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1979 Iranian Revolution

This article is about the 1979 Iranian (Islamic) revolution in Iran. For the revolution that took place between 1905 and 1911, see Persian Constitutional Revolution. For the series of reforms launched in 1963, see White Revolution. For the 2009–10 uprising, see 2009–10 Iranian election protests.

Template:Infobox Civil Conflict The Iranian Revolution (also known as the Islamic Revolution of Iran or the 1979 Revolution;[1][2][3][4][5][6] 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[7] and Iranian student movements. While the Soviet Union immediately recognized the new Islamic Republic, it did not actively support the revolution, initially making efforts to salvage the Shah's government.[8]

Demonstrations against the Shah commenced in October 1977, developing into a campaign of civil resistance that was religious based (with secular elements).[9][10][11] and intensified in January 1978.[12] 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,[13][14] and returned to Tehran to a greeting by several million Iranians.[15][16] The royal reign collapsed shortly after on February 11 when guerrillas and rebel troops overwhelmed troops loyal to the Shah in armed street fighting, and bringing Khomeini to official power.[17][18] Iran voted by national referendum to become an Islamic Republic on April 1, 1979,[19] and to approve a new theocratic-republican constitution[9][10][20][21] whereby Khomeini became Supreme Leader of the country, in December 1979.

The revolution was unusual for the surprise it created throughout the world:[22] it lacked many of the customary causes of revolution (defeat at war, a financial crisis, peasant rebellion, or disgruntled military),[23] occurred in a nation that was enjoying relatively good material wealth and prosperity,[13][21] produced profound change at great speed,[24] was massively popular, result in the exile of many Iranians,[25] and replaced a pro-Western semi-absolute monarchy [13] with an anti-Western authoritarian theocracy[13][20][21][26][27] 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).[28]

Its outcome – an Islamic Republic "under the guidance of a religious scholar from Qom" – was, as one scholar put it, "clearly an occurrence that had to be explained".[29]



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,[30] a liberal backlash to social injustice,[31] 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,[32] and other shortcomings of the ancien régime.

The Shah's regime became increasingly oppressive, brutal,[33][34] corrupt, and extravagant.[33][35] It also suffered from basic functional failures that brought economic bottlenecks, shortages, and inflation.[36] The Shah was perceived by many as beholden to – if not a puppet of – a non-Muslim Western power (the United States)[37][38] 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.[39]

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.[40] 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[41][42][43] – and by the secularist opponents of the government – who thought the Khomeinists could be sidelined.[44]

Historical background

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).[45] 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[46] was crushed on his orders.[47][48][49]

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.[50]

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[51] 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).

Rise of Ayatollah Khomeini

Main article: Ruhollah Khomeini

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 landholdings (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."[52] Three days of major riots throughout Iran followed, with Khomeini supporters claiming 15,000 dead from police fire.[53] However, much lower estimates of 380 killed and wounded were later made.[54] 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.

Ideology of the Iranian Revolution

In this interim period of "disaffected calm"[55] 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;[56] Ali Shariati's vision of Islam as the one true liberator of the Third World from oppressive colonialism, neo-colonialism, and capitalism;[57] and Morteza Motahhari's popularized retellings of the Shia faith, all spread and gained listeners, readers and supporters.[56]

Most importantly, Khomeini preached that revolt, and especially martyrdom, against injustice and tyranny was part of Shia Islam,[58] 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.[59] Such rule was ultimately "more necessary even than prayer and fasting" in Islam,[60] 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.[61]

This idea of rule by Islamic jurists was spread through his book Islamic Government, mosque sermons, smuggled cassette speeches by Khomeini,[62] 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.[62]

Opposition groups and organizations

Other opposition groups[63] 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,[64] but lacked the cohesion and organization of Khomeini's forces.[65]

Marxist groups – primarily the communist Tudeh Party of Iran and the Fedaian guerrillas[66] – had been weakened considerably by government repression. Despite this the guerrillas did help play an important part in the final February 1979 overthrow[67] delivering "the regime its coup de grace."[68] 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`),[69][70] focusing on the socio-economic problems of the Shah's government (corruption and unequal income and development),[69][71] while avoiding specifics among the general public that might divide the factions,[72] – particularly his plan for clerical rule which he believed most Iranians had become prejudiced against as a result of propaganda campaign by Western imperialists.[73][74]

In the post-Shah era, some revolutionaries who clashed with his theocracy and were suppressed by his movement complained of deception,[75] but in the meantime anti-Shah unity was maintained.[76]


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."[77] 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."[78]

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,[79] 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[80] 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,[81] many went on to form the core of revolution's demonstrators and "martyrs".[82]

All Iranians were required to join and pay dues to a new political party, the Rastakhiz party – all other parties being banned.[83] 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.[84]

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.[85]

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.[86][87]


Template:Iranian revolution


By 1977, the Shah's policy of political liberalization was underway. As a result, with less SAVAK surveillance, for the first time in a decade and a half, opposition figures were able to organize. Secular middle class opponents of the Shah began to meet together in crowds denouncing the government.[28][88]

Led by the leftist poet Saeed Soltanpour (later executed by the Islamic Republic), the Iranian Writers Association met at the Goethe Institute in Tehran for ten days, to read poetry denouncing the Shah's government and asking for a full liberalization. Although 2,000 were invited, a crowd of nearly 10,000 attempted to enter the center. Several were arrested by riot police, wearing protective gear and wielding batons.[20][28][88]

Ali Shariati's death in the United Kingdom shortly after led to another public demonstration of nearly 10,000. The opposition immediately blamed the Shah for "murdering" him (although it was later ruled he died naturally of a heart attack).[14][28]

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". At the Ark Mosque in Tehran, a large meeting of several thousand was convened to mourn Mostapha's death, which turned into a political rally. This became the first exposure to Khomeini for many Iranians.[28]

Beginning of Protests

The Shah was increasingly angered by Khomeini's actions, who was gaining popularity due to his "no-compromise" attitude towards his government. As a result, he decided to order the publication of a slanderous article (under a pseudonym) in the Ettelaat newspaper, in which Khomeini was denounced as a "British agent" and a "mad Indian poet" who would hand Iran over to imperialist powers. The article was published on January 7, 1978.[13][14]

