democratization studies - Dr. Ali Fathollah-Nejad • Official Website
archive,tag,tag-democratization-studies,tag-174,theme-stockholm,qode-social-login-1.1.3,stockholm-core-1.1,woocommerce-no-js,select-theme-ver-5.1.7,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-6.0.3,vc_responsive

Iran’s Civil Society Grappling With a Triangular Dynamic



Ali Fathollah-Nejad (2013) “Iran’s Civil Society Grappling with a Triangular Dynamic[pdf], in: Aarts, Paul & Cavatorta, Francesco (eds.) Civil Society in Syria and Iran: Activism in Authoritarian Contexts, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, pp. 39–68.


Sir Richard Dalton (Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House, Royal Institute of International Affairs, London & UK Ambassador to Iran, 2003–6):

“I agree with [the] analysis and conclusions […] which is a depressing conclusion for the fate of civil society”

Editors in Jadaliyya interview:

“of particular relevance is the insight being delivered by Ali Fathollah-Nejad (“Iran’s Civil Society Grappling with a Triangular Dynamic”) on the nefarious effects of the international sanctions on Iran’s civil society. He convincingly shows that economic sanctions widen the gap between the authoritarian state and civil society, cementing and even boosting existing power configurations while hollowing out social forces indispensable to a process of democratization.”

From the introduction (“Civil Society in Syria and Iran”) by the editors

“The contributions by Line Khatib in Chapter 2 [“Syria’s Civil Society as a Tool for Regime Legitimacy”] and Ali Fathollah-Nejad in Chapter 3 [“Iran’s Civil Society Grappling With a Triangular Dynamic”] provide a sophisticated analysis of how the international dimension and domestic factors interact to not only shape the power structures of the regimes and their legitimizing ideologies but also reveal how such a dynamic interaction partly explains how civil society actors respond and operate. […] Fathollah-Nejad’s chapter on Iran focuses on the role of the international community in shaping activism. Iran traditionally had a rather lively civil society and the revolutionary spirit has always called for greater mobilization on the part of citizens. Over the last decade, however, Iran has become the focus of international attention as the country became a much more prominent regional actor. The nuclear issue and the support of Islamist organizations such as Hamas and Hizbullah have heightened significantly the tensions with the West. These international dynamics have considerable domestic repercussions, and Fathollah-Nejad argues that they are crucial in structuring activism in Iran.” (pp. 11-12)

Book description

What are the dynamics of civic activism in authoritarian regimes? How do new social actors—many of them informal, “below the radar” groups—interact with these regimes? What mechanisms do the power elite employ to deal with societal dissidence? The authors of Civil Society in Syria and Iran explore the nature of state-society relations in two countries that are experiencing popular demands for political pluralism amid the constraints of authoritarian retrenchment.

About the editors

  • Dr. Paul Aarts is senior lecturer in international relations at the University of Amsterdam. He is co-founder of ZemZem, a Dutch magazine focusing on the Middle East and North Africa, and co-author of Saudi Arabia in the Balance: Political Economy, Society, Foreign Affairs.
  • Dr. Francesco Cavatorta is senior lecturer in the School of Law and Government, Dublin City University. His publications include Civil Society and Democratization in the Arab World and The International Dimension of the Failed Algerian Transition.

Reviews (excerpt)

Max Weiss (Elias Boudinot Bicentennial Preceptor and Assistant Professor of History and Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University) in Syrian Studies Association Bulletin, Vol. 18, No. 2 (2013):

“Ali Fathollah-Nejad argues that Iranian civil society has been placed in a state of siege (63), caught between an authoritarian regime, on the one hand, and external factors—including a hostile geopolitical environment and crippling economic sanctions—that limit their capabilities, on the other hand.”

Stephan Giersdorf (Lecturer, Institute of Political Science, Heidelberg University, Germany) in Democratization, Vol. 20, No. 7 (August 2013), pp. 1-3:

“Overall, the volume is a useful contribution to an expanding focus of scholarly endeavour, one which aspires to unravel the dynamics of civil society activism within a seemingly unfavourable authoritarian context. […] Ali Fathollah-Nejad shows for the Iranian case that international sanctions on the regime had a counterproductive effect with regard to the development of vocal civil society groups by indirectly reducing the space of democratic activism. […] analysts interested in civil society actors in Syria and Iran will benefit from the book.”

Dr. Said Rezaeiejan (Political Science, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, University of Amsterdam) in: ZemZem: Tijdschrift over het Midden-Oosten, Noord-Afrika en islam (The Netherlands), 2013, No. 2, pp. 92-96:

“Interessant in geval van Iran is het onderzoek van de Iraanse promovendus Ali Fat[h]ollah-Nejad. In zijn bijdrage ‘Iran’s Civil Society as a Tool for Regime legitimacy’ [sic] laat hij zien hoe internationale sancties tegen het land de kloof tussen het bewind en de civil society vergroten en hoe de staat de leemte vult door de eigen GONGOS. De door het Westen ingestelde ‘smart sanctions’ blijken helemaal niet smart te zijn en hebben een averechtse werking. Ze maken de autoritaire staat sterker. Fat[h]ollah-Nejad laat de negatieve rol van de sancties overtuigend zien aan de hand van empirische voorbeelden met betrekking tot Iraanse vrouwen- en studentenorganisaties en arbeidersvakbonden.
De negatieve rol van de sancties op Iraanse studenten in en buiten Iran is noemenswaardig. Aan de ene kant worden wetenschappelijke artikelen van Iraanse studenten in Iran niet meer in ‘peer-reviewed journals’ geplaatst en wordt hun de toegang tot academische online bladen onmogelijk gemaakt. Dit beleid zorgt voor een negatieve beeldvorming over het Westen onder academici. In hun ogen maakt het Westen geen onderscheid tussen wetenschap en politiek. Iraanse studenten die in het buitenland studeren ondervinden op een andere manier de gevolgen van de sancties; hun visa worden vaak niet verlengd en ze kunnen geen financiële transacties doen omdat het Iraanse bankensysteem als gevolg van de laatste ronde van sancties uitgesloten is van het internationale betalingsverkeer. Ook krijgen Iraanse hoogleraren geen of met veel moeite visa om conferenties in de EU dan wel de VS te kunnen bijwonen. Bovendien heeft de instorting en de devaluatie van de Iraanse Rial ervoor gezorgd dat studeren in het buitenland voor veel families onbetaalbaar is geworden. Deze devaluatie is een directe gevolg van de crisis van de Iraanse economie wat het gevolg is van de sancties.”

Review by John Waterbury in Foreign Affairs, March/April 2014.

Dr. Jubin M. Goodarzi (Professor of International Relations, Webster University, Geneva, Switzerland) in Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 12, Issue 2 (June), pp.  506-508:

“Rich with information and analysis on the various aspects and effects of authoritarianism in Syria and Iran […]. Indispensable and highly recommended for those who study the Middle East and follow the literature on authoritarianism in general.”


David Lewis [Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, UK] (2013) “Civil Society and the Authoritarian State: Cooperation, Contestation and Discourse“, Journal of Civil Society, Vol. 9, Issue 3, pp. 325-340.