The Islamic Revolution occurred in 1979 in the Muslim-majority country of Iran. Islamist revolutionaries opposed the western secular policies of the authoritarian Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.
Supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini organized protests against the authoritarian government of the Shah. Khomeini became the new Leader of Iran. 98.2% of the Iranian voters voted "yes" in a referendum to create the Islamic Republic of Iran under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini (also known as Imam Khomeini). It replaced a monarchy with a theocratic republic. The West claims that the republic is authoritarian.
In September 1980, shortly after the revolution, Iraq under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, invaded Iran. This started a war between the two countries that lasted until 1988, with neither side coming out victorious. The war is known as the Iran–Iraq War.
To understand the events that led to the fall of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, and the establishment of an Islamic Republic in the country, it is important to take a quick look back. Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the Shah overthrown by the Revolution, acceded to the throne in 1941 after the abdication of his father. At the beginning of the Cold War, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi drew closer to the United States and the Western bloc. The new Shah quickly set out to modernize Iran.
1953: a Western-orchestrated coupEdit
Mohammad Mossadegh, Prime Minister between 1951 and 1953, introduced social security and land reform. At the same time, Mohammad Mossadegh, the Shah's Prime Minister, nationalized the Iranian oil industry following a dispute with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC). Mossadegh was overthrown in Operation Ajax by British and American intelligence in 1953, and the political situation was so unstable that the Shah, who had supported the US and UK, was forced into exile. He quickly returned to power and initiated a series of economic and social reforms to modernize the country. Still, a growing divide between a highly westernized population and a more conservative section of the people supported Ayatollah Khomeini.
1963: White revolutionEdit
In 1963, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi launched the "Revolution of the King and the People", better known as the "White Revolution". This program included a series of innovative reforms.
The Shah intended these reforms to be a non-violent regeneration of Iranian society through economic and social reforms, with the long-term goal of transforming Iran into a global economic and industrial power. The Shah introduced innovative financial concepts such as distributing profits to workers and initiated government-funded heavy industry projects and the nationalization of forests, pastures, and water resources. Most important, however, was the land reform that saw the large landowners lose most of their influence and power. Socially, the White Revolution gave more rights to women, allowed the development of the medical profession, and injected funds into education, especially in rural areas.
1964: the exile of Ayatollah KhomeiniEdit
Opposed to the Shah's "White Revolution," the Ayatollah was arrested in 1963 after a series of riots in Tehran. His arrest aroused the anger of his supporters, who took to the streets in large numbers violently and repressed demonstrations.
Released from prison, he was forced into exile in 1964. He went to Turkey and then to Iraq before returning to France and the small town of Neauphle-le-Château in the Yvelines. Khomeini then attracted the attention of many French intellectuals, including Michel Foucault and Jean-Paul Sartre, who gave him their support. Both men saw in him the possibility of an independent and anti-colonial Iran but were blind to the potential authoritarian drifts of such a regime.
3 days partyEdit
In 1971, the Iranian royal family celebrated the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire with great pomp and circumstance. Ayatollah Khomeini criticized this lavish celebration, which was far removed from the reality of the Iranian people. From the beginning of the 1970s, discontent was growing among the population.
Start of protestsEdit
The growing anger over the exile of Ayatollah Khomeini and the expensive celebrations of 1971 reached a new high when in January 1978, the government-linked newspaper "Ettelaat" tried to belittle Khomeini's reputation by describing him as an Indian instead of a Persian and a "British agent who serves colonialism."  The article angered the clerical supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini who organized protests in the Iranian city of Qom. When the protestors refused to end their protests, government forces opened fire, resulting in the death of at least 20 protestors.
Anger over these violent methods now spread throughout the country, where several other forces that opposed the Shah were also gaining large-scale recognition. Several organizations and figures with Marxist leanings, such as Ali Shariati and the Tudeh Party, started to call for protests against the Pahlavi regime. Although Khomeini's goals and those of the Marxists were seemingly contradictory, their shared hostility towards the Shah's regime led to a wide opposition movement that adopted Khomeini's Islamic as Marxist slogans. Protests against the Pahlavi regime, and in support of Khomeini and Shariati started to erupt all over the country.
Khomeini's resistance from FranceEdit
Meanwhile, Khomeini, who was in exile in France, kept communicating with his supporters in Iran. Living in a small village called Neauphle-le-Chateau, he continued to call for revolution, telling his supporters that there was no way forward besides the overthrowal of the Pahlavi regime. While the government had planned to exile Khomeini to decrease his influence. The fact that Khomeini was now out of reach for the Pahlavi regime gave him more opportunity to plot the revolution and reach Iranians in Iran and all over the globe.
