Causes of the Iranian Revolution

Causes of the Iranian Revolution

The Iranian Revolution had a number of significant features. It produced profound change at great speed; [Amuzegar, Jahangir, "The Dynamics of the Iranian Revolution," SUNY Press, p.10] and replaced an ancient monarchy with a theocracy based on Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists (or "velayat-e faqih"). Its outcome — an Islamic Republic "under the guidance of an 80-year-old exiled religious scholar from Qom" — was, as one scholar put it, "clearly an occurrence that had to be explained.…"Benard, "The Government of God" (1984), p. 18.]

Causes of the Iranian Revolution, why the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown and why an Islamic Republic replaced it, are a subject of historical debate.

Causes absent

The revolution was unique for the surprise it created throughout the world: [Amuzegar, "The Dynamics of the Iranian Revolution," (1991), p.4, 9-12] and for many of the customary causes of revolution that were lacking
*defeat at war,
*a financial crisis,
*peasant rebellion,
*disgruntled military; [Arjomand, "Turban" (1988), p. 191.]

The regime it overthrew was thought to be heavily protected by a lavishly financed army and security services [Harney, "Priest" (1998), p. 2.] [Abrahamian "Iran" (1982), p. 496.] .


Explanations advanced for why the revolution happened and took the form it did include actions of the Shah and the mistakes and successes of the different political forces:

Policies of the Shah

*His strong policy of Westernization and close identification with a Western power (the United States) despite the resulting clash with Iran's Shi'a Muslim identity. [Mackay, "Iranians" (1998), pp. 259, 261.] This included his original installation by Allied Powers and assistance from the CIA in 1953 to restore him to the throne, the use of large numbers of US military advisers and technicians and the capitulation or granting of diplomatic immunity from prosecution to them, all of which led nationalistic Iranians, both religious and secular [ Khomeini's speech against capitalism] , IRIB World Service.] to consider him a puppet of the West; [Brumberg, "Reinventing Khomeini" (2001).] Shirley, "Know Thine Enemy" (1997), p. 207.]
*Extravagance, corruption and elitism (both real and perceived) of the Shah's policies and of his royal court; [Mackay, "Iranians" (1998), pp. 236, 260.] Harney, "The Priest" (1998), pp. 37, 47, 67, 128, 155, 167.]
*His failure to cultivate supporters in the Shi'a religious leadership to counter Khomeini's campaign against him; [Taheri, "The Spirit of Allah" (1985), p. 136.] Arjomand "Turban" (1998), p. 192.]
*Focusing of government surveillance and repression on the People's Mujahedin of Iran, the communist Tudeh Party of Iran, and other leftist groups, while the more popular religious opposition organized, grew and gradually undermined the authority of his regime; [Moin, "Khomeini" (2000), p. 178.] Hoveyda "Shah" (2003) p. 22.] Abrahamian, "Iran" (1982), pp. 533–4.]
*Authoritarian tendencies that violated the Iran Constitution of 1906, [Mackay, "Iranians" (1998), p. 219.] Katouzian (1981), [ The Political Economy of Modern Iran] : Despotism and Pseudo-Modernism, 1926–1979.] including repression of dissent by security services like the SAVAK, [Kapuscinski, "Shah of Shahs" (1985).] followed by appeasement and appearance of weakness as the revolution gained momentum;Taheri, "The Spirit of Allah" (1985) pp. 234–5.] Harney, "The Priest" (1998), p. 65.]
* Failure of his overly ambitious 1974 economic program to meet expectations raised by the oil revenue windfall. Bottlenecks, shortages and inflation were followed by austerity measures, attacks on alleged price gougers and black-markets, that angered both the bazaar and the masses; [Graham, "Iran" (1980), pp. 19, 96.]
*His antagonizing of formerly apolitical Iranians, especially merchants of the bazaars, with the creation of a single party political monopoly (the "Rastakhiz" Party), with compulsory membership and dues, and general aggressive interference in the political, economic, and religious concerns of people's lives; [Abrahamian, "Iran Between Two Revolutions" (1982) pp. 442–6.]
* His overconfident neglect of governance and preoccupation with playing the world statesman during the oil boom, [Taheri, "The Spirit of Allah" (1985) p. 205.] followed by a loss of self-confidence and resolution and a weakening of his health from cancer [Moin, "Khomeini" (2000), p. 188.] 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," [Graham, "Iran" (1980) p. 231.] but no concerted counter-attack was made against the revolutionaries either.
*Failure to prepare and train security forces for dealing with protest and demonstration, failure to use crowd control without excessive violence [Graham, "Iran" (1980) p. 228.] (troops used live ammunition, not Plexiglas shields or water cannons), [Harney, "The Priest" (1998).] and use of the military officer corps more as a powerbase to be pampered than as a force to control threats to security;Graham, "Iran" (1980), p. 235.]
*The personalised nature of the Shah's government, where prevention of any possible competitor to the monarch trumped efficient and effective government and led to the crown's cultivation of divisions within the army and the political elite, [Arjomand, "Turban" (1998), pp. 189–90.] and ultimately to a lack of support for the regime by its natural allies when needed most (thousands of upper and middle class Iranians and their money left Iran during the beginning of the revolution). [Taheri, "The Spirit of Allah" (1985), p. 233.]

