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Protesters in Tehran, 1979
|Date||January 1978 - February 1979|
|Goals||Overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
|532-2,781 killed in demonstrations during 1978–79|
|The neutrality of this article is disputed. (October 2014)|
Protesters in Tehran, 1979
|Date||January 1978 - February 1979|
|Goals||Overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
|532-2,781 killed in demonstrations during 1978–79|
The Iranian Revolution (also known as the Islamic Revolution or the 1979 Revolution; Persian: انقلاب اسلامی, Enghelābe Eslāmi or انقلاب بیست و دو بهمن) refers to events involving the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who was supported by the United States, and its eventual replacement with an Islamic republic under the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution, supported by various leftist and Islamic organizations and Iranian student movements.
Demonstrations against the Shah commenced in October 1977, developing into a campaign of civil resistance that was religious based (with secular elements). and intensified in January 1978. Between August and December 1978 strikes and demonstrations paralyzed the country. The Shah left Iran for exile on January 16, 1979 as the last Persian monarch, leaving his duties to a regency council and an opposition based prime minister. The Ayatollah Khomeini was invited back to Iran by the government, and returned to Tehran to a greeting by several million Iranians. The royal reign collapsed shortly after on February 11 when guerrillas and rebel troops overwhelmed troops loyal to the Shah in armed street fighting, bringing Khomeini to official power. Iran voted by national referendum to become an Islamic Republic on April 1, 1979, and to approve a new theocratic-republican constitution whereby Khomeini became Supreme Leader of the country, in December 1979.
The revolution was unusual for the surprise it created throughout the world: it lacked many of the customary causes of revolution (defeat at war, a financial crisis, peasant rebellion, or disgruntled military), occurred in a nation that was enjoying relatively good material wealth and prosperity, produced profound change at great speed, was massively popular, resulted in the exile of many Iranians, and replaced a pro-Western semi-absolute monarchy  with an anti-Western authoritarian theocracy based on the concept of Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists (or velayat-e faqih). It was a relatively non-violent revolution, and helped to redefine the meaning and practice of modern revolutions (although there was violence in its aftermath).
Reasons advanced for the occurrence of the revolution and its populist, nationalist and, later, Shi'a Islamic character include a conservative backlash against the Westernizing and secularizing efforts of the Western-backed Shah, a liberal backlash to social injustice, a rise in expectations created by the 1973 oil revenue windfall and an overly ambitious economic program, anger over a short, sharp economic contraction in 1977–78, and other shortcomings of the ancien régime.
The Shah's regime became increasingly oppressive, brutal, corrupt, and extravagant. It also suffered from basic functional failures that brought economic bottlenecks, shortages, and inflation. The Shah was perceived by many as beholden to — if not a puppet of — a non-Muslim Western power (the United States) whose culture was affecting that of Iran. At the same time, support for the Shah may have waned among Western politicians and media – especially under the administration of U.S. President Jimmy Carter – as a result of the Shah's support for OPEC petroleum price increases earlier in the decade. When President Carter enacted a human-rights policy which said countries guilty of human-rights violations would be deprived American arms or aid, this helped give some Iranians the courage to post open letters and petitions in the hope that the repression by the government might subside.
That the revolution replaced the monarchy of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi with Islamism and Khomeini, rather than with another leader and ideology, is credited in part to the spread of the Shia version of the Islamic revival that opposed Westernization and saw Ayatollah Khomeini as following in the footsteps of the Shi'a Imam Husayn ibn Ali and the Shah in the role of Husayn's foe, the hated tyrant Yazid I. Other factors include the underestimation of Khomeini's Islamist movement by both the Shah's reign – who considered them a minor threat compared to the Marxists and Islamic socialists – and by the secularist opponents of the government – who thought the Khomeinists could be sidelined.
Shi'a clergy (Ulema) have had a significant influence on most Iranians, who have tended to be religious, traditional, and opposed to any process of Westernization. The clergy first showed themselves to be a powerful political force in opposition to Iran's monarch with the 1891 Tobacco Protest boycott that effectively destroyed an unpopular concession granted by the Shah giving a British company a monopoly over buying and selling tobacco in Iran.
Decades later, the monarchy and the clerics clashed again, this time monarchy holding the upper hand. Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi's father, Reza Shah, replaced Islamic laws with western ones, and forbade traditional Islamic clothing, separation of the sexes and veiling of women (hijab). Police forcibly removed and tore chadors off women who resisted his ban on public hijab. In 1935 dozens were killed and hundreds injured when a rebellion by pious Shi'a at the most holy Shi'a shrine in Iran was crushed on his orders.
In 1941 Reza Shah was deposed and his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was installed by an invasion of allied British and Soviet troops. In 1953, foreign powers (American and British) again came to the Shah's aid—after the Shah fled the country, the British MI6 aided an American CIA operative in organizing a military coup d'état to oust the nationalist and democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.
Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who was the son of Reza Shah, maintained a close relationship with the U.S. government, both regimes sharing an opposition to the expansion of the Soviet Union, Iran's powerful northern neighbor. Like his father's government, the Shah's was known for its autocracy, its focus on modernization and Westernization and for its disregard for religious and democratic measures in Iran's constitution. Leftist, nationalist and Islamist groups attacked his government (often from outside Iran as they were suppressed within) for violating the Iranian constitution, political corruption, and the political oppression by the SAVAK (secret police).
The post-revolutionary leader – Shia cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – first came to political prominence in 1963 when he led opposition to the Shah and his "White Revolution", a program of reforms to break up land holdings (including those owned by religious foundations) and allow religious minorities to hold government office.
Khomeini was arrested in 1963 after declaring the Shah a "wretched miserable man" who had "embarked on the [path toward] destruction of Islam in Iran." Three days of major riots throughout Iran followed, with Khomeini supporters claiming 15,000 dead from police fire. However, post-revolution estimates determined a much lower number of 32 killed. Khomeini was released after eight months of house arrest and continued his agitation, condemning Iran's close cooperation with Israel and its capitulations, or extension of diplomatic immunity to American government personnel in Iran. In November 1964 Khomeini was re-arrested and sent into exile where he remained for 15 years, until the revolution.
|The neutrality of this section is disputed. (September 2013)|
In this interim period of "disaffected calm" the budding Iranian revival began to undermine the idea of Westernization as progress that was the basis of the Shah's secular reign, and to form the ideology of the 1979 revolution. Jalal Al-e-Ahmad's idea of Gharbzadegi – that Western culture was a plague or an intoxication to be eliminated; Ali Shariati's vision of Islam as the one true liberator of the Third World from oppressive colonialism, neo-colonialism, and capitalism; and Morteza Motahhari's popularized retellings of the Shia faith, all spread and gained listeners, readers and supporters.
