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This article adopts the theoretical framework of complex realism to trace the evolution of the Islamic Republic of Iran's foreign policy and developmental activities in Africa between the 1980s and the 2000s. Contrary to common assumptions, the deradicalization of the Islamic Republic's foreign policy in Africa began not under the moderates in the early 1990s, but under the conservatives in the mid-1980s. This period marked the first time that the Islamic Republic instrumentalized development to advance its strategic interests in Africa—a policy that has continued despite the factionalization of Iran's political elite. Based on one year of archival research and interviews in Iran, this article is the first to investigate the history and activities of the Islamic Republic's rural development organization, Construction Jihad, in Africa. It posits that development, instead of arms or ideology, has enabled Iran to make the farthest inroads into the continent due to Africa's sizeable agrarian economies, widespread rural poverty, and formidable developmental challenges.

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Eric Lob is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations, Florida International University, Miami, Fl.; e-mail:
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Mohsen M. Milani , “Iran's Active Neutrality during the Kuwaiti Crisis: Reasons and Ramifications,” New Political Science 11 (1992): 4160

Gabrielle Lynch and Gordon Crawford , “Democratization in Africa 1990–2010: An Assessment,” Democratization 18 (2011): 275310

John Foran and Jeff Goodwin , “Revolutionary Outcomes in Iran and Nicaragua: Coalition Fragmentation, War, and the Limits of Social Transformation,” Theory and Society 22 (1993): 219

Hafizullah Emadi , “Exporting Iran's Revolution: The Radicalization of the Shiite Movement in Afghanistan,” Middle Eastern Studies 31 (1995): 2

Jean-François Bayart , “Africa in the World: A History of Extraversion,” African Affairs 99 (2002): 217–67

Christopher Clapham , Africa and the International System (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)

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International Journal of Middle East Studies
  • ISSN: 0020-7438
  • EISSN: 1471-6380
  • URL: /core/journals/international-journal-of-middle-east-studies
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