Nov 7, 2006


The Iranian Revolution ( The Islamic Revolution ) was the 1979 revolution that transformed Iran from a constitutional monarchy, under Shah (King) Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to a populist theocratic Islamic republic under the rule of Ayatollah (or Imam, as he is known in Iran) Ruhollah Khomeini.
The revolution was unique for the surprise it created in the world stage: the speed at which such profound change occurred, the leading role religion took, the fact that the regime was thought to be heavily protected from overthrow by a lavishly financed army and security services, and the lack of many the customary causes of revolution -- defeat at war, financial crises, peasant rebellion, or a disgruntled military.
"The outcome -- an Islamic Republic under the guidance of an 80-year-old, exiled religious scholar from Qom, encouraged by sporadic but enthusiastic popular demonstrations in the formerly (reports had asserted) cosmopolitan Tehran -- dealt a resounding blow to many well-regarded theories. ... It was, clearly, an occurrence that had to be explained. ..."
The revolution has been divided into two stages: The first stage saw an alliance of liberal, leftist, and religious groups oust the Shah. The second stage, often named the Islamic Revolution, saw the Ayatollah's rise to and consolidation of power, and the supression and purge of leaders and groups opposed to Khomeini's theocracy, (including the Islamic Cultural Revolution at Iranian universities).
Explanations advanced for why the revolution happened include actions of the Shah and the mistakes and successes of the different political forces:
Errors of the Shah
His strong policy of Westernization despite its clash with Iran's Shi'a Muslim cultural and social identity, along with his close identification with and sometimes dependency upon a Western power (the United States);
Extravagance, corruption and elitism (both real and perceived) of the Shah's policies and of his royal court;
His failure to cultivate supporters in the Shi'a religious leadership to counter Khomeini's campaign against him;
The Shah's personalised government, where preventing the creation of rivals to the monarch trumped efficient and effective government and led to the crown's cultivation of divisions within the army and the political elite, and ultimately to the exodus of thousands of upper and middle class Iranians and their money during the beginning of the revolution, and general lack of support for the regime by its natural allies;
Focusing of government surveillance and repression on the People's Mujahedin of Iran and leftists while the more popular religious opposition organized, grew and gradually undermined the authority of his regime;
His antagonizing of formerly apolitical Iranians by the 1975 creation of a single party political monopoly (the Rastakhiz Party), with compulsory membership and dues for the general public;
Authoritarian tendencies that violated the Iran Constitution of 1906, including repression of dissent by security services like the SAVAK, followed by appeasement and appearance of weakness as the revolution gained momentum;
Failure of his overly ambitious 1974 economic program to meet expectations raised by the oil revenue windfall. Bottlenecks, shortages and inflation were followed by black-markets, attacks on alleged price gougers and austerity measures that angered both the bazaar and the masses;
His overconfident disinterest in governance and preoccupation with playing the world statesmen during the oil boom, followed by a loss of self-confidence and resolution and a weakening of his health from cancer as the revolution gained momentum;
Underestimation of the strength of the opposition -- particularly religious opposition -- and the failure to offer either enough carrots or sticks. Efforts to please the opposition were "too little too late," but no concerted counter-attack was made against the revolutionaries either.
Failures and successes of other political forces
Overconfidence of the secularists and modernist Muslims, of liberals and leftists in their power and ability to control the revolution;
Shrewdness of Ayatollah Khomeini in winning the support of these liberals and leftists when he needed them to overthrow the Shah by underplaying his hand and avoiding issues (such as guardianship of the jurists) he planned to implement but knew would be a deal breaker for his more secular and modernist Muslim allies;
Shrewdness and energy of Khomeini's organizers in Iran who outwitted the Shah's security forces and won broad support with their tactical ingenuity -- amongst other things, fooling Iranians into thinking the Shah's security was more brutal than it was.
The self-confidence and charisma of the Ayatollah Khomeini that allowed him to capture the imagination of masses of Iranians, and be seen by many as a savior figure.
Policies of the American government, who both helped create an image of the Shah as American puppet with their high profile and the 1953 subversion of the government on his behalf, but also pressured the Shah to liberalize thus triggering the revolution, and finally failed to decide on a clear response to the revolution, misreading the opposition (and in particular the goals of Khomeini).

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