The very same day, hardline religious students who supported Khomeini in the city of Qom (home to the religious schools and an important seat of Shia Islam) began to protest. They marched down the streets of the city, voicing their anger at the insult to Khomeini. By January 9, despite the initial orderliness of the protests, some of the students rampaged throughout the city, setting fire to anything they saw as being "un-Islamic", such as girl's schools, movie theaters, restaurants, etc. Riot police intervened using batons and came under attack, with the mobs daring them to fire.[10][88] They finally did, and the death toll was 2 policemen and 6 protesters. Khomeini declared that 70 people had been "martyred".[13][14][89][90] While much of the public believed the opposition's casualty figures, it would later be discovered that their casualty figures were almost entirely incorrect, and post-revolution estimates supported the royal government's casualty figures.[91][92][10][20][21]

The Ayatollah Shariatmadari issued a protest to the Shah, declaring that his government treated the clergy and Islam in a horrible manner. Shortly after, government commandos attacked Shariatmadari's house. One of his students there was shot dead. Shariatmadari abandoned his quietist stance and joined the opposition to the Shah. However, in private Shariatmadari was also afraid of Khomeini's visions for Iran. As a result, he continued to communicate with the Shah, in order to prevent Khomeini from taking over, but also to push the Shah to democratize the country. Khomeini continued to communicate with the mosque network via cassette tapes.[13][14]

According to the Shi'ite customs, memorial services (called Arba'een) are held 40 days after a person's death. After the Qom protests, the revolutionaries used the tactic of organizing protest marches every 40 days to "mourn" the dead. When protesters were killed, another march would occur 40 days later to "mourn" the dead from the previous ones. In mosques across the nation, calls were made to honour the dead students. Thus on February 18, protests began in various different cities throughout the country to "mourn" the dead, protest the Shah and support Khomeini. The protesters were primarily from the middle class, both liberals and pious Muslims.[93] In most cities the protests were peaceful and ended by police, but in the city of Tabriz, a full scale riot broke out after a protester was shot dead. Crowds rampaged through the city setting on fire anything considered un-Islamic, and attacked and burned state buildings, banks, and a Rastakhiz party hall.[10][88] Nevertheless, the crowds refused to engage in looting, burning only "symbolic" targets.[28] Police were unable to cope with the riots, and mobs effectively took control of the city for 2 days. The army was deployed to quell the protests and restore order, and 13 rioters were shot dead (with Khomeini claiming "hundreds" were "martyred").

40 days later another mourning cycle of protests began for the dead in Tabriz, this time in virtually every major Iranian city including Tehran, and 3 days of major protests took place in the city of Yazd. The Shah took personal control of the city's riot police, and gave orders that no protester should be killed under any circumstances.[9][10][88] 5 people were reported to be dead, and the opposition claimed "hundreds" dead, while the Shah in his memoirs claimed that the opposition took corpses who had been killed in car accidents near the protest sites and paraded them around as "martyrs".[9][10][88] Due to the consistent over-reporting of casualties, the events generated mass anger and hysteria, and helped fuel the protests even further.[13][14][28]

Government Response

The Shah was taken completely by surprise by the scale of the protests (he could not believe people that he believed he worked for so dilligently were angry at him). The Shah was not willing to decisively crush the protests because he was unwilling to cause bloodshed and violence against his own people, and also he feared angering foreign supporters, including Carter.[10][21] To make matters worse, the Shah had a tendency to become indecisive during times of crisis as well.[13] Fortunately for the government, the protesters still consisted of relatively fringe elements in Iranian society (such as religious fundamentalists, and certain liberals/socialists from the secular middle class).[10] It was believed that the "silent majority" of Iranians were either apolitical and/or approved of the Shah's government and policies.[21] Ironically, the radicalism of the protests (especially after the destructive Tabriz riots) caused the Shah's approval rating to increase, and some regular citizens even organized rallies in support of his government, including a large demonstration of thousands of people in Tabriz in support of the Shah.[21]

The Shah began a "carrot and stick" policy towards the protesters. While still banning street demonstrations, he attempted to address the protesters concerns and act in a conciliatory manner towards them (and ordering the police not to use deadly force under any circumstances, which was difficult due to the Carter Administration's refusal to sell Iran less lethal weapons, such as tear gas and rubber bullets, for "humanitarian reasons").[10][88] He also appealed to moderate religious leaders such as Shariatmadari (apologizing to him for the raid upon his house). When Parviz Sabeti, a senior SAVAK official gave the Shah a list of 2,000 people to arrest in order to quell the protests, the Shah only arrested a small handful of them (which still did quell the protests for a short time).[14] Arrested protesters were tried in civilian rather than military courts and rapidly released.[93] He also ordered all of the SAVAK officials in the city of Tabriz to be fired for "gross negligence and incompetence".[10][21]

However the moderate clergy's fear of Khomeini's movement, and the haphazard manner the Shah tried to court the moderates, resulted in very little headway.[10][13][14][28][88] The moderate clergy remained increasingly silent in the face of ever increasing radicalism, due to fear of being marginalized. To make matters worse, the escalating protests and the government's conciliatory policies towards the opposition began to both rattle confidence in his government among his many supporters, and emboldening the opposition.[10][13][14][28][88] Khomeini while cowing the moderate clergy also began racheting up the tensions against the indecisive Shah.[10][21]

The Shah also failed to rally his support base (ex. the business class, the working class, rural dwellers, etc.) and what he considered to be the "silent majority" of Iranians who were either apolitical or supportive of his government. While after the Tabriz riots, thousands of common citizens organized pro-Shah rallies, the Shah failed to reach out to unify them, and organize his supporters to fight back against the opposition.[10][13][21]


On 10 May, another 40 day mourning protest began for those killed in Yazd in every major city in Iran. Protesters clashed with riot police, and the opposition reported that at least 27 people were killed, primarily in Qom.[10][20][88] However, the government claimed that police were banned from using bullets, and gave evidence claiming that protesters believed car accident victims at a morgue were victims of police fire.[10][88] The protests had 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 an “almost fully mobilized ‘mosque network,’” of both the liberal and pious Muslim middle classes, but a small minority of the more than 15 million adults in Iran. The Shah still allegedly had the support of much of the population (the so-called "silent majority"), being both apolitical or outright supporters[10][21][21][94]

