insightfully the diverse roles that women, students, workers, the left, Islamists and ethnic and religious minorities have all played in shaping modern Iran. The final chapter places Iran in a global context. The US imperialist project at the beginning of this century placed Iran on its "axis of evil". This has seen two of its neighbouring countries endure horrific sanctions, war and military occupation. The international solidarity and anti-war movement, alongside struggles within Iran, and the decline in US hegemony have stalled imperialist intentions to spread the war militarily into Iran. However, the recent sanctions put in place by the UN continue to exert pressure on the Iranian state.

Rostami-Povey successfully demonstrates that the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the rapid consolidation of the Islamic republic do not indicate the end of history and progress within Iran. The current situation in Iran is partly informed by diverse and competing factions within political Islamism, the overbearing and threatening role of US imperialism and the constant contradictions of its capitalist economy. These give opportunity and form to progressive grassroots movements resisting the highly autocratic and repressive nature of Iranian state rule.

This wonderfully articulated, comprehensive book, free from academic jargon, argues against dominant theories on Iran as a dogmatic, backward and static state. I confidently recommend it to anyone - whether they are new to the fascinating phenomenon that is Middle Eastern and Iranian political history or not. Its clear and refreshing analysis puts the emphasis on the role of Iranians in determining their own futures through struggle.