Most importantly, Khomeini preached that revolt, and especially martyrdom, against injustice and tyranny was part of Shia Islam, and that Muslims should reject the influence of both liberal capitalism and communism with the slogan "Neither East, nor West – Islamic Republic!"
Away from public view, Khomeini developed the ideology of velayat-e faqih (guardianship of the jurist) as government, that Muslims – in fact everyone – required "guardianship," in the form of rule or supervision by the leading Islamic jurist or jurists. Such rule was ultimately "more necessary even than prayer and fasting" in Islam, as it would protect Islam from deviation from traditional sharia law and in so doing eliminate poverty, injustice, and the "plundering" of Muslim land by foreign non-believers.
This idea of rule by Islamic jurists was spread through his book Islamic Government, mosque sermons, smuggled cassette speeches by Khomeini, among Khomeini's opposition network of students (talabeh), ex-students (able clerics such as Morteza Motahhari, Mohammad Beheshti, Mohammad-Javad Bahonar, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Mofatteh), and traditional businessmen (bazaari) inside Iran.
Other opposition groups included constitutionalist liberals – the democratic, reformist Islamic Freedom Movement of Iran, headed by Mehdi Bazargan, and the more secular National Front. They were based in the urban middle class, and wanted the Shah to adhere to the Iranian Constitution of 1906 rather than to replace him with a theocracy, but lacked the cohesion and organization of Khomeini's forces.
Marxist groups – primarily the communist Tudeh Party of Iran and the Fedaian guerrillas – had been weakened considerably by government repression. Despite this the guerrillas did help play an important part in the final February 1979 overthrow delivering "the regime its coup de grace." The most powerful guerrilla group – the People's Mujahedin – was leftist Islamist and opposed the influence of the clergy as reactionary.
Some important clergy did not follow Khomeini's lead. Popular ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani supported the left, while perhaps the most senior and influential ayatollah in Iran – Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari – first remained aloof from politics and then came out in support of a democratic revolution.
Khomeini worked to unite this opposition behind him (with the exception of the unwanted `atheistic Marxists`), focusing on the socio-economic problems of the Shah's government (corruption and unequal income and development), while avoiding specifics among the general public that might divide the factions, – particularly his plan for clerical rule which he believed most Iranians had become prejudiced against as a result of propaganda campaign by Western imperialists.
Several events in the 1970s set the stage for the 1979 revolution.
The 1971 2,500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire at Persepolis, organized by the government, was attacked for its extravagance. "As the foreigners reveled on drink forbidden by Islam, Iranians were not only excluded from the festivities, some were starving." Five years later the Shah angered pious Iranian Muslims by changing the first year of the Iranian solar calendar from the Islamic hijri to the ascension to the throne by Cyrus the Great. "Iran jumped overnight from the Muslim year 1355 to the royalist year 2535."
The oil boom of the 1970s produced "alarming" increase in inflation and waste and an "accelerating gap" between the rich and poor, the city and the country, along with the presence of tens of thousands of unpopular skilled foreign workers. Many Iranians were also angered by the fact that the shah's family was the foremost beneficiary of the income generated by oil, and the line between state earnings and family earnings blurred. By 1976, the shah had accumulated upward of one billion dollars from oil revenue; his family—including sixty-three princes and princesses—had accumulated between five and twenty billion dollars; and the family foundation controlled approximately three billion dollars By mid-1977 economic austerity measures to fight inflation disproportionately affected the thousands of poor and unskilled male migrants to the cities working construction. Culturally and religiously conservative, many went on to form the core of the revolution's demonstrators and "martyrs".
All Iranians were required to join and pay dues to a new political party, the Rastakhiz party – all other parties being banned. That party's attempt to fight inflation with populist "anti-profiteering" campaigns – fining and jailing merchants for high prices – angered and politicized merchants while fueling black markets.
In 1977 the Shah responded to the "polite reminder" of the importance of political rights by the new American President, Jimmy Carter, by granting amnesty to some prisoners and allowing the Red Cross to visit prisons. Through 1977 liberal opposition formed organizations and issued open letters denouncing the government.
That year also saw the death of the popular and influential modernist Islamist leader Ali Shariati. This both angered his followers, who considered him a martyr at the hands of SAVAK, and removed a potential revolutionary rival to Khomeini. Finally, in October Khomeini's son Mostafa died of a heart attack, his death also blamed on SAVAK. A subsequent memorial service for Mostafa in Tehran put Khomeini back in the spotlight.
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Led by the leftist intellectual Saeed Soltanpour  (later executed by the Islamic Republic), the Iranian Writers Association met at the Goethe Institute in Tehran to read anti-government poetry. Ali Shariati's death in the United Kingdom shortly after led to another public demonstration, with the opposition accusing the Shah of "murdering" him (although it was later ruled he died naturally of a heart attack).
In late 1977, the still relatively unknown Ayatollah Khomeini's son Mostapha died in a car accident in Iraq. Khomeini declared him to be a "martyr", and small religious protests against the Shah began.
On January 7, 1978, an article ("Red and Black Imperialism") appeared in the national daily Ettela'at newspaper. Written under a pseudonym by a government agent, it denounced Khomeini as a "British agent" and a "mad Indian poet" conspiring to sell out Iran to neo-colonialists and communists.
Upon the publishing of the article, religious seminary students in the city of Qom, angered over the insult to Khomeini, clashed with police resulting in 4 student deaths according to the government, while Khomeini declared that 70 people had been "martyred". While much of the public believed the opposition's casualty figures, post-revolution estimates mostly supported the royal government's casualty figures.
According to the Shi'ite customs, memorial services (called Arba'een) are held forty days after a person's death. Encouraged by Khomeini (who declared that the blood of martyrs must grow the "tree of Islam"), radicals pressured the mosques and moderate clergy to commemorate the deaths of the students, and used the occasion to generate protests. The informal network of mosques and bazaars, which for years had been used to carry out religious events, increasingly became consolidated as a coordinated protest organization.
On February 18, forty days after Qom clashes, demonstrations broke out in various different cities. The largest was in Tabriz, which descended into a full-scale riot. "Western" and government symbols such as cinemas, bars, state-owned banks, and police stations were set ablaze. Units of Imperial Iranian Army were deployed to the city to restore order, and the final death toll was 6  (while Khomeini claimed hundreds were "martyred").
