IRANIAN REVOLUTION (1978-1979) | Essay for CSS and PMS
IRANIAN REVOLUTION (1978-1979) | Essay for CSS and PMS
The Iranian Revolution refers to events involving the overthrow of Iran’s monarchy under Shah Mohan1mad Reza Pahlavi and its replacement with an Islamic republic under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution.
Demonstrations against the Shah commenced in October 1977, developing into a campaign of civil resistance that was partly secular and partly religious, and intensified in January 1978. Between August and December, 1978 strikes and demonstrations paralyzed the country. The Shah left Iran for exile in mid-January 1979, and in the resulting power vacuum two weeks later Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran to a greeting by sev.eral million Iranians. The royal regime collapsed shortly after on February 11 when _guerrillas and rebel troops overwhelmed troops loyal to the Shah in armed street fighting. Iran voted by national referendum to become the Islamic Republic on April l, 1979, and to approve a new theocratic constitution whereby Khomeini became Supreme Leader of the country in December 1979.
Following are the causes of this revolution
The revolution was populist, nationalist and later Shia Islamic. It was in part a conservative backlash against the Westernizing and secularizing efforts of the Western-backed Shah, and a liberal backlash to social injustice and other shortcomings of the ancient regime. 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.
The Shah’s regime was seen by his opposition as oppressive, brutal, corrupt, and extravagant; it also suffered from basic functional failures – an over-ambitious economic program that brought economic bottlenecks, shortages and inflation. Security forces were unable to deal with protest and demonstrations; Iran was an overly centralized royal power structure. The extraordinarily large size of the anti-shah movement meant that there “were literally too many protesters to arrest”, and that the security forces were overwhelmed.
That the revolution replaced monarchy and Shah Pahlavi with Islamism and Khomeini, rather than another leader and ideology, is credited in part to the spread of the Shia version of the Islamic revival that opposed Westernization, saw Ayatollah Khomeini as following in the footsteps of the beloved Shia Imam Hussain ibn Ali, and the Shah in those of Husayn’s foe, the hated tyrant Yazid I. Also thought responsible was the underestimation of Khomeini’s Islamist movement by both tl1e Shah’s regime – who considered them a minor threat compared to the Marxists and Islamic socialists and by the secularist opponents of tl1e regime – who thought the Khomeinists could be sidelined.
By mid-December, the shah’s position had deteriorated to the point where he “wanted only to be allowed to stay in Iran.” He was turned down by the opposition. In late December, “he agreed to leave the country temporarily; still, he was turned down.” On January 16, 1979, the Shah and the empress left Iran. Scenes of spontaneous joy followed and “within hours almost every sign of the Pahlavi dynasty” was destroyed.
Bakhtiar dissolved SAVAK, freed political prisoners, ordered the army to allow mass demonstrations, promised free elections and invited Khomeinists and other revolutionaries into a government of “national unity”. After stalling for a few days Bakhtiar allowed Ayatollah Khomeini to return to Iran, asking him to create a Vatican-like state in Qom and calling upon the opposition to help preserve the constitution.
A new prime minister, Jafar Sharif-Emami, was installed in late August and reversed some of the Shah’s policies. Casinos were closed, the imperial calendar abolished, activity by political parties legalized – to no avail. By September, the nation was rapidly destabilizing, and major protests were becoming a regular occurrence. The Shah introduced martial law and banned all demonstrations but on September 8 thousands of protesters gathered in Tehran. Security forces shot· and killed dozens, in what became known as Black Friday.
On February 1, 1979, Ayatollah 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, but he had also become what some called a “semi-divine” figure, greeted as he descended from his aeroplane with cries of ‘Khomeini, 0 Imam, we sa]ute you. ‘Crowds were now known to chant “Islam. Islam, Khomei111, We Will Follow You,” and even “Khomeini for King.”
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.
In September 1980, the Arab Nationalist and Sunni Muslim-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein in neighbouring 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 regime 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.
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 favouring non-Muslim revolutionaries over Islamic causes such as the neighbouring Afghan Mujahideen.
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 British citizen Salman Rushdie had an 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.
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.”