POPULATION78,868,711 (July 2012 est.)
GDP PER CAPITA$13,200 (2011 est.)
RELIGIONSMuslim (official) 98% (Shia 89%, Sunni 9%), other (includes Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, and Baha'i) 2%
AT THE CENTER
The tight link between politics and Shi'a Islam that characterizes contemporary Iran is the product of a long and often contentious history. Islam came to Iran, the historical stronghold of Zoroastrianism, with the Arab conquest of the 7th century and became the dominant religion by the late 11th century. A second major shift, from Sunni to Shi’a predominance, occurred under the Safavid Dynasty (1501-1736). In the 20th century, decades of top-down secularization and Westernization under the autocratic government of the Shah ended when popular discontent led to the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which established an Islamic Republic under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1979-89). Following the Iranian Revolution, the country's Supreme Leader, a Shi’a cleric, was granted significant political power, and Twelver Shi’a Islam was designated as the official religion. Though Iran’s Constitution recognizes Zoroastrians, Christians, and Jews as official religious minorities, non-Muslims face legal restrictions. Specifically, members of the Baha’i faith constitute the country’s largest minority, but often face government persecution.