Forty days later (March 29), demonstrations were organized in at least 55 cities, including Tehran. In an increasingly predictable pattern, deadly riots broke out in major cities, and again forty days later on May 10. It lead to an incident in which army commandos opened fire on Ayatollah Shariatmadari's house, killing one of his students. Shariatmadari immediately made a public announcement declaring his support for a "constitutional government", and a return to the policies of the 1906 Constitution.
The Shah was taken completely by surprise by the protests; to make matters worse he often became indecisive during times of crisis. Virtually every major decision he would make would backfire on his government, instead inflaming the revolutionaries.
The Shah decided to continue on his plan of liberalization, and decided to negotiate rather than to use force against the still nascent protest movement. He promised that fully democratic elections for the Majlis would be held in 1979. Censorship was relaxed, and a resolution was drafted to help reduce corruption within the royal family and the government. Protesters were tried in civilian courts rather than by military court-martials, and were quickly released.
Iran's security forces had not received any riot control training nor equipment since 1963. Police forces were unable to control demonstrations and the army frequently was deployed in that role. Soldiers were instructed not to use deadly force, yet there were instances of inexperienced soldiers reacting excessively, inflaming the violence without cowing the opposition, and receiving official condemnation from the Shah.(The Carter Administration also refused to sell non-lethal tear gas and rubber bullets to Iran).
As early as the Tabriz riots in February, the Shah fired all of the SAVAK officials in the city in a concession to the opposition, and soon began to dismiss civil servants and government officials whom he felt the public blamed. In the first national concession, he replaced the hardline SAVAK chief General Nematollah Nassiri with the more moderate General Nasser Moghaddam. The government also neogitated to moderate religious leaders such as Shariatmadari (apologizing to the latter for the raid on his house).
By summer, the protests had stagnated. They remained at a steady state for four months – about ten thousand participants in each major city (with the exception of Isfahan where protests were larger and Tehran where they were smaller), protesting every 40 days. This amounted to a small minority of the more than 15 million adults in Iran.
Against the wishes of Khomeini, Shariatmadari called for the June 17 mourning protests were carried out as a one day stay at home strike. Although tensions remained in the air, the Shah's policy appeared to have worked, leading Amuzegar to declare that "the crisis is over". A CIA analysis concluded that Iran "is not in a revolutionary or even a pre-revolutionary situation." Indeed, these and later events events in Iran are frequently cited as one of the most consequential strategic surprises that the United States has experienced since the CIA was established in 1947.
As a sign of easing of government restrictions, three prominent opposition leaders from the secular National Front: Karim Sanjabi, Shahpour Bakhtiar, and Dariush Forouhar (two of whom would be assassinated by the Islamic Republic in the future) were allowed to write an open letter to the Shah demanding that he reign according to the constitution of Iran.
On 19 August, in the southwestern city of Abadan, four arsonists barred the door of the Cinema Rex movie theater and set it on fire. In what was the largest terrorist attack in history prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks, 422 people inside the theater were burned to death. Movie theaters had been a common target of Islamist demonstrators, and 180 out of the 436 theatres in the country would be burned down.
Khomeini immediately blamed the Shah and SAVAK for setting the fire. Due to the pervasive revolutionary atmosphere, the public also blamed the Shah for starting the fire, despite the government's insistence that they were uninvolved. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets shouting "Burn the Shah!" and "The Shah is the guilty one!".
After the revolution, it was disclosed that Islamist militants started the fire. After the Islamic Republic government wrongfully executed a police officer for the act, the lone surviving arsonist, angered that somebody else was receiving credit for his act, admitted to starting the fire. After forcing the resignation of the presiding judges in an attempt to hamper the investigation, the new government finally executed Hossein Talakhzadeh for "setting the fire on the Shah's orders" (despite his insistence he did as an ultimate sacrifice it for the revolutionary cause).
By August, the protests had “kick[ed] ... into high gear,” and the number of demonstrators mushroomed to hundreds of thousands. In an attempt to dampen inflation the Amuzegar administration cut spending and reduced business, but the cutbacks led to a sharp rise in layoffs – particularly among young, unskilled, male workers living in the working class districts. By summer 1978, the working class joined the street protests in massive numbers. In addition, it was the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, bringing a sense of increased religiosity among many people.
A series of escalating protests broke out in major cities, and deadly riots broke out in Isfahan where protesters fought for the release of Ayatollah Jalaluddin Taheri. Martial law was declared in the city on August 11 as symbols of Western culture and government buildings were burned, and a bus full of American workers was bombed. Due to his failure to stop the protests, Prime Minister Amuzegar offered his resignation.
The Shah increasingly felt that he was losing control of the situation and hoped to regain it through complete appeasement. He decided to appoint Jafar Sharif-Emami to the post of prime minister, himself a veteran prime minister. Emami was chosen due to his family ties to the clergy, but had a reputation of corruption during his previous premiership.
Under the Shah's guidance, Sharif-Emami effectively began a policy of "appeasing the opposition's demands before they even made them". The government abolished the Rastakhiz Party, legalized all political parties and released political prisoners, increased freedom of expression, curtailed SAVAK's authority and dismissed 34 of its commanders, closed down casinos and nightclubs, and abolished the imperial calendar. The government also began to prosecute corrupt government and royal family members. Sharif-Emami entered into negotiations with Ayatollah Shariatmadari and National Front leader Karim Sanjabi in order to help organize future elections. Censorship was effectively terminated, and the newspapers began reporting heavily on demonstrations, often highly critically and negatively of the Shah. The Majlis (Parliament) also began issuing resolutions against the government.
September 4 was Eid-e-Fitr, the holiday celebrating the end of the month of Ramadan. A permit for an open air prayer was granted, in which 200,000-500,000 people attended. Instead, the clergy directed the crowd on a large march through the center of Tehran (the Shah reportedly watched the march from his helicopter, unnerved and confused). A few days later even larger protests took place, and for the first time protesters called for Khomeini's return and the establishment of an Islamic republic.
On midnight of September 8 the Shah declared martial law in Tehran and 11 other major cities throughout the country. All street demonstrations were banned, and a night-time curfew was established. Tehran's martial law commander was General Gholam-Ali Oveissi, who was known for his severity against opponents. However, the Shah made clear that once martial law was lifted he intended to continue with the liberalization, he retained Sharif-Emami's civilian government, hoping that protesters would avoid taking the streets.
However, 5,000 protesters took to the streets, either in defiance or because they had missed hearing the declaration, and faced off with soldiers at Jaleh Square. After firing warning shots, troops fired directly into the crowd, killing 64, while General Oveissi claimed that 30 soldiers were killed by armed snipers in surrounding buildings. Additional clashes throughout the day (which would be called Black Friday by the opposition) brought the opposition death toll to 89.
