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Country Overview

Geography, Population & Climate:

Located in the expanse between the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea, Iran borders Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to the north, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east, and Turkey and Iraq to the west. With an area of 1,648,000 square kilometers, Iran is one of the largest countries in the Middle East. The central plateau is mostly sand or rock desert, and the settled areas are largely confined to the foothills of the mountain ranges – the Alborz in the north and the Zagros in the south and west.
The Caspian Sea in the north of Iran is the world's largest lake. Its altitude is about 25 meters below sea level. Meanwhile, in the south, the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman provide Iran with its main access to international waters.

The years following the 1979 revolution saw a rapid increase in the population of Iran. The latest official figures for the Iranian year that ended in March 2001 show that the annual growth has now been stabilized at about 1.7%. The present population size, provided by the Iran’s Statistic Center, is about 64.5 million. (It is worth mentioning that the same statistic estimated by the United Nation Information Center surpasses 70 million; though, when contacted, the UN said that they are currently studying the discrepancy.)
Based on the last census taken in 1996, over half (51%) of the country's population is under 20 years old, while two-thirds of the country is under 30 years old. The urban areas accommodate over 63% of the Iranian population. Greater Tehran is inhabited by over 10 million persons.
Iran's unique location at the crossroads of Arabia, Turkey and Central Asia has resulted in many ethnic groups being found within its borders. Just over half of the population is of Persian origin; while a quarter is Turkishspeaking Azeri. A large group of Kurds and smaller minorities of Lors, Arabs and Baluchis also exist in certain regions.

Iran experiences four seasons and extremes of climate, ranging from very cold winters in most parts of the country to hot, dry summers. The northwest is the coldest part of the country, with temperatures from December to February falling well below zero. To the south, on the central plateau and bordering the Persian Gulf, summer temperatures can reach 50°C (122°F). Humidity along the southern coast can be very oppressive during the summer months. Spring and autumn are generally pleasant in most parts of the country.
The severe climatic difference between the north and south of the country means that in late winter, one can ski down the slopes nearby Tehran, and take a night dive later that evening after a short flight to Kish Island.
Most of the country is quite arid and the majority of rain falls on the mountainous areas in the north and along the shores of the Caspian Sea, where the annual average is up to 20 centimeters (12 inches).

Political Structure & Decision-making

System of Government:
On February 11, 1979 a diverse coalition that included the clergy, merchants (bazaaris ), liberal reformists, leftists and students, among others who were led by Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ended the monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Iran. Shortly afterwards, on March 1979, Iran became an “Islamic Republic” following a carefully worded referendum which gained 98.2% of the vote.
The Islamic Republic is a unique form of government where “Islamic” and “Republican” structures run parallel to each other. For example, while there is a president as the head of the executive branch, there is also a supreme leader as the head of state; similarly, regular courts are matched by revolutionary courts; the army by the revolutionary guards; there is an elected Majles (parliament) but also an appointed Guardian Council, which serves as the upper house of parliament; etc.
The fundamental concept of this Islamic government is modeled after Ayatollah Khomeini’s ideas the rule of the jurisprudent (velayat-e faqih). This means that the state is to be guided by a learned religious jurist who rules in the absence of the Twelfth Imam or messiah. Ayatollah Khomeini, endowed with unique popular and religious authority, headed the Islamic Republic as the first Supreme Leader up to his death in June of 1989.
The arrangement of each institution and political body in the Islamic political structure is such that makes it vertically and horizontally accountable. Even the supreme leadership is subject to a system of checks and balances through the elected Assembly of Experts, a body that appoints and has the power to dismiss the supreme leader. Therefore, Iran's system of government may be acknowledged as a blend of democracy and theocracy, with authority derived from the constitution enacted in 1979 and revised in 1989.
Within the political structure, there are three branches of authority under the chief of state, or supreme leader:
the judiciary, the parliament, and the executive. While the top law-making body, the Majles, and the president are elected through universal suffrage, the head of the nation, the Supreme Leader, is an appointed religious leader; albeit an elected body, namely the Assembly of Experts, appoints him.