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; [Schirazi, "The Constitution of Iran" (1997), pp. 293–4.]
* Shrewdness of the 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 rule by clerics or "guardianship of the jurists") he planned to implement but knew would be a deal breaker for his more secular and modernist Muslim allies; [Moin, "Khomeini" (2000), p. 200.]
*Cleverness 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, convincing Iranians that the Shah's security was more brutal than it was;
*The Ayatollah Khomeini's self-confidence, charisma, and most importantly his ability to cast himself as following in the footsteps of the beloved Shi'a Imam Husayn ibn Ali, while portraying the Shah as a modern day version of Hussein's foe, the hated tyrant Yazid I; [Brumberg, "Reinventing Khomeini" (2001), pp. 44, 74–5.] and so to be seen by millions as a savior figure,Taheri, "The Spirit of Allah" (1985), p. 238.] and inspiring hundreds to feats of martyrdom fighting the regime.
* Policies of the American government, which 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 helped trigger the revolution by pressuring the Shah to liberalize, and then finally may have heightened the radicalism of the revolution by failing to read its nature accurately (particularly the goals of Khomeini), or to clearly respond to it. [Harney, "The Priest" (1998), p. 177.] Graham, "Iran" (1980) p. 233.] Zabih,Blah Blah "Iran" (1982), p. 16.]

ee also

* 1953 Iranian coup d'état
* 1979 energy crisis
* Guerrilla groups of Iran
* History of Iran
* History of political Islam in Iran
* History of the Islamic Republic of Iran
* Human rights in Islamic Republic of Iran
* Iran hostage crisis
* People's Mujahedin of Iran
* Persecution of Bahá'ís
* Persian Constitutional Revolution
* Ruhollah Khomeini
* Timeline of Iranian revolution
* White Revolution
* Wilayat al-Faqih
* Organizations of the Iranian Revolution

References and notes


*cite book |author=Amuzgar, Jahangir |title=The Dynamics of the Iranian Revolution: The Pahlavis' Triumph and Tragedy: 31. |publisher=SUNY Press|year=1991
*cite book |author=Arjomand, Said Amir |title=Turban for the Crown: The Islamic Revolution in Iran |publisher=Oxford University Press|year=1988
*cite book |author=Abrahamian, Ervand |title=Iran between two revolutions|publisher=Princeton University Press|year=1982
*cite book |author=Benard, Cheryl and Khalilzad, Zalmay |title="The Government of God" — Iran's Islamic Republic
publisher=Columbia University Press|year=1984

*cite book |author=Graham, Robert|title=Iran, the Illusion of Power |publisher=St. Martin's Press |year=1980
*cite book |author=Harney, Desmond|title=The priest and the king: an eyewitness account of the Iranian revolution
publisher=I.B. Tauris|year=1998

*cite book |author=Harris, David|title=The Crisis: the President, the Prophet, and the Shah — 1979 and the Coming of Militant Islam |publisher=Little, Brown|year=2004
*cite book |author=Hoveyda, Fereydoun|title=The Shah and the Ayatollah: Iranian mythology and Islamic revolution |publisher=Praeger|year=2003
*cite book |author=Kapuscinski, Ryszard |title=Shah of Shahs |publisher=Harcourt Brace, Jovanovich |year=1985
*cite book |author=Keddie, Nikki |title=Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution |publisher=Yale University Press|year=2003
*cite book |author=Kepel, Gilles |title=The Trail of Political Islam |publisher=Harvard University Press|year=2002
*cite book |author=Mackey, Sandra |title=The Iranians: Persia, Islam and the Soul of a Nation |publisher=Dutton |year=1996
*cite book |author=Miller, Judith|title=God Has Ninety Nine Names |publisher=Simon & Schuster |year=1996
*cite book |author=Moin, Baqer |title=Khomeini: Life of the Ayatollah |publisher=Thomas Dunne Books |year=2000
*cite book |author=Roy, Olivier |title=The Failure of Political Islam | translated by Carol Volk | publisher=Harvard University Press |year=1994
*cite book |author=Ruthven, Malise|title=Islam in the World|publisher=Oxford University Press|year=2000
*cite book |author=Schirazi, Asghar |title=The Constitution of Iran |publisher=Tauris |year=1997
*cite book |author=Shirley, Edward|title=Know Thine Enemy |publisher= Farra|year=1997
*cite book |author=Taheri, Amir|title=The Spirit of Allah |publisher=Adler & Adler |year=1985
*cite book |author=Wright, Robin |title=The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil And Transformation In Iran |publisher=Alfred A. Knopf: Distributed by Random House |year=2000
*cite book |author=Zabih, Sepehr|title="Iran Since the Revolution |publisher=Johns Hopkins Press |year=1982
*cite book |author=Zanganeh, Lila Azam (editor) |title=My Sister, Guard Your Veil, My Brother, Guard Your Eyes : Uncensored Iranian Voices |publisher=Beacon Press| year=2006

Further reading

* (Chapter 6: Iran: Revolutionary Fundamentalism in Power.)
* Kapuściński, Ryszard. "Shah of Shahs." Translated from Polish by William R. Brand and Katarzyna Mroczkowska-Brand. New York: Vintage International, 1992.
* Kurzman, Charles. "The Unthinkable Revolution." Cambridge, MA & London: Harvard University Press, 2004.
* Ladjevardi, Habib (editor), "Memoirs of Shapour Bakhtiar", Harvard University Press, 1996.
* 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 Iranian 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 Iranian Revolution.] " 1998.
* Society for Iranian Studies, "Iranian 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

* [ Islamic Revolution of Iran, Encarta]
* [ The Iranian revolution, Britannica]
* […%22+#PPA31,M1 The Dynamics of the Iranian Revolution: The Pahlavis' Triumph and Tragedy]

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