The deaths shocked the country, and damaged any attempt at reconciliation between the Shah and the opposition. Khomeini immediately declared that "4,000 innocent protesters were massacred by Zionists", and gave him a pretext to reject any further compromise with the government.
The Shah himself was horrified by the events of Black Friday, and harshly criticized the events. While martial law officially remained in effect, the government decided not to break up any more demonstrations or strikes (in effect "martial law without there exactly being martial law", according to Sharif-Emami), instead continuing to negotiate with protest leaders. Consequently, protest gatherings often took place without any serious intervention by soldiers.
On September 9, 700 workers at Tehran's main oil refinery went on strike, and on September 11 the same occurred at refineries in 5 other cities. On September 13, central government workers in Tehran siltaneously went on strike.
By late October, a nationwide general strike was declared, with workers in virtually all major industries walking off their jobs, most damagingly in the oil industry and the print media. Special "strike committees" were set up throughout major industries to organize and coordinate the activities.
The Shah did not attempt to crack down on strikers, but instead gave them generous wage increases, and allowed strikers who lived in government housing to remain in their homes. By the beginning of November, many important officials in the Shah's government were demanding that the Shah forceful measures to bring the strikers back to work.
Hoping to break Khomeini's contacts with the opposition, the Shah pressured the Iraqi government to expel him from Najaf. Khomeini left Iraq, instead moving to a house bought by Iranian exiles in Neauphle-le-Château, a village near Paris, France. The Shah hoped that Khomeini would be cut off from the mosques of Najaf and be cut off from the protest movement. Instead, the plan backfired badly. With superior French telephone and postal connections (compared to Iraqi ones), his supporters flooded Iran with tapes and recordings of his sermons.
Worse for the Shah, Khomeini immediately put himself into the spotlight of the Western media, especially in the broadcasts of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Khomeini rapidly became a household name in the west, portraying himself as an "Eastern mystic" who did not seek power, but instead sought to "free" his people from "oppression". The normally critical western media rapidly became a docile tool in Khomeini's hands.
In addition, the media coverage eroded the influence of other, more moderate clergy such as Ayatollah Shariatmadari and Ayatollah Taleghani. The BBC itself later issued a statement admitting to having a "critical" disposition to the Shah, saying that its broadcasts helped to "change the collective perception of the population." 
In November, secular National Front leader Karim Sanjabi flew to Paris to meet Khomeini. There the two signed an agreement for a draft constitution that would be "Islamic and democratic". It signaled the now official alliance between the clergy and the secular opposition. In order to help create a democratic facade, Khomeini placed Westernized figures (such as Sadegh Qotbzadeh and Ebrahim Yazdi) as the public spokesmen of the opposition, and never spoke to the media of his intentions to create a theocracy.
Street demonstrations continued at full force with little response from the military; by late October, government officials effectively even ceded the University of Tehran to student protesters. Worse, the opposition was increasingly becoming armed with weapons, firing at soldiers and attacking banks and government buildings in an attempt to destabilize the country.
On November 5, demonstrations at University of Tehran became deadly after a fight broke out with armed soldiers. Within hours, Tehran broke out into a full scale riot. Block after block of Western symbols such as movie theaters and department stores, as well as government and police buildings, were seized, looted,and burned. The British embassy in Tehran was partially burned and vandalized as well, and the American embassy nearly suffered the same fate (the event became known to foreign observers as "The Day Tehran Burned").
Many of the rioters were young teenage boys, often organized by the mosques in southern Tehran, and encouraged by their mullahs to attack and destroy western and secular symbols. The army and police, confused about their orders and under pressure from the Shah not to risk initiating violence, effectively gave up and did not intervene.
On December 6, the Shah dismissed Sharif-Emami from the post of prime minister, and chose to appoint a military government in its place. General Gholam-Reza Azhari was chosen to be prime minister. Azhari was chosen by the Shah because of his mild-mannered approach to the situation. The cabinet he would choose was a military cabinet in name only, and consisted primarily of civilian leaders.
The same day, the Shah made a speech on Iranian television. He referred to himself as Padeshah (king), instead of the more grandiose Shahanshah (king of kings), which he insisted on being called previously. In his speech he stated "I have heard the voice of your revolution"..."this revolution cannot but be supported by me, the king of Iran". He apologized for mistakes that were committed during his reign, and promised to ensure that corruption would no longer exist. He stated he would begin to work with the opposition to bring democracy, and would form a coalition government. In effect, the Shah intended to restrain the military government (which he described as a temporary caretaker government) from carrying out a full crackdown.
The speech backfired when the revolutionaries sensed weakness from the Shah and "smelled blood". Khomeini announced that there would be no reconciliation with the Shah and called on all Iranians to overthrow him.
Military authorities declared martial law in Khuzestan province (Iran's main oil producing province), and deployed troops to its oil facilities. Navy personnel were also used as strikebreakers in the oil industry. Street marches declined and oil production began increasing once again, nearly reaching pre-revolutionary levels. In a symbolic blow to the opposition, Karim Sanjabi, who had visited Khomeini in Paris, was arrested upon his return to Iran.
However, the government still continued the policy of appeasement and negotiation. The Shah ordered the arrest 100 officials from his own government for charges of corruption, including former prime minister Amir Abbas-Hoveyda and former SAVAK head Nematollah Nassiri.
Khomeini condemned the military government and called for continued protests (and for "rivers of blood" to be spilled). He and the protest organizers planned a series of escalating protests during the holy Islamic month of Muharram, to culminate with massive protests on the days of Tasu'a and Ashura (commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein ibn Ali, the third Shia Muslim imam).
While the military authorities banned street demonstrations and extended the curfew, the Shah faced deep misgivings about the potential violence.
On December 2, the Muharram protests began. Thousands of protesters (many of whom were teenagers organized by the mullahs from the mosques of southern Tehran) took to the streets, frequently at night in direct defiance of the curfew (often taking to rooftops and shouting "Allahu-Akbar" (God is Great). According to one witness, many of the clashes on the street had an air of playfulness rather than seriousness, with security forces using "kid gloves" against the opposition  (nevertheless, the government reported at least 12 opposition deaths).
As the days of Tasu'a and Ashura (December 10 and 11) approached, in order to prevent a deadly showdown the Shah began to draw back. In negotiations with Ayatollah Shariatmadari, the Shah ordered the release of 120 political prisoners and Karim Sanjabi, and on December 8 revoked the ban on street demonstrations. Permits were issued for the marchers, and troops were removed from the procession's path. In turn, Shariatmadari pledged that to make sure that there would be no violence during the demonstrations.