In an attempt to reduce the loss of life, de-radicalize Khomeini's movement, and aware that the heavy security buildup would block any attempted march, Shariatmadari called for the June 17 mourning protests to be carried out as a one day Strike action by private businesses and workers.[95] In a concession to the moderate opposition, the Shah fired the head of SAVAK General Nematollah Nassiri, replacing him with the moderate General Nasser Moghaddam, who began to reign in SAVAK's powers. The Shah tasked Prime Minister Jamshid Amuzegar to began carrying out reforms as well, including ending price control measures. The Shah also announced that he would allow for completely free elections by the next June, and that Iran would become a "full democracy", and allowed for the immediate implementation of freedom of speech, expression, and the press. Censorship was terminated.[88][93][96] For the time being, the protests seemed to be over. Although tensions remained in the air, the Shah's "carrot and stick" policy appeared to have worked. The people's listening to Shariatmadari instead of Khomeini led 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."[97]

During this time, 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) wrote an open letter to the Shah demanding that he reign according to the constitution of Iran, and denouncing his "abuses of power".[10][88]

Renewed Protests

Cinema Rex Fire

On 19 August, in the city of Abadan, four arsonists barred the door of the Cinema Rex movie theater and using chemical agents set it ablaze. In what was the largest terrorist attack in history prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks,[98] 422 people inside the theater were burned to death. Movie theaters had been a common target of Islamist demonstrators, and over 50 had been burned down already in "symbolic acts of destruction".[10][88][98][99]

The Ayatollah Khomeini immediately blamed the Shah and SAVAK for setting the fire in an attempt to frame the opposition. Due to the pervasive revolutionary atmosphere and hysteria and ordered mass protests, the public also blamed the Shah for starting the fire, despite the government's protests that they had nothing to do with it. The declining protest movement immediately expanded in size, and tens of thousands of people of people from all walks of life took to the streets shouting "Burn the Shah!" and "The Shah is the guilty one!". Anger over the fire reinvigorated the revolutionary movement, and created a massive anti-Shah sentiment among the protesters.[10][88] The Cinema Rex fire effectively unified the opposition, which took to the streets in massive protests. While nobody died, martial law was declared in the city of Isfahan (the first time martial law was enacted in Iran since 1963).[10][88] Nevertheless, in the atmosphere of the increased liberalization, the Shah instructed his forces not to restrict the protests in other cities.[10][88]

After the revolution, it was disclosed that it was actually Islamist militants that started the fire.[98][100][101][102][103][104] 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.[105][106] After breaking up by force a large sit-in protest by family members of the victims and 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).[100][105][106] In 2001, an Iranian newspaper was shut down after it implied that Khomeini himself ordered the attack.[107]

Appointment of Jafar Sharif-Emami as prime minister

The protests had “kick[ed] ... into high gear,”[108] and the number of demonstrators mushroomed to hundreds of thousands.[94] While the Cinema Rex Fire was one major reason, another equally important one was the government's economic policy. In an attempt to dampen inflation the Amuzegar government cut spending, 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, these workers, often from traditional rural backgrounds, joined the street protests in massive numbers.[93] While the protests had been previously confined to both the religious and secular middle classes, the entry of the working class (one of the Shah's main power bases) helped increase the severity of the crisis and effectively cause it to spiral out of control for the monarch. It also signalled that the Shah's failure to rally his support base and act decisively was resulting in them either remaining neutral on the sidelines, or worse joining the protests themselves (partially in order to extract concession from the government, as it became clear that the Shah was caving into protesters demands).[10][21][93]

Due to his failure to stop the protests, Prime Minister Amuzegar offered his resignation. The Shah, ignoring advocates of crushing the protests by force, began another attempt to appease the opposition. The Shah abhored violence and felt that he was losing control of the situation and hoped to regain it through giving protesters virtually everything they wanted.[10][88] He invited the traditional Iranian politicians back to the forefront of the government. The traditional senior politicians, who were relatively independent of the Shah, had been a part of the government for years and were enjoyed a well reputation, but the Shah had effectively pushed them aside by the mid 1960s in favor of more pliable younger technocrats.[13][14]

The Shah 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, passing over more qualified individuals. However, Sharif-Emami himself had a reputation of corruption during his previous premiership, was the Grand Master of the Masonic Lodges in Tehran, and even was nicknamed "Mr. Ten Percent" (for his reputation of taking ten percent of government funds/commissions for himself).[13][14]

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 hated Rastakhiz Party, legalized all political parties and released hundreds of political prisoners, increased freedom of expression, curtailed SAVAK's powers, closed down casinos and nightclubs, and abolished the imperial calendar. The government also began to prosecute corrupt government and royal family members. Arrested protesters continued to be tried in civilian courts and quickly released.[93] The Shah had effectively conceded to all of the protesters demands.[13][14]

However, the concessions of the Shah to his opponents resulted in the emboldening of Khomeini and the opposition. Rapidly, the calls for revolution were increasing. To make matters worse, confidence among the Shah's many supporters in his government was being undermined, allowing the demonstrators to become more vocal in their demands and spread their influence. Worse still, many former Shah supporters and apolotical citizens began to realize that they could push the government to bend to their will (ex. increasing wages, giving less work hours and more paid vacations, etc.) and began to join the protests for that reason.[10][21] Khomeini made his hardline position increasingly public, which was stopping at nothing other than the complete overthrow of the Shah.[13][14]

Declaration of Martial Law and Black Friday

The Shah's continued concessions to the opposition instead emboldened Khomeini. He called on the Iranian people to carry out mass protests beginning on September 4, which was Eid-e-Fitr (the holiday celebrating the end of the month of Ramadan). 100,000 protesters took to the streets to carry out a public Salat-ul-Eid (Eid prayers) and afterward marching in protest. The government allowed the protests legally, negotiating with protest organizers to limit anti-Shah and pro-Khomeini rhetoric, and charting specific routes for protesters. By September 7, nearly 500,000 protesters were on the streets, shouting "Death to the Shah" and "Khomeini is our Leader", but otherwise protesting peacefully.[10][13][14][28][88][93][98]

