Iran lies at the center of the Middle East, and is a key player in stoking or potentially resolving conflicts in this region.
The second largest country of the region in size (1.648.000 km², after Saudi Arabia) and population (at 82 million, after Egypt), Iran lies at the center of the Middle East, in a key position between Iraq and Afghanistan, the Caucasus and Pakistan, the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf, an area featuring a wealth of mineral resources. Crude oil makes up 60 percent of its exports. The Shiite country supports the Syrian government, Hezbollah in and beyond Lebanon and the Houthi rebel group in Yemen, rivalling Saudi Arabia in a regional power struggle. Its relations with Israel have been persistently hostile since 1979. Due to its central geographical position and complex political entanglement in the region, Iran is a key player in stoking or potentially resolving conflicts in the Middle East. One of the country’s main foreign policy issues have been the sanctions imposed over concerns about its nuclear program. The EU and US have also imposed further restrictions on the grounds of serious human rights violations within Iran, and military engagement in Syria and Yemen and support of Hezbollah and Hamas respectively. While the EU and the UN are progressively lifting trade sanctions, following the 2015 nuclear agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), the current US government has withdrawn from the nuclear agreement and re-instated sanctions, creating new uncertainties concerning Iran’s future. Meanwhile, China has stepped up investments in infrastructure as part of its Belt and Road Initiative in the Middle East. China-Middle East relations have been a recurring theme in our Global Politics Seasonal Schools in Teheran, as have relations between the EU, Iran and the Middle East, Germany and Iran in their respective regional contexts and crises, multilateral diplomacy, sustainable cities, human rights and cultural identities in business and politics.
Domestically, reform oriented movements and actors challenge Iran’s conservative clergy, though the latter controls key institutions. The country has been an Islamic Republic since 1979 when Shiite theocratic leaders gained government control, overthrowing its Western-backed monarchy but continuing authoritarian rule. The subsequent war with Iraq lasted eight years, cost about one million lives and resulted in no territorial changes. Battles centered on Khuzestan, an oil-rich province inhabited mainly by ethnic Arabs, some of whom still engage in a separatist movement. On the environmental level, urbanization and desertification are currently posing challenges, such as air pollution and water shortages, affecting the population of Iran as well as relations with its neighbors. Over the past years, GPSS Iran have taken up environmental issues in simulation games offered by planpolitik. The most recent summer school in Teheran was the GPSS Iran 2018, held under the heading "Global Politics in a Troubled World".