On December 10 and 11, the days of Tasu'a and Ashura, between six and nine million anti-shah demonstrators marched throughout Iran. According to one historian, "even discounting for exaggeration, these figures may represent the largest protest event in history." The marches were led by Ayatollah Taleghani and National Front leader Karim Sanjabi, thus symbolizing the "unity" of the secular and religious opposition. The mullahs and bazaar merchants effectively policed the gathering, and protesters who attempted to initiate violence were restrained.|
More than 10% of the country marched in anti-shah demonstrations on December 10 and 11, 1978, possibly a higher percentage than any previous revolution. It is rare for a revolution to involve as much as 1 percent of a country's population; the French, Russian, and Romanian revolutions may have passed the 1 percent mark.
Much of Iranian society was in euphoria about the coming revolution. Secular and leftist politicians piled onto the movement hoping to gain power in the aftermath, ignoring the fact that Khomeini was the very antithesis to all of the positions they supported (such as women's rights). While it was increasingly clear to more secular Iranians that Khomeini was not a liberal, he was widely perceived as a figurehead, and that power would be eventually be handed to the secular groups.
The military leadership was increasingly paralyzed by indecision, and rank-and-file soldiers were demoralized, having been forced to confront demonstrators while prohibited from using their own weapons (and being condemned by the Shah if they did). Increasingly, Khomeini called on the soldiers of the armed forces to defect to the opposition. Revolutionaries gave flowers and civilian clothes to deserters, while threatening retribution to those who stayed. On December 11, a dozen officers were shot dead by their own troops at Tehran's Lavizan barracks. Fearing further mutinies, many soldiers were returned to their barracks. Mashhad (the second largest city in Iran) was abandoned to the protesters, and in many provincial towns demonstrators were effectively in control.
The Carter Administration increasingly became locked in a debate about continued support for the monarchy. As early as November, ambassador William Sullivan sent a telegram to Carter ( the "Thinking the Unthinkable" telegram). The telegram effectively declared his belief that the Shah would not survive the protests, and that the US should consider withdrawing its support for his government and persuading the monarch to abdicate. The United States would then help assemble a coalition of pro-Western military officers, middle class professionals, and moderate clergy, with Khomeini installed as a Gandhi-like spiritual leader.
The telegram touched off a vigorous debate in the American cabinet, with some (such as National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski ) rejecting it outright. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance rejected a military crackdown; he and his supporters believed in the "moderate and progressive" intentions of Khomeini and his circle.
Increasing contact was established with the pro-Khomeini camp. Based on the revolutionaries responses, some American officials (especially Ambassador Sullivan) felt that Khomeini was genuinely intent on creating a democracy. According to historian Abbas Milani, this resulted in the United States effectively helping to facilitate Khomeini's rise to power.
The Shah began to search for a new prime minister, one who was a civilian and a member of the opposition. On December 28, he secured an agreement with another major National Front figure, Shahpour Bakhtiar. Bakhtiar would be appointed prime minister (a return to civilian rule), while the Shah and his family would leave the country for a "vacation". His royal duties would be carried out by a Regency Council, and three months after his departure a referendum would be submitted to the people deciding on whether Iran would remain a monarchy or become a republic. A former opponent of the Shah, Bakhtiar became motivated to join the government because he was increasingly aware of Khomeini's intentions to implement hard-line religious rule rather than a democracy. Karim Sanjabi immediately expelled Bakhtiar from the National Front, and Bakhtiar was denounced by Khomeini (who declared that acceptance of his government was the equivalent of "obedience to false gods").
The Shah, hoping to see Bakhtiar established, kept delaying his departure. Consequently to the Iranian public, Bakhtiar was seen as the Shah's last prime minister, undermining his support.
American General Robert Huyser, the Deputy Commander of NATO, entered Iran. While the option of a pro-Shah military coup still was a possibility, Huyser met with military leaders (but not the Shah), and established meetings between them and Khomeini allies, for the purpose of agreeing on Bakhtiar's transitional government. Ambassador Sullivan disagreed, and attempted to pressure Huyser to ignore the military and work directly with Khomeini's opposition. Nevertheless, Huyser won out and continued to work with the both the military and opposition. He left Iran on February 3. The Shah was privately embittered by Huyser's mission, and felt that the United States wanted him to be no longer in power.
On the morning of January 16, 1979, Bakhtiar was officially appointed prime minister. The same day, a tearful Shah and his family left Iran for exile in Egypt, never to return.
When news of the Shah's departure was announced, there were spontaneous scenes of joy throughout the country. Millions poured onto the streets, virtually every remaining sign of the monarchy was torn down by the crowds.
Bakhtiar dissolved SAVAK and freed all of the remaining political prisoners. He ordered the army to allow mass demonstrations, promised free elections and invited the revolutionaries into a government of "national unity". Bakhtiar invited Khomeini back to Iran, with the intention of creating a Vatican-like state in the holy city of Qom, declaring that "We will soon have the honor of welcoming home the Ayatollah Khomeini".
On February 1, 1979 Khomeini returned to Tehran in a chartered Air France Boeing 747. The welcoming crowd of several million Iranians was so large he was forced to take a helicopter after the car he was being transported in from the airport was overwhelmed by an enthusiastic welcoming crowd. Khomeini was now not only the undisputed leader of the revolution, he had become what some called a "semi-divine" figure, greeted as he descended from his airplane with cries of 'Khomeini, O Imam, we salute you, peace be upon you.' Crowds were now known to chant "Islam, Islam, Khomeini, We Will Follow You," and even "Khomeini for King." When asked by a reporter how he felt returning to his home country after a long exile, Khomeini replied "Nothing".
On the day of his arrival Khomeini made clear his fierce rejection of Bakhtiar's government in a speech promising 'I shall kick their teeth in. I appoint the government, I appoint the government in support of this nation'. On February 5 at his headquarters in the Refah School in southern Tehran, he declared a provisional revolutionary government, and appointed opposition leader Mehdi Bazargan (from the religious-nationalist Freedom Movement, affiliated with the National Front), as his own prime minister.
Khomeini appointed his own competing interim prime minister Mehdi Bazargan on February 4, 'with the support of the nation' and commanded Iranians to obey Bazargan as a religious duty. He threatened to declare jihad on those who opposed his system.
[T]hrough the guardianship [Velayat] that I have from the holy lawgiver [the Prophet], I hereby pronounce Bazargan as the Ruler, and since I have appointed him, he must be obeyed. The nation must obey him. This is not an ordinary government. It is a government based on the sharia. Opposing this government means opposing the sharia of Islam ... Revolt against God's government is a revolt against God. Revolt against God is blasphemy.