Rattled by the rapidly increasing protests, on midnight of September 8 (17 Shahrivar in Iran's calendar), the Shah adopted a hard line approach to the demonstrations. He declared martial law in Tehran and ll other major cities throughout the country. All street demonstrations were banned, arrest warrants were issued for prominent opposition leaders, and a night-time curfew was established. Tehran's martial law commander was General Gholam-Ali Oveissi, who had helped suppress the 1963 riots and was known for his severity. It was also unclear what the soldier's orders were as well, whether they were allowed to use deadly force or not to suppress protests.[10][13][14][28][88][93][98]

The Shah believed that the show of force would be enough to deter the protesters from actually taking to the streets, and news bulletins informing the public that martial law had been declared were to be broadcast every thirty minutes. However, it was a serious miscalculation on part of the monarch. By the time the bulletins were read, most of the marchers had already taken to the streets, unaware of ban on protests. Large crowds took to the streets in peaceful marches as they had for the past several days.[10][13][14][28][88][93][98]

The main crowd that was marching reached Jaleh Square in central Tehran, when they discovered that armed soldiers and tanks were blocking their path. The army warned the crowds by megaphones to disperse, which they failed to do. What happened next is disputed, but several armed members hiding among the crowd began firing weapons and killed several soldiers. Both sides claimed that the other fired first.[10][14][14][21][88][88] The soldiers (who were conscripts and had little experience in crowd control) fired wildly into the crowd, killing 64 unarmed protesters.[10][14][88] In other parts of the capital, protesters set up barricades and threw molotov cocktails at troops, with the additional clashes between soldiers and the opposition bringing the death toll to 89. The day would become known as Black Friday.[10][13][14][28][88][93][98]

Reactions to Black Friday

The relatively high death toll sent major shock waves throughout the country (including to the Shah himself), and effectively destroyed any attempt at reconciliation between the Shah and the opposition (despite the government's claim that snipers had provoked the army into fire). 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 deaths (both real and grossly exaggerated) generated a massive wave of anti-Shah sentiment in Iran even among previously apolitical people, and coupled with Khomeini's hardline approach effectively doomed any hope of reconciliation between the Shah and the opposition. While the Shah would attempt to work with moderate elements of the opposition, but they lacked the popularity of Khomeini and he was unable to make headway.[10][13][14][28][88][93][98] The demand of the protesters now mirrored Khomeini's demand, overthrowing the Shah and establishing an Islamic Republic (although few understood what that meant yet).[28][93] Worse, it was increasingly clear that some of the protesters had access to weapons, which was the government's worst fear.[21]

The Shah himself was horrified by the events of Black Friday (according to witness he never fully recovered from the "shock" of witnessing such violence), and effectively lost much of his will to resist the protesters. While martial law and the curfew remained in effect, the government did little else to actually suppress the movement, but instead trying to solve it by negotiation and appeasement.[10][13] The Shah, who already was not willing to use violence to end the protests, became unwilling to do anything to risk the wrath of the Carter administration and thus did not want to take any action that could put him at odds with the US president. As a result, the Shah in effect granted the protesters a free rein and restrained the military and SAVAK from fighting back.[21] Unsurprisingly it not only failed to stop the revolutionary movement, but fuelled it further, and undermined confidence among his supporters in his own government.[10][13][14][28][88][98][109]

Khomeini Turns to the Media and Diplomacy

The show of force effectively drove the opposition off the streets once again for the time being. A slight sense of normalcy returned, nevertheless the damage had been done. Many opposition Iranians now felt that the Shah "must go" rather than "reform", especially when confronted with Khomeini's highly exaggerated death tolls.[10][13][14][28][88][98][109] While martial law was in effect, the government was negotiating from a position of weakness. It lack of confidence in dealing with protests and failure to organize its supporters only fuelled the fire, and supporters increasingly began to lose confidence in the government, or in some cases even join the protests (especially when the strikes began, in order to extract concessions from the appeasing Shah).[10][13]

While the remainder of September until mid October remained calm on the streets, politically decisive events were taking place for the revolutionary movement abroad. Under pressure from the Shah, Iraq expelled Khomeini from Najaf. The Shah hoped that it would disrupt the movement. However, Khomeini instead went to Paris, France, in a home in the village of Neauphle-le-Chateau which was bought by Iranian exiled opponents (many whom would be later persecuted/executed by Khomeini's government).[10][13][14][28][88][98]

Courting the Secular Opposition

During this time, Khomeini and his supporters (such as Sadegh Qotbzadeh and Ebrahim Yazdi, the former later executed and the latter imprisoned) sought to internationalize the pressure on the Shah and to unify the oppsition. An important part of that plan would be to win the US and the west over to the side of the revolutionaries (or at least have them remain neutral and not intervene on behalf of the Shah). A "charm offensive" by the revolutionaries began in Europe and the United States. Khomeini temporarily put aside his antipathy towards the United States and the West aside in order to gain their neutrality (or even support).[10][13][14][28][88][98]

Khomeini's supporters began a campaign to unify the opposition. While Khomeini had preached the concept of velayat-e-faqih, his supporters generally hid those parts of his away from the secular and leftist opposition to the Shah in order to unify them. Many of Khomeini's own statements were highly ambiguous, such as saying that Iran would be a democracy (but adding that it would be a democracy where the laws were decided by religion), which confused many as to his true intentions. It was helped ironically by the Shah's own censorship policy, which prevented many of Khomeini's books to be read by the general public and thus few knew his ideologies in depth. The end result was that Khomeini was portrayed as be a moderate leader who supported "democracy", and his oft preached "Islamic republic" would be a democratic one. He repeatedly stressed that he along with the clergy had no interest in taking power, but only hoped to liberate Iranians from "tyranny".[10][13][14][28][88][98]

