In 1979, an Iranian monarchy that lasted more than 2,550 years came to an end when Shah Mohammad Reza was overthrown by a revolution. The final emperor of Persia, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, played a significant role in world politics in the second part of the 20th century. Ayotallah Khomeini, his biggest rival, ends up becoming the redeemer of everyone who opposed the Shah. Nearly their entire lives were spent in conflict. The Shah is ultimately defeated. The Ayatollah has triumphed, bringing with him a fresh challenge to global politics: Islamic Fundamentalism.
This article provides unprecedented insights into the ruling style of two vastly distinct regimes. The Shah Muhammad Reza of the Pahlavi dynasty (1925-1979) and Ayatollah Khomeini of the Islamic Republic (1979-present) have played a significant role in shaping Iran into its today form. Through his autocratic rule, the Shah aimed to revive the “Great Civilization”. Under his regime, social order and economic prosperity were the goals of nation-building and the institution of religion had no place in it. On the other hand, Khomeini aspires to establish the “Islamic Civilization” through a totalitarian government.
Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi: A Pro-Western Monarch
Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, a man who asked to be crowned himself, enjoyed popularity and success in the 1960s. He had amassed wealth and power owing to oil profits. His dynasty had shaped contemporary Iran, and he yearned to be remembered as a benefactor by his people.
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was a pro-Western ruler who aimed to modernise the nation and improve its standing globally. However, Iranians did not seem to like Shah’s modernisation agenda, which primarily replaced Islamic cultural norms with Western ones.
The Shah unveiled the “White Revolution,” a comprehensive reform agenda, on January 11th, 1963. Its goal was to significantly raise the standard of living for the population. A national referendum strengthened the ambitious program which included the abolition of the feudal system, the privatization of state-owned companies, the fight against illiteracy and the introduction of women’s voting rights. Although they were not yet permitted to vote in the referendum, women swarm the polling places to show their support.
On the other hand, there is no shift in the political power structures. They continue to be Shah-specific and traditional monarchists. Those who oppose the Shah’s regime face imprisonment in the Iranian secret service Sevak’s prison where torture and execution are daily fair. Reza Shah’s government forbade any form of opposition or dissent. Concerns about the nation’s social and political growth were not openly discussed. Most of the voices from the left to right were silenced. The opposition had left the country or was detained.
The table started turning around by the middle of the 1970s. During this time there was a great deal of unrest brought on by the Shah’s regime’s continued repression, socio economic reforms that benefited some classes at the expense of others, and the growing divide between the ruling class and the unsatisfied public. Although Tehran was to grow and grow until it became kind of a modern Los Angeles, it was always surrounded by a sea of poverty, the sea of peasants who never really knew what the vision of the Shah was or the vision of his father, the old Shah-the man who started the whole process. Because of his autocratic rule, the Shah gradually lost touch with the people of his nation and became ignorant of their needs. And thus, the widespread discontent among people created the ground for the 1979 revolution and marked the end of the monarchy in Iran.
The Iranian Revolution started with initial protests which were minor in nature and started after Khomeini, who was living in exile in Paris at the time. Khomeini was criticized in a piece that was published in an Iranian newspaper on January 7, 1978. The protest expanded once government police and army forces began shooting at them and killing some of them.
Nonetheless, at first, the Iranian Revolution was a conventional revolt by dissatisfied Iranians to topple a government they believed to be corrupt and insensitive to their demands. Despite economic prosperity driven by oil, many Iranians were struggling economically. Therefore, it is inaccurate to claim that the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam served as a driving force behind many of the protesters who came to the streets in late 1978. They were unhappy with the corrupt government, political repression, and economic disparity.
The Shah of Iran left the nation in January 1979 when the government’s forces failed to put down the uprising. In contrast, Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran on February 1 to a rousing welcome from the general populace, and as a result, Iran transitioned from a monarchy to an Islamic Republic.
Ayatollah Khomeini: A Supreme Leader of Iran
On April 1, 1979, Iran’s people decided in a nationwide referendum to establish the Islamic Republic, and they also ratified a new theocratic-republican constitution that made Khomeini the nation’s Supreme Leader. However, Khomeini and the population had not foreseen the post-revolutionary realities. Up until the death of Ayatollah Khomeini on June 3, 1989, the nation experienced a decade of upheaval fuelled by internal strife, the Iran-Iraq War, and the chaos of constructing a new system.
After the 1979 revolution, the Islamic Republic was founded, and it has a distinct governmental structure. The new constitution had vested all the powers in the hand of the Supreme Leader. Although the legislative, executive and judicial organs were created as a sovereign body, all the decisions were taken in consultation with the Revolution Guide (supreme leader). The President acted as the head of the executive, but all the decisions regarding domestic and foreign policies as well as the management and administration of the armed and security forces were taken by the Revolution guide. A candidate whose constitution has been accepted by the Guardian Council is elected by the people to serve as President for a term of four years and a maximum of two consecutive terms.
Ayatollah Khomeini established Sharia, the Islamic law in the country and everyone had to adhere to the Islamic dress code. For instance, Islamic law forbade men to wear shorts and women were now required to wear hijab. Alcoholic beverages, Western movies, and the act of men and women swimming or sunbathing together were all outlawed. Additionally, Khomeini forbade Iranian radio and television from playing any music other than military or religious music. Another modification was the Islamization of the Iranian curriculum. The situation of women deteriorated. Along with equal human rights, women were denied the right to vote. He persecuted the opposition, and thousands of individuals were tortured, imprisoned, and killed without the benefit of a court order. Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime repressed liberals, communists, feminists, as well as minorities of other religions and races. These limitations and prohibitions persisted throughout Khomeini’s administration.
The people of Iran had certain expectations with the revolution, that it would bring stability, peace and economic security to the country. On the contrary, these expectations soon turned into disappointments. Even after 43 years of revolution, the people are still struggling with economic crisis and unemployment. Women are still facing severe restrictions regarding dress codes. Young people still dream of living in a more secular Iran. Thus, the promises of the revolution are yet to be fulfilled.
By: Heena Parveen