Angered, Bakhtiar made a speech of his own. Reaffirming himself as the legitimate leader, he declared that:
Iran has one government. More than this is intolerable, either for me or for you or for any other Iranian. As a Muslim, I had not heard that jihad refers to one Muslim against other Muslims.... I will not give permission to Ayatollah Khomeini to form an interim government. In life there comes a time when one must stand firm and say no.... I have never seen a book about an Islamic Republic; neither has anyone else for that matter.... Some of the people surrounding the Ayatollah are like violent vultures.... The clergy should go to Qom and build a wall around themselves and create their own Vatican.
Tensions between the two rival governments increased rapidly. To demonstrate his support, Khomeini called for demonstrators to occupy the streets throughout the country. He also sent a letter to American officials warning them to withdraw support for Bakhtiar. Bakhtiar increasingly isolated, with members of the government (including the entire Regency Council) defecting to Khomeini. The military was crumbling, with its leadership was completely paralyzed, unsure of whether to support Bakhtiar or act on their own, and rank-and-file soldiers either demoralized or deserting.
On February 9, a rebellion of pro-Khomeini air force technicians broke out at the Doshan Tappeh air base. A unit of the pro-Shah Immortal Guards attempted to apprehend the rebels, and an armed battle broke out. Soon large crowds took to the streets, building barricades and supporting the rebels, while Islamic-Marxist guerillas with their weapons joined in support.
The armed rebels attacked weapons factory capturing nearly 50,000 machine guns, distributing them to civilians who joined in the fighting. The rebels began storming police stations and military bases throughout Tehran. The city's martial law commander General Mehdi Rahimi decided not to use his 30,000 loyal Immortal Guards to crush the rebellion for fear of producing civilian casualties.
The final collapse of the provisional non-Islamist government came at 2 pm February 11 when the Supreme Military Council declared itself "neutral in the current political disputes… in order to prevent further disorder and bloodshed." All military personnel were ordered back to their bases, effectively yielding control of the entire country to Khomeini. Revolutionaries took over government buildings, TV and radio stations, and palaces of the Pahlavi dynasty, marking the end of the 2500 year old monarchy in Iran. Bakhtiar escaped the palace under a hail of bullets, fleeing Iran in disguise. He was later assassinated by an agent of the Islamic Republic in 1990.
This period, from February 1 to 11, is celebrated every year in Iran as the "Decade of Fajr." February 11 is "Islamic Revolution's Victory Day", a national holiday with state sponsored demonstrations in every city.
Some 2,781 protesters and revolutionaries were killed in 1978–79 during the Revolution. Khomeini sought support by announcing a much larger number; he said that "60,000 men, women and children were martyred by the Shah's regime." According to at least one source (historian Ervand Abrahamian), the number executed by revolutionary courts as the revolution was consolidated (8000 opponents between June 1981 and June 1985) exceeded those killed by the royalist government trying to stop the revolution.
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From early 1979 to either 1982 or 1983 Iran was in a "revolutionary crisis mode". The economy and the apparatus of government had collapsed, military and security forces were in disarray. Yet, by 1982 Khomeini and his supporters had crushed the rival factions, defeated local rebellions and consolidated power. Events that made up both the crisis and its resolution were the Iran Hostage Crisis, the invasion of Iran by Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and the presidency of Abolhassan Banisadr.
Some observers believe "what began as an authentic and anti-dictatorial popular revolution based on a broad coalition of all anti-Shah forces was soon transformed into an Islamic fundamentalist power-grab," that except for his core supporters, the members of the coalition thought Khomeini intended to be more a spiritual guide than a ruler – Khomeini being in his mid-70s, having never held public office, been out of Iran for more than a decade, and having told questioners things like "the religious dignitaries do not want to rule."
Another view is Khomeini had "overwhelming ideological, political and organizational hegemony," and non-theocratic groups never seriously challenged Khomeini's movement in popular support. Supporters of the new rule themselves have claimed that Iranians who opposed Khomeini were "fifth columnists" led by foreign countries attempting to overthrow the Iranian government.
Khomeini and his loyalists in the revolutionary organizations implemented Khomeini's velayat-e faqih design for an Islamic Republic led by himself as Supreme Leader by exploiting temporary allies such as Mehdi Bazargan's Provisional Government of Iran, whom they later eliminated from Iran's political stage one by one.
While the moderate Bazargan and his government (temporarily) reassured the middle class, it became apparent they did not have power over the "Khomeinist" revolutionary bodies, particularly the Revolutionary Council (the "real power" in the revolutionary state), and later the Islamic Republican Party. Inevitably, the overlapping authority of the Revolutionary Council (which had the power to pass laws) and Bazargan's government was a source of conflict, despite the fact that both had been approved by and/or put in place by Khomeini.
This conflict lasted only a few months however. The provisional government fell shortly after American Embassy officials were taken hostage on 4 November 1979. Bazargan's resignation was received by Khomeini without complaint, saying "Mr. Bazargan ... was a little tired and preferred to stay on the sidelines for a while." Khomeini later described his appointment of Bazargan as a "mistake."
The Revolutionary Guard, or Pasdaran-e Enqelab, was established by Khomeini on May 5, 1979 as a counterweight both to the armed groups of the left, and to the Shah's military. The guard eventually grew into "a full-scale" military force, becoming "the strongest institution of the revolution."
Serving under the Pasdaran were/are the Baseej-e Mostaz'afin, ("Oppressed Mobilization") volunteers in everything from earthquake emergency management to attacking opposition demonstrators and newspaper offices. The Islamic Republican Party then fought to establish a theocratic government by velayat-e faqih.
Thousands of komiteh or Revolutionary Committees served as "the eyes and ears" of the new rule and are credited by critics with "many arbitrary arrests, executions and confiscations of property".
Two major political groups that formed after the fall of the shah that clashed with and were eventually suppressed by pro-Khomeini groups, were the moderate religious Muslim People's Republican Party (MPRP) which was associated with Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari, and the secular leftist National Democratic Front (NDF).
Following the events of the revolution, Marxist guerrillas and federalist parties revolted in some regions comprising Khuzistan, Kurdistan and Gonbad-e Qabus, which resulted in fighting between them and revolutionary forces. These revolts began in April 1979 and lasted between several months to over a year, depending on the region.
On March 30 and 31 (Farvardin 10, 11) a referendum was held over whether to replace the monarchy with an "Islamic Republic" – a term not defined on the ballot. Khomeini called for a massive turnout and only the National Democratic Front, Fadayan, and several Kurdish parties opposed the vote. It was announced that 98.2% had voted in favor.