Khomeini's supporters using that idea effectively unified the secular and leftist opposition. Leftists had already been supportive of the religious fundamentalists, primarily because of Shariati's works which deemed Islam to be "revolutionary", "anti-imperialist", and supportive of "social justice". By late 1978, it became widely preached among leftists that "Islam" and "Marxism" were perfectly compatible (despite the fundamentalists hatred for the leftists, which they kept hidden for the time being), and also allowed for the politicization of religion, which previously had been unheard of in Shia Islamic history. Beneath to propaganda however, the leftist leaders who previously had less success in opposing the Shah hoped to ride into power on Khomeini's popular movement.[10][13][14][28][88][98]

By late 1978, Khomeini and his supporters courted the secular democratic opposition as well, and they joined as well for similar reasons as the leftists. Although widely respected by the public, their support base had been undermined by SAVAK for years and as a result they could not independently influence rising revolution. Another reason they joined was because of the Shah's weak reaction to the protests, which undermined support among even Shah supporters for the government. It resulted in much of the secular opposition joining forces with Khomeini because they saw him as the revolution's eventual victor.

After being released from prison, National Front leader Karim Sanjabi immediately flew to Paris, and joined Khomeini in Neauphe-le-Chateau. There he and Khomeini issued a three point resolution in which sought the overthrow of the Shah, and a creation of an Islamic democratic government. A draft constitution was drawn up by Khomeini and Sanjabi that was "Islamic and democratic" (later it would be removed and replaced with a hardline draft constitution). The unifying of the opposition gave the movement further legitimacy and democratic credentials, and eroded away any chance of the Shah resolving the conflict through negotiation, as now the unified opposition all demanded his overthrow.[10][13][14][28][88][98]

Courting the Western Media

Khomeini also sought to gain the neutrality (if not outright support) of the Shah's traditional supporters, the United States and the West. While the United States and the Shah's Iran were steadfast allies, frictions had been appearing the once positive relationship. Iran's increasing financial, military, and political independence was becoming worrisome for the United States. Iran's role in the 1973 oil crisis had resulting in a clandestine souring of relations between the two countries, which reached a point where the United States attempted to even sabotage Iran economically (which had a role in Iran's inflation problems during the late 1970s and stroking the tensions that caused the revolution).[110] With the election of the relatively inexperienced, human rights focused president Jimmy Carter, the tensions only increased. Despite Carter's vocal support for the Shah, his government had pressured the Shah to reduce censorship and improve its human rights record, both real and exaggerated, and put extreme pressure on the Shah not to respond in force against the demonstrations.[110] As a result, Khomeini saw an opportunity in order to manipulate the West into not supporting the Shah.[10][13][14][28][88][98][109]

In France, Khomeini and his supporters had easy access to Western media, which already had an unfavorable attitude towards the Shah due to the political activism of Iranian students abroad and the oil crisis.[110] Khomeini and his supporters launched a "charm offensive" in the media, portraying himself as a "Gandhi-like figure" and an "Eastern mystic" who had no interest in power, but only was seeking to overthrow a "cruel" leader through "peaceful" methods. Most importantly, he portrayed himself as a moderate. Rapidly, the usually critical Western media became a docile tool in Khomeini's hands. The Ayatollah Khomeini soon became a household name in the West. Khomeini's massive use of the media and publicizing of the revolution created domestic pressure in the United States to abandon the Shah. Carter became increasingly reluctant to continue his support for the Shah in the face of the constant media attacks, due to his human rights policies. The idea of a "moderate" religious leader was also appealing to Carter, as it could serve as a bulwark against Soviet communism.[110] The Iranian Revolution would become one of the first revolutions in world history to use the media as a tool in order to exact political change.[10][13][14][28][88][98][109]

In addition, Khomeini's courting of the media played an important role in organizing and confronting the Shah after his exile from Najaf and the martial law crackdown. Virtually every statement by Khomeini was broadcast in full from the West into Iran (with translations), in addition to calls for protests. The BBC (including the Farsi language BBC Persian) dilligently reported on Khomeini and the revolutionary movement and publicized it throughout Iran. The results were astounding. While 500,000 people had taken part in pre-martial law demonstrations, by the end of 1978 the numbers had risen to 7-8 million, with the people largely mobilized and organized in part by Khomeini's media outreach (Khomeini reportedly even said that the BBC was "my voice").[10][13][14][28][88][98][109]

Khomeini's use of the Western media also played a decisive role in the Shah's decisions. The Shah, was very sensitive to criticism among Western circles (to the point where some argued that he was more concerened with Western public opinions that Iranian ones).[13][14] As a result the lambasting of him and publicizing of the revolution only fed into on his own reluctance to use force.[109] The Shah had effectively become indecisive, unwilling to risk the wrath of the media and the Carter Administration, and began to negotiate from a position of weakness towards the opposition.[21][109] Worse, the media's support for the opposition was psychologically devastating as well. Once the BBC and western media began agitating against the Shah, it was widely believed among his supporters that he had been effectively abandoned by his allies, and they lost virtually any remaining confidence in his government. Soon, the actions from the Carter Administration would begin to confirm that suspicion.[10][13][14][28][88][98][109]

General Strike, Increasing Opposition, and Military Government

Beginning of Nationwide Strikes

A span of four months, between October 1978 and January 1979, would prove to be the decisive period that would result in the overthrow of the Shah's government. This period was marked by a widespread unified opposition, massive strikes and demonstrations unparalled in world history (with few repercussions), protests with a momentum that swept through the whole country, the fleeing from Iran of those who had ties to the Shah, the Shah sinking into depression and despair, global media attention, and an increasingly indecisive and possibly unsupportive United States.[10][13][14][25][28][88][109][110]

The reaction of the protesters to Black Friday, and spread beyond quickly throughout the country, manifesting in the form of strikes. On September 9, 700 workers at Tehran's main oil refinery went on strike, and on September 11 the same occurred in refineries in 5 other cities joined the strike. On September 13, central government workers in Tehran simultaneously went on strike. While officially many of the strikers reasons were political, the main motivation was economic, and strikers hoped that they could extract concessions from the Shah's government, which was already working hard to appease the protesters.[10][13][14][28][88][109]

