7 Countries With A Theocratic Government Today

Billboards showing Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, who is the country's leading political and religious figure. Editorial credit: BalkansCat / Shutterstock.com.
Billboards showing Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, who is the country's leading political and religious figure. Editorial credit: BalkansCat / Shutterstock.com.

7. Afghanistan

Afghanistan is one of the world's most notable examples of a theocracy. Islam is the official religion of the country and the major foundations of the political institutions are based on Islamic Sharia Law. The ultimate aim of the country’s fundamentalist regime is to unify the Afghani people under a common religious law. Political power lies almost exclusively in the hands of the religious leaders of the regime.

6. Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocractic government. This means that the constitution denotes that the ruler of the state is best qualified to interpret Islam and to ensure that the people of the state strictly adhere to its principles. Prior to the formation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the country was ruled by the Shah (monarch), Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, who was well-known for his secular attitudes. In 1979, following a revolution, the Shah was overthrown from his position by the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. As the leader of the revolution, Khomeini then became the leader of Iran’s new Islamic State. He implemented a political system based on traditional Islamic beliefs. Today, that role is held by Ali Khamenei.

5. Mauritania

Mauritania, a small country in the Maghreb region of western North Africa, is an Islamic republic with a theocratic government. The legal system of the country is based on Sharia Law, and most of its national symbols, including the flag, incorporate Islamic symbols. Although in its initial days Mauritania had a Western-style governmental structure and a relatively liberal disposition, the political situation of the country changed in the 1980s. At that time, Colonel Mohammed Khouna Ould Heydallah, the military leadership, enhanced the country’s orientation towards Sharia Law, with the introduction of strict Islamic jurisprudence.

4. Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia, an Islamic theocratic monarchy, has one of the most tightly controlled governments in the world. The country is also home to two of Islam’s most holy sites, the cities of Mecca and Medina. Since 1932, the land has been ruled exclusively by the House of Saud. The Holy Quran and the Sunni School of Islam serve as the country’s constitution. Although law does not directly forbid other religions to be practiced in the country, the practice of religions other than Islam is abhorred by the Saudis' muslim-majority society. Anyone in the country caught in an attempt to insult Islam or promoting any other faith is subjected to strict punishment, which in some cases go as far as the death penalty.

3. Sudan

In Sudan, the Muslim population, which sits at about 97% of the total population, is subject to theocratic rule based on Islamic laws. Even though the constitution of the country mentions the Sharia-derived laws, it also leaves space for a more liberal attitude towards people of other beliefs than Islam. This allows the Government punish those seen to be deviants, as per the dictates of the sharia law, while at the same time protecting itself from allegations of religious intolerance.

2. Vatican City

Though all the other discussed countries are ruled in some form by a theocratic Islamic Government, the Vatican City is the only country in the world with an absolute theocratic elective monarchy that is guided by the principles of a Christian religious school of thought. The Pope is the supreme power in the country, and leads the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Vatican government. This is also perhaps the only monarchy in the world that is non-hereditary in nature.

1. Yemen

Yemen, like most of the other mentioned countries, is based on theocratic governance with Islamic sharia law dictating the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government. Recently, Yemen has also been going through a period of intense political turmoil, wherein conflicts between several different political groups have led to a civil war in the country. The main forces in the fight involve the Zaidi Shia rebels (or Houthis) against the loyalists of the displaced President of Yemen, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.


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