In June 1979 the Freedom Movement released its draft constitution for the Islamic Republic that it had been working on since Khomeini was in exile. It included a Guardian Council to veto un-Islamic legislation, but had no guardian jurist ruler. Leftists found the draft too conservative and in need of major changes but Khomeini declared it `correct`. To approve the new constitution and prevent leftist alterations, a relatively small seventy-three-member Assembly of Experts for Constitution was elected that summer. Critics complained that "vote-rigging, violence against undesirable candidates and the dissemination of false information" was used to "produce an assembly overwhelmingly dominated by clergy loyal to Khomeini."
Khomeini (and the assembly) now rejected the constitution – its correctness notwithstanding – and Khomeini declared that the new government should be based "100% on Islam."
In addition to the president, the new constitution included a more powerful post of guardian jurist ruler intended for Khomeini, with control of the military and security services, and power to appoint several top government and judicial officials. It increased the power and number of clerics on the Council of Guardians and gave it control over elections as well as laws passed by the legislature.
Helping to pass the constitution, suppress moderates and otherwise radicalize the revolution was the holding of 52 American diplomats hostage for four hundred forty-four days. In late October 1979, the exiled and dying Shah was admitted into the United States for cancer treatment. In Iran there was an immediate outcry and both Khomeini and leftist groups demanding the Shah's return to Iran for trial and execution. On November 4, 1979 youthful Islamists, calling themselves Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line, invaded the embassy compound and seized its staff. Revolutionaries were reminded of how 26 years earlier the Shah had fled abroad while the Embassy-based American CIA and British intelligence organized a coup d'état to overthrow his nationalist opponent.
The holding of hostages was very popular and continued for months even after the death of the Shah. As Khomeini explained to his future President Banisadr,
This action has many benefits. ... This has united our people. Our opponents do not dare act against us. We can put the constitution to the people's vote without difficulty ...
With great publicity the students released documents from the American embassy or "nest of spies," showing moderate Iranian leaders had met with U.S. officials (similar evidence of high-ranking Islamists having done so did not see the light of day). Among the casualties of the hostage crisis was Prime Minister Bazargan and his government who resigned in November unable to enforce the government's order to release the hostages.
The prestige of Khomeini and the hostage taking was further enhanced with the failure of a hostage rescue attempt, widely credited to divine intervention.
It ended with the signing of the Algiers Accords in Algeria on January 19, 1981. The hostages were formally released into United States custody the following day, just minutes after the new American president Ronald Reagan was sworn in. The hostages had been held at the U.S. embassy in Tehran for 444 days.
In early March Khomeini announced, "do not use this term, ‘democratic.’ That is the Western style," giving pro-democracy liberals (and later leftists) a taste of disappointments to come.
In succession the National Democratic Front was banned in August 1979, the provisional government was disempowered in November, the Muslim People's Republican Party banned in January 1980, the People's Mujahedin of Iran guerrillas came under attack in February 1980, a purge of universities was begun in March 1980, and leftist Islamist Abolhassan Banisadr was impeached in June 1981.
After the revolution, human rights groups estimated the number of casualties suffered by protesters and prisoners of the new system to be several thousand. The first to be executed were members of the old system – senior generals, followed by over 200 senior civilian officials, as punishment and to eliminate the danger of coup d’État. Brief trials lacking defense attorneys, juries, transparency or opportunity for the accused to defend themselves, were held by revolutionary judges such as Sadegh Khalkhali, the Sharia judge. By January 1980 "at least 582 persons had been executed." Among those executed was Amir Abbas Hoveida, former Prime Minister of Iran.
Between January 1980 and June 1981, when Bani-Sadr was impeached, at least 900 executions took place, for everything from drug and sexual offenses to `corruption on earth,` from plotting counter-revolution and spying for Israel to membership in opposition groups. In the 12 months following that Amnesty International documented 2,946 executions, with several thousand more killed in the next two years according to the anti-government guerillas People's Mujahedin of Iran.
In mid August, shortly after the election of the constitution-writing assembly, several dozen newspapers and magazines opposing Khomeini's idea of theocratic rule by jurists were shut down. When protests were organized by the National Democratic Front (NDF), Khomeini angrily denounced them saying, "we thought we were dealing with human beings. It is evident we are not."
... After each revolution several thousand of these corrupt elements are executed in public and burnt and the story is over. They are not allowed to publish newspapers.
In December the moderate Islamic party Muslim People's Republican Party (MPRP), and its spiritual leader Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari had become a rallying point for Iranians who wanted democracy not theocracy. Riots broke out in Shariatmadari's Azeri home region with members of the MPRP and Shariatmadari's followers seizing the Tabriz television station, and using it to "broadcast demands and grievances." The regime reacted quickly, sending Revolutionary Guards to retake the TV station, mediators to defuse complaints and activists to stage a massive pro-Khomeini counter-demonstration. The party was suppressed and in 1982 Shari'atmadari was "demoted" from the rank of Grand Ayatollah and many of his clerical followers purged.
In January 1980 Abolhassan Banisadr was elected president of Iran. Though an adviser to Khomeini, he was a leftist who clashed with another ally of Khomeini, the theocratic Islamic Republic Party (IRP) – the controlling power in the new parliament.
At the same time, erstwhile revolutionary allies of Khomeini – the Islamist modernist guerrilla group People's Mujahedin of Iran (or MEK) – were being suppressed by Khomeini's revolutionary organizations. Khomeini attacked the MEK as monafeqin (hypocrites) and kafer (unbelievers). Hezbollahi people attacked meeting places, bookstores, newsstands of Mujahideen and other leftists driving them underground. Universities were closed to purge them of opponents of theocratic rule as a part of the "Cultural Revolution", and 20,000 teachers and nearly 8,000 military officers deemed too westernized were dismissed.
By mid-1981 matters came to a head. An attempt by Khomeini to forge a reconciliation between Banisadr and IRP leaders had failed and now it was Banisadr who was the rallying point "for all doubters and dissidents" of the theocracy, including the MEK.
When leaders of the National Front called for a demonstration in June 1981 in favor of Banisadr, Khomeini threatened its leaders with the death penalty for apostasy "if they did not repent." Leaders of the Freedom Movement of Iran were compelled to make and publicly broadcast apologies for supporting the Front's appeal. Those attending the rally were menaced by Hezbollahi and Revolutionary Guards and intimidated into silence.