During October (partially due to Khomeini's increasing use of the media), a rapid succession of major industries began going on strike (including the entire oil industry on October 24, and all newspapers on October 12, postal, railway and construction workers, etc.). On October 16, which was the 40 day mourning period of the Black Friday victims, the baazars and many private businesses went on a one-day strike, which had a major economic impact. By late October, a general strike was declared. Workers in virtually all major industries walked off their jobs, most damagingly in the oil industry and the bazaars.[20][28]

Special "strike committees" were set up throughout major industries (especially the oil industry) to organize and coordinate the activities. Many of the workers were not striking for political reasons, but because they believed that they could pressure the Shah into giving in to whatever economic concession thay they wanted.[20] In addition, the strike committees also used intimidation tactics to prevent non-supporters from returning to work.[9][10][13][14][20][28][88][109] Increasingly Iranians who supported the protests took to the roofs of their homes during curfew hours at night, chanting "Allah-u-Akbar!" (God is Great!). The chants of "Allahu-u-Akbar" became a widespread occurrence during the protests, and was a signature rallying cry of the revolution. It effectively changed a non-political prayer into a politicized cry of battle for the first time, which would become a common rallying cry for future Islamists. Other common arenas of protest were the Friday prayers inside mosques, which the government did not prevent.[9][10][13][14][20][88][109] Little was done by the army or SAVAK to stop these chants.

The succession of strikes rapidly crippled Iran's economy. By November, rolling electrical blackouts had become commonplace, Iran's economy was in a rapid downward spiral, and foreign businesses were withdrawing from the country. The Shah attempted to appease the strikers by paying all of their wages in full despite the fact that they were not doing any work. Even more important, he let workers lived in government housing (such as the oil industry workers) to remain in their homes and not risk eviction while on strike.[10][13][88] Unsurprisingly, the strikers collected their paychecks and remained at home on strike, and attempted to extract even further concessions from the government. By the beginning of November, many important officials in the Shah's government were demanding that the Shah use force to bring the strikers back to work. Increasingly, there was talk of a military coup d'etat in order to assume control of the country and use force to end the demonstrations (although the Shah would most likely retain his position).[9][10][13][14][20][28][88][109]

Another increasingly common occurrence were rapid gatherings and militant attacks against government targets and clashed with the army patrols. As the government increasingly released political prisoners, the leftist prisoners from guerilla groups such as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, the Tudeh Party, and the Fadaian organization (as well as teenagers from mosques) began organizing and carrying out vandalism attacks against government targets, such as banks and offices. Their goal was to destabilize the country as rapidly as possible, and they acted as an early version of modern day flash mobs. They fought frequent clashes with the army as well.[9][10][13][14][20][88][109]

Renewed street demonstrations and appointment of a military government

By late summer 1978 the movement to overthrow had become "'viable' in the minds of many Iranians," boosting support that much more.[111] A general strike in October resulted in the paralysis of the economy, with vital industries being shut down,[93] "sealing the Shah's fate".[112] By autumn popular support for the revolution was so powerful that those who still opposed it became reluctant to speak out,[111] According to one source "victory may be dated to mid-November 1978."[111] A military government headed by General Gholam Reza Azhari replaced conciliatory prime minister Sharif Emami.

In an attempt to weaken Ayatollah Khomeini's ability to communicate with his supporters, the Shah urged Iraq to deport Khomeini. The Iraqi government cooperated and on October 3, Khomeini left Iraq for Kuwait, but was refused entry. Three days later he left for Paris and took up residence in the suburb of Neauphle-le-Château. Though farther from Iran, telephone connections with the home country and access to the international press were far better than in Iraq.[113]

Muharram Protests

On December 2 during the Islamic month of Muharram, over two million people filled the streets of Tehran's Azadi Square (then Shahyad Square), to demand the removal of the Shah and return of Khomeini.[114]

A week later on December 10 and 11, a "total of six to 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."[115]

It is almost unheard of for a revolution to involve as much as 1 percent of a country's population. The French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, perhaps the Romanian Revolution – these may have passed the 1 percent mark. Yet in Iran, more than 10% of the country marched in anti-shah demonstrations on December 10 and 11, 1978.[25]

By late 1978 the Shah was in search of a prime minister and offered the job to a series of liberal oppositionists. While "several months earlier they would have considered the appointment a dream come true," they now "considered it futile".[116] Finally, in the last days of 1978, Dr. Shapour Bakhtiar, a long time opposition leader, accepted the post and was promptly expelled from the oppositional movement."

Victory of the revolution and fall of the monarchy

Shah leaves

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."[117] 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.[118]

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".[119] 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.

Khomeini's return and fall of the monarchy

On February 1, 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran in a chartered Air France Boeing 747.[120] 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.[121] Khomeini was now not only the undisputed leader of the revolution,[122] 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.'[123] Crowds were now known to chant "Islam, Islam, Khomeini, We Will Follow You," and even "Khomeini for King."[124]

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.'

Khomeini appointed his own competing interim prime minister Mehdi Bazargan on February 4, 'with the support of the nation'[125] and commanded Iranians to obey Bazargan as a religious duty.

[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.[126][127]

As Khomeini's movement gained momentum, soldiers began to defect to his side. On February 9 about 10 pm a fight broke out between loyal Immortal Guards and the pro-Khomeini rebel Homafaran element of the Iranian Air Force, with Khomeini declaring jihad on loyal soldiers who did not surrender.[128] Revolutionaries and rebel soldiers gained the upper hand and began to take over police stations and military installations, distributing arms to the public. 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."[129][130] Revolutionaries took over government buildings, TV and radio stations, and palaces of the Pahlavi dynasty.

