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January 2012

Strait of Hormuz and vicinity

Strait of Hormuz and vicinity

Iran country profile

Iran country profile

The Strait of Hormuz (hahr-MOOZ) connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman in the Arabian Sea. It separates Iran and the Arabian Peninsula (specifically the United Arab Emirates and Musandam of Oman). Of great strategic importance, it contains several islands including: Qeshm, Hormoz, and Hengam; it is only 40-60 mi (64-97 km) wide.

Iran, slightly smaller than Alaska, borders the Gulf of Oman, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Persian Gulf. Iran is a pluralistic society, Persians are the largest ethnic group in Iran, though many are actually of mixed ancestry. The population of the country has important Turkic elements (e.g., Azeris) and Arabs predominate in the southwest. In addition, Iran’s population includes Kurds, Balochi, Bakhtyari, Lurs, and other smaller minorities, such as Armenians, Assyrians, Jews, and Brahuis (or Brohi).

The ancient nation of Iran, historically known as Persia, has traditionally been a major power in the region. The seventh century Arab conquest of Iran, which introduced Islam to the population, was followed by invasions by the Seljuk Turks and the Mongols. Many date the beginning of modern Iranian history to the nationalist uprisings against the Shah in 1905 and the establishment of a limited constitutional monarchy in 1906. The discovery of oil in 1908 would later become a key factor in Iranian history and development.

In 1921, Reza Khan (an Iranian officer) seized control of the government, declared himself Shah in 1925, and established the Pahlavi dynasty. Reza Shah forcibly enacted policies of modernization and secularization in Iran and reasserted government authority over the country’s tribes and provinces. In 1941, his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, ascended to the throne. The White Revolution in 1961 administered a series of economic, social, and administrative reforms. The Shah’s autocratic method of rule and the abusive practices of SAVAK (his internal security and intelligence service) alienated large sectors of the population, including the Shi’a clergy.

The 1979 Islamic Revolution and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war transformed Iran's class structure politically, socially, and economically. During this period, Shi’a clerics took a more dominant position in politics and nearly all aspects of Iranian life, both urban and rural. After the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1979, much of the urban upper class of prominent merchants, industrialists, and professionals, favored by the former monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, lost standing and influence to the senior clergy and their supporters. However, Bazaar merchants, who were allied with the clergy against the Shah, gained significant political and economic power after the revolution. The urban working class has enjoyed a somewhat enhanced status and economic mobility, spurred in part by opportunities provided by revolutionary organizations and the government bureaucracy. Though the number of clergy holding senior positions in the Majles and elsewhere in government has declined since the 1979 revolution, Iran has nevertheless witnessed the rise of a post-revolutionary elite among clerics who are strongly committed to the preservation of the Islamic Republic.

Most Iranians are Muslims; 89% belong to the Shi'a branch of Islam, the official state religion, while about 9% belong to the Sunni branch. Non-Muslim minorities include Zoroastrians, Jews, Baha'is, and Christians. Iran is a rugged, mountainous country with deserts and small, discontinuous plains along both coasts. Natural resources of Iran include: petroleum, natural gas, coal, chromium, copper, iron ore, lead, manganese, zinc, and sulfur.

CIA World Factbook; U.S. State Department Background Notes; The Columbia Gazeteer, 11/2011; 2/2011;1/2012

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