The MEK retaliated with a campaign of terror against the IRP. On the June 28, 1981, a bombing of the office of the IRP killed around 70 high-ranking officials, cabinet members and members of parliament, including Mohammad Beheshti, the secretary-general of the party and head of the Islamic Republic's judicial system. The government responded with thousands of arrests and hundreds of executions. Despite these and other assassinations the hoped-for mass uprising and armed struggle against the Khomeiniists was crushed.
Views differ on the impact of the revolution. For some it was "the most significant, hopeful and profound event in the entirety of contemporary Islamic history," while other Iranians believe that the revolution was a time when "for a few years we all lost our minds", and which "promised us heaven, but... created a hell on earth."
Internationally, the initial impact of the revolution was immense. In the non-Muslim world it changed the image of Islam, generating much interest in Islam – both sympathetic and hostile – and even speculation that the revolution might change "the world balance of power more than any political event since Hitler's conquest of Europe."
The Islamic Republic positioned itself as a revolutionary beacon under the slogan "neither East nor West" (i.e. neither Soviet nor American/West European models), and called for the overthrow of capitalism, American influence, and social injustice in the Middle East and the rest of the world. Revolutionary leaders in Iran gave and sought support from non-Muslim causes in the Third World – e.g. the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, IRA in Ireland and anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa – even to the point of favoring non-Muslim revolutionaries over Islamic causes such as the neighboring Afghan Mujahideen.
In its region, Iranian Islamic revolutionaries called specifically for the overthrow of monarchies and their replacement with Islamic republics, much to the alarm of its smaller Sunni-run Arab neighbors Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the other Persian Gulf States – most of whom were monarchies and all of whom had sizable Shi'a populations. It was with one of these countries that the Iran–Iraq War, which killed hundreds of thousands and dominated life in the Islamic Republic for the next eight years, was fought. Although Iraq invaded Iran, most of the war was fought after Iran had regained most of its land back and after the Iraqi government had offered a truce. Khomeini rejected it, announcing the only condition for peace was that "the regime in Baghdad must fall and must be replaced by an Islamic Republic," but ultimately the war ended with no Islamic revolution in Iraq.
In September 1980 the Arab Nationalist and Sunni Muslim-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein of neighboring Iraq invaded Iran in an attempt to take advantage of revolutionary chaos and destroy the revolution in its infancy. Iran was "galvanized" and Iranians rallied behind their new government helping to stop and then reversing the Iraqi advance. By early 1982 Iran regained almost all the territory lost to the invasion.
Like the hostage crisis, the war served in part as an opportunity for the government to strengthen revolutionary ardour and revolutionary groups. such as the Revolutionary Guard and committees at the expense of its remaining allies-turned-opponents, such as the MEK. While enormously costly and destructive, the war "rejuvenate[d] the drive for national unity and Islamic revolution" and "inhibited fractious debate and dispute" in Iran.
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In the Mideast and Muslim world, particularly in its early years, it triggered enormous enthusiasm and redoubled opposition to western intervention and influence. Islamist insurgents rose in Saudi Arabia (1979), Egypt (1981), Syria (1982), and Lebanon (1983).
Although ultimately only the Lebanese Islamists succeeded, other activities have had more long-term impact. The Ayatollah Khomeini's 1989 fatwa calling for the killing of Indian-born British citizen Salman Rushdie had international impact. The Islamic revolutionary government itself is credited with helping establish Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
On the other side of the ledger, at least one observer argues that despite great effort and expense the only countries outside Iran the revolution had a "measure of lasting influence" on are Lebanon and Iraq. Others claim the devastating Iran–Iraq War "mortally wounded ... the ideal of spreading the Islamic revolution," or that the Islamic Republic's pursuit of an ideological rather than a "nationalist, pragmatic" foreign policy has weakened Iran's "place as a great regional power".
Internally, the revolution has brought a broadening of education and health care for the poor, and particularly governmental promotion of Islam, and the elimination of secularism and American influence in government. Fewer changes have occurred in terms of political freedom, governmental honesty and efficiency, economic equality and self-sufficiency, or even popular religious devotion. Opinion polls and observers report widespread dissatisfaction, including a "rift" between the revolutionary generation and younger Iranians who find it "impossible to understand what their parents were so passionate about."
Literacy has continued to increase under the Islamic Republic which uses Islamic principles. By 2002, illiteracy rates dropped by more than half. Maternal and infant mortality rates have also been cut significantly. Population growth was first encouraged, but discouraged after 1988. Overall, Iran's Human development Index rating has climbed significantly from 0.569 in 1980 to 0.732 in 2002, on par with neighbour Turkey.
Iran has elected governmental bodies at the national, provincial, and local levels. Although these bodies are subordinate to theocracy – which has veto power over who can run for parliament (or Islamic Consultative Assembly) and whether its bills can become law – they have more power than equivalent organs in the Shah's government. Iran's Sunni minority (about 8%) has seen some unrest. While Iran's small non-Muslim minorities do not have equal rights, five of the 290 parliamentary seats are allocated to their communities.
The members of the Bahá'í Faith have been declared heretical and subversive. While persecution occurred before the Revolution since then more than 200 Bahá'ís have been executed or presumed killed, and many more have been imprisoned, deprived of jobs, pensions, businesses, and educational opportunities. Bahá'í holy places have been confiscated, vandalized, or destroyed. More recently, Bahá'ís in Iran have been deprived of education and work. Several thousand young Bahá'ís between the ages of 17 and 24 have been expelled from universities.
Whether the Islamic Republic has brought more or less severe political repression is disputed. Grumbling once done about the tyranny and corruption of the Shah and his court is now directed against "the Mullahs." Fear of SAVAK has been replaced by fear of Revolutionary Guards, and other religious revolutionary enforcers. Violations of human rights by the theocratic government is said to be worse than during the monarchy, and in any case extremely grave. Reports of torture, imprisonment of dissidents, and the murder of prominent critics have been made by human rights groups. Censorship is handled by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, without whose official permission, "no books or magazines are published, no audiotapes are distributed, no movies are shown and no cultural organization is established. All forms of popular music are banned. Men and women are not allowed to dance or swim with each other. "
Women – especially those from traditional backgrounds – participated on a large scale in demonstrations leading up to the revolution. Since the revolution university enrollment and the number of women in the civil service and higher education has risen and several women have been elected to the Iranian parliament.
Iran's economy has increased rapidly since the revolution. GDP has increased from $114 billion in 1980 to $858 billion in 2010. Changes in GDP per capita has also improved significantly, from $2974 in 1980 to $11,396 in 2010. In 2010, less than 10% of Iranian GDP was dependent on oil and gas, comparing to above 90% in Pahlavi period.
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