This period, from February 1 to 11, is celebrated every year in Iran as the "Decade of Fajr."[131][132] February 11 is "Islamic Revolution's Victory Day", a national holiday with state sponsored demonstrations in every city.[133][134]


Some 2,781 protesters and revolutionaries were killed in 1978–79 during the Revolution.[91][135] 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."[92][136][136][137] 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[138]) exceeded those killed by the royalist government trying to stop the revolution.[139]

Consolidation of power by Khomeini

Template:Republicanism sidebar

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.[140][141]

Conflicts among revolutionaries

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,"[143] that except for his core supporters, the members of the coalition thought Khomeini intended to be more a spiritual guide than a ruler[144] – 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."[145][146]

Another view is Khomeini had "overwhelming ideological, political and organizational hegemony,"[147] and non-theocratic groups never seriously challenged Khomeini's movement in popular support.[148] 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.[149]

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[150] by exploiting temporary allies[151] such as Mehdi Bazargan's Provisional Government of Iran, whom they later eliminated from Iran's political stage one by one.[152]

Organizations of the revolution

The most important bodies of the revolution were the Revolutionary Council, the Revolutionary Guards, Revolutionary Tribunals, Islamic Republican Party, and Revolutionary Committees (komitehs).[153]

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),[154][155] 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,[156] 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."[157]

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,[158] becoming "the strongest institution of the revolution."[159]

Serving under the Pasdaran were/are the Baseej-e Mostaz'afin, ("Oppressed Mobilization")[160] volunteers in everything from earthquake emergency management to attacking opposition demonstrators and newspaper offices.[161] The Islamic Republican Party[162] then fought to establish a theocratic government by velayat-e faqih.

Thousands of komiteh or Revolutionary Committees[163] served as "the eyes and ears" of the new rule and are credited by critics with "many arbitrary arrests, executions and confiscations of property".[164]

Also enforcing the will of the regime were the Hezbollahi (the Party of God), "strong-arm thugs" who attacked demonstrators and offices of newspapers critical of Khomeini.[165]

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).

1979 uprisings

Further information: 1979 Khuzestan uprising and 1979 Kurdish rebellion in Iran

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.

Establishment of Islamic republic government

Referendum of 12 Farvardin

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[166] and only the National Democratic Front, Fadayan, and several Kurdish parties opposed the vote.[166] It was announced that 98.2% had voted in favor.[166]

Writing of the constitution

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.[167] Leftists found the draft too conservative and in need of major changes but Khomeini declared it `correct`.[146][168] 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."[169]

Khomeini (and the assembly) now rejected the constitution – its correctness notwithstanding – and Khomeini declared that the new government should be based "100% on Islam."[170]

In addition to the president, the new constitution included a more powerful post of guardian jurist ruler intended for Khomeini,[171] 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[172] as well as laws passed by the legislature.

The new constitution was also reportedly approved overwhelmingly by referendum, but with more opposition[173] and smaller turnout.[174]

Hostage Crisis

Main article: Iran hostage crisis

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 ...[175]

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).[176] 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.[177]

The prestige of Khomeini and the hostage taking was further enhanced with the failure of a hostage rescue attempt, widely credited to divine intervention.[178]

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.

Suppression of opposition

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.[179]

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,[180] 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,[181] were held by revolutionary judges such as Sadegh Khalkhali, the Sharia judge. By January 1980 "at least 582 persons had been executed."[182] 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,[183] for everything from drug and sexual offenses to `corruption on earth,` from plotting counter-revolution and spying for Israel to membership in opposition groups.[184] 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-regime guerillas People's Mujahedin of Iran.[185]

Newspaper closings

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.[186][187][188] 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."[189]

... 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.[190]

Hundreds were injured by "rocks, clubs, chains and iron bars" when Hezbollahi attacked the protesters,[191] and shortly after, a warrant was issued for the arrest of the NDF's leader.[192]

Muslim People's Republican Party

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.[193] 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.[194] The party was suppressed[193] and in 1982 Shari'atmadari was "demoted" from the rank of Grand Ayatollah and many of his clerical followers purged.[195]

Islamist left

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.[196]

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).[197] Hezbollahi people attacked meeting places, bookstores, newsstands of Mujahideen and other leftists[198] 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.[199]

By mid-1981 matters came to a head. An attempt by Khomeini to forge a reconciliation between Banisadr and IRP leaders had failed[200] and now it was Banisadr who was the rallying point "for all doubters and dissidents" of the theocracy, including the MEK.[201]

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."[202] Leaders of the Freedom Movement of Iran were compelled to make and publicly broadcast apologies for supporting the Front's appeal.[203] Those attending the rally were menaced by Hezbollahi and Revolutionary Guards and intimidated into silence.[204]

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 regime responded with thousands of arrests and hundreds of executions.[205] Despite these and other assassinations[162] the hoped-for mass uprising and armed struggle against the Khomeiniists was crushed.

The MEK bombings were not the only violent opposition to the Khomeinist rule. In May 1979, the Furqan Group (Guruh-i Furqan) assassinated an important lieutenant of Khomeini, Morteza Motahhari.[206]


Views differ on the impact of the revolution.[207] For some it was "the most significant, hopeful and profound event in the entirety of contemporary Islamic history,"[208] while other Iranians believe that the revolution was a time when "for a few years we all lost our minds",[209] and which "promised us heaven, but... created a hell on earth."[210]


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[211] and hostile[212] – and even speculation that the revolution might change "the world balance of power more than any political event since Hitler's conquest of Europe."[213]

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.[214]

Persian Gulf and the Iran–Iraq War

Main article: Iran–Iraq War

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,"[215] 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"[216] 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.[217] such as the Revolutionary Guard and committees at the expense of its remaining allies-turned-opponents, such as the MEK.[218][219] 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.[220]

Western/U.S.-Iranian relations

Other countries

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).[221]

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[222] 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.[223] Others claim the devastating Iran–Iraq War "mortally wounded ... the ideal of spreading the Islamic revolution,"[224] 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".[225]


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.[226][227][228] 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."[229]

Human development

Literacy has continued to increase under the Islamic Republic which uses Islamic principles.[230][231] By 2002, illiteracy rates dropped by more than half.[232][233] Maternal and infant mortality rates have also been cut significantly.[234] Population growth was first encouraged, but discouraged after 1988.[235] 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.[236][237]

Politics and government

Main article: Politics of Iran

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.[238] While Iran's small non-Muslim minorities do not have equal rights, five of the 290 parliamentary seats are allocated to their communities.[239]

The members of the Bahá'í Faith have been declared heretical and subversive.[240] 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."[241] Fear of SAVAK has been replaced by fear of Revolutionary Guards, and other religious revolutionary enforcers.[242] Violations of human rights by the theocratic regime is said to be worse than during the monarchy,[243] and in any case extremely grave.[244] 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. "[245]


Women – especially those from traditional backgrounds – participated on a large scale in demonstrations leading up to the revolution.[246] Since the revolution university enrollment and the number of women in the civil service and higher education has risen[247] 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.[248] Changes in GDP per capita has also improved significantly, from $2974 in 1980 to $11,396 in 2010.[248] In 2010, less than 10% of Iranian GDP was dependant on oil and gas,[249] comparing to above 90% in Pahlavi period.