October 1978: Iran hit by a general demonstrationsEdit
From May 1978, Iran's riots against the Shah intensified, led by Islamic groups. After the death of several students opposed to the Shah during a demonstration, the revolt grew and was repressed in blood. The shah, already significantly weakened by his cancer, entrusted power to one of his opponents, Chapour Bhoping, hoping that this would be enough to ease tensions. But this was not the case. Despite the support of the army, Bakhtiar was forced to negotiate with Khomeini, who agreed to support the government on the condition that he could return to Iran.
16 January 1979: the exile of the ShahEdit
Faced with a popular uprising and as the Revolution gained momentum, the Shah of Iran, abandoned by his Western supporters, was forced into exile on 16 January 1979 after 38 years of rule. Egypt, Morocco, the United States, the Bahamas, Mexican co, Panama, the late shah, and his wife went to many places after they fled from Iran. However, in Tehran, people demanded the return of the shah so that he could be judged. He was seriously ill and underwent his last operation in Egypt. The last shah of Iran died on 27 July 1980 and was given a grand state funeral in Cairo.
11 February 1979: proclamation of the Islamic RepublicEdit
On 1 February 1979, Khomeini returned to Iran after 14 years of exile in Iraq and Frane and came to power on the same day.
The government of Shapour Bakhtiar, which had been forced to accept Khomeini's return, was deposed and fled. The Iranian Empire disappeared, and the country became the Islamic Republic.
Ayatollah Khomeini relied on armed militias and the clergy to establish his power and became the Guide of the Revolution or Supreme Guide. He remained so until he died in 1989. During these years, Iran cut itself off from the rest of the world, and the regime worked to erase all traces of Westernization. There was a real backward movement on the issue of individual freedoms and especially women's rights.
4 November 1979: US hostage crisisEdit
On 4 November 1979, the American embassy, seen as the last vestige of imperial rule and opposition to the revolution, was taken hostage by pro-Khomeini militants for 444 days.
When Khomeini came to power in 1979, relations between Iran and Iraq began to deteriorate, leading to war. Indeed, the oil-producing countries viewed the Islamic revolution as a destabilizing economic factor. Moreover, Iraq wanted to control the Shatt-el-Arab, a region rich in water and oil: territorial rivalries were at stake. The war killed between 500,000 and 1,200,000 people.
Since 2005, Iran has started the exploitation of nuclear fuels, causing disagreement among the UN Security Council. The country, located in an unstable area of the world, is suspected of aspiring to possess nuclear weapons.
Although they were allies in the revolution, the different views of how the country should be governed now that the Shah was deposed created the Islamists and the more moderate followers of the secular and Marxist organizations on the other hand.
Khomeini and his supporters, who are often seen as Islamists, had a large part in the revolution. But other organizations such as the secular Liberation movement and the Marxist Fedayeen-I-Khaliq also played a role.
There had been calls for establishing the Islamic Republic throughout the revolution, both by Khomeini's supporters and others. But what precisely the Republic would entail was not yet clear. In this confusing situation, roughly two dominating camps arose among the many parties participating in the revolution. On the one hand, Khomeini and his supporters wanted the constitution to be based mainly around Islamic ideals and Khomeini's idea of "vilayet-e-faqih"; on the other hand, the liberal-minded Mehdi Bazargan, a member of the Liberation movement, and his supporters wanted a constitution that was primarily based on secular ideals. (Abrahamian 162-163).
Bazargan himself was made prime minister by Khomeini, who wanted to set up a provisional government to keep intact those governmental structures that were seen as working perfectly fine. Because of this difference of opinion, Khomeini set up several councils and institutions headed by the clergy and their supporters, which came to hold a large amount of power, effectively creating a shadow government (Abrahamian 162-163).
In March 1979, Khomeini called for a referendum where the Iranian government was asked if they wanted an "Islamic republic." Because the call for an Islamic republic was a large part of the revolution, 98.2% of Iranians voted in favor.
And so, the constitution for the Islamic Republic was drafted, in which it was Khomeini's vision that was heavily favored Abrahamiann 162-163). While Bazargan, his followers, and other more moderate minorities opposed elements of the constitution, at this point, Khomeini's position and support in the country, especially among the mass of lower-class people, was so strong that opposition against Khomeini's vision of the constitution was not likely to be achieved.
Many Iranians were forced into exile by the revolution.
Estimates of the number of Iranians who died during the war with Iraq and the riots with the Shah's forces vary from 3,000 to 60,000. The number executed by orders of the Revolutionary Courts is often estimated at 8,000.
During the revolution, 52 Americans were held hostage after being seized at the US embassy.
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