Middle East

Iran country profile

Map of Iran

Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979, when the monarchy was overthrown and clerics assumed political control under supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

The Iranian revolution put an end to the rule of the Shah, who had alienated powerful religious, political and popular forces with a programme of modernization and Westernization coupled with heavy repression of dissent.

Persia, as Iran was known before 1935, was one of the greatest empires of the ancient world, and the country has long maintained a distinct cultural identity within the Islamic world by retaining its own language and adhering to the Shia interpretation of Islam.


Islamic Republic of Iran

Capital: Tehran

  • Population 75 million

  • Area 1.65 million sq km (636,313 sq miles)

  • Major language Persian

  • Major religion Islam

  • Life expectancy 71 years (men), 74 years (women)

  • Currency rial

Getty Images


Supreme Leader: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

The Supreme Leader - the highest power in the land - appoints the heads of the judiciary, military and media. He also confirms the election of the president.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was appointed for life in June 1989, succeeding Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic. He previously served two consecutive terms as president in the 1980s.

Iran has been led by a highly conservative clerical elite since the revolution in 1979.

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Image caption Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei, left, and president Rouhani, right

President: Hassan Rouhani

Hassan Rouhani was elected as president in June 2013, winning just over 50% of the vote.

The cleric, regarded as a religious moderate, was backed by reformists. He says he wants to steer Iran towards "moderation" and one of his main election pledges was to try to ease the crippling international sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme.


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The struggle for influence and power in Iran is played out in the media.

All broadcasting from Iranian soil is controlled by the state and reflects official ideology. A wider range of opinion may be found online and in the printed press.

However, many pro-reform outlets have been closed and their writers and editors imprisoned. Iran has been described by media freedom advocates as "among the five biggest prisons in the world" for journalists.


Some key dates in Iran's history:

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Iran has a rich historical heritage which can be seen in places such as Persepolis

1794 - Mohammad Khan Qajar seizes power and founds the Qajar dynasty.

1921 - Military commander Reza Khan seizes power and is later crowned Reza Shah Pahlavi.

1941 - Britain and Russia occupy Iran during Second World War.

1953 - Coup engineered by British and US intelligence services after parliament nationalises mainly British-owned oil industry. Shah, who had fled into exile, returns.

1979 - Iranian revolution unseats the shah.

1980-1988 - Iran-Iraq war.

2002 - US President George W. Bush describes Iran, Iraq and North Korea as "the axis of evil."

2004 - US says Iran's nuclear programme is a growing threat and calls for international sanctions.

2015 - After several years of negotiations and sanctions, Iran reaches a deal about its nuclear capacity with foreign powers.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The leader of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, returned from exile in 1979

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