See also

Revolution-related topics:

Related conflicts:


References and notes

  1. Fischer, Iran: From Religious Dispute to Revolution, Harvard University Press, 1980, p.189;
  2. Keddie, `Iranian Revolutions in Comparative Perspective,` American Historical Review, 1983, v.88, p.589;
  3. Bakhash, The Reign of the Ayatollahs, p.13


Further reading

  • Islamic Revolution Portal The Iran Revolution.
  • Abrahamian, Ervand, 'Mass Protests in the Islamic Revolution, 1977–79’, in Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash (eds.), Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 162–78. ISBN 978-0-19-955201-6.
  • Ryszard Kapuściński. Shah of Shahs. Translated from Polish by William R. Brand and Katarzyna Mroczkowska-Brand. New York: Vintage International, 1992.
  • Charles Kurzman. The Unthinkable Revolution. Cambridge, MA & London: Harvard University Press, 2004.
  • Habib Ladjevardi (editor), Memoirs of Shapour Bakhtiar, Harvard University Press, 1996.
  • Kraft, Joseph. "Letter from Iran", The New Yorker, Vol. LIV, #44, Dec. 18, 1978.
  • Legum, Colin, et al., eds. Middle East Contemporary Survey: Volume III, 1978–79. New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1980. + *Legum, Colin, et al., eds. Middle East Conte
  • Milani, Abbas, The Persian Sphinx: Amir Abbas Hoveyda and the Riddle of the Islamic Revolution, Mage Publishers, 2000, ISBN 0-934211-61-2.
  • Munson, Henry, Jr. Islam and Revolution in the Middle East. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.
  • Nafisi, Azar. "Reading Lolita in Tehran." New York: Random House, 2003.
  • Nobari, Ali Reza, ed. Iran Erupts: Independence: News and Analysis of the Iranian National Movement. Stanford: Iran-America Documentation Group, 1978.
  • Nomani, Farhad & Sohrab Behdad, Class and Labor in Iran; Did the Revolution Matter? Syracuse University Press. 2006. ISBN 0-8156-3094-8
  • Pahlavi, Mohammad Reza, Response to History, Stein & Day Pub, 1980, ISBN 0-8128-2755-4.
  • Rahnema, Saeed & Sohrab Behdad, eds. Iran After the Revolution: Crisis of an Islamic State. London: I.B. Tauris, 1995.
  • Sick, Gary. All Fall Down: America's Tragic Encounter with Iran. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.
  • Shawcross, William, The Shah's last ride: The death of an ally, Touchstone, 1989, ISBN 0-671-68745-X.
  • Smith, Frank E. The Islamic Revolution. 1998.
  • Society for Iranian Studies, Islamic Revolution in Perspective. Special volume of Iranian Studies, 1980. Volume 13, nos. 1–4.
  • Time magazine, January 7, 1980. Man of the Year (Ayatollah Khomeini).
  • U.S. Department of State, American Foreign Policy Basic Documents, 1977–1980. Washington, DC: GPO, 1983. JX 1417 A56 1977–80 REF – 67 pages on Iran.
  • Yapp, M.E. The Near East Since the First World War: A History to 1995. London: Longman, 1996. Chapter 13: Iran, 1960–1989.

External links

  • "Iran after the victory of 1979's Revolution," on Iran Chamber Society
  • Archived 2009-10-31)
  • The Islamic revolution, Britannica
  • The Dynamics of the Islamic Revolution: The Pahlavis' Triumph and Tragedy
  • The Guardian
Historical articles
  • BBC World Service Persian Branch
  • BBC Radio 4 an audio program featuring the pre-Revolutionary elite
  • Brzezinski's role in the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Payvand News, March 10, 2006.
  • The Islamic Revolution.
  • The Islamic revolution.
  • The Islamic revolution, Internews.
Analytical articles
  • Robin Wright, "The Last Great Revolution Turmoil and Transformation in Iran," The New York Times.
  • "Islamic Revolution,", The New York Review of Books (January 21, 1988).
  • Abbas Milani, with reply by Bernard Lewis
  • Michel Foucault
  • The Seductions of Islamism, Revisiting Foucault and the Islamic Revolution by Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson, New Politics, vol. 10, no. 1, whole no. 37 (Summer 2004).
  • Moojan Momen, "The Religious Background of the 1979 Revolution in Iran"
  • Elmer Swenson, What Happens When Islamists Take Power? The Case of Iran, Last Updated: 6-27-2005.
  • The Islamic Revolution by Ted Grant, "In Defence of Marxism" website, International Marxist Tendency (Friday, February 9, 1979).
  • Class Analysis of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 by Satya J. Gabriel
  • The Cause of The Islamic Revolution by Jon Curme
  • History of Undefeated, A few words in commemoration of the 1979 Revolution By Mansoor Hekmat, Communist Thinker and Revolutionary
  • Revolution and Counter-revolution in Iran by HKS, Iranian Socialist Workers Party
In pictures and videos
  • Life magazine
  • by Akbar Nazemi
  • Kaveh Golestan
  • Photos from Kave Kazemi
  • The Islamic Revolution in Pictures
  • Islamic revolution in pictures, BBC World
  • Slideshow with audio commentary of the legacy of Islamic revolution after 30 years
  • Pictures of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after the revolution, Shah and wife in Morocco
  • Video Archive of Islamic Revolution
  • Documentary: Anatomy of a Revolution
  • PressTV 2012)
Preceded by
Pahlavi dynasty
Islamic Revolution
Succeeded by
Islamic Republic

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