Why was there a revolution in Iran in 1979?

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Iranian Revolution (General)

  • The Shah of Iran left the country on 16 Jan 1979 never to return
  • The 2500-year-old monarchy had been swept away by a popular protest movement
  • The revolution directly led to the establishment of an Islamic Republic under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini 
  • He had angered almost every sector of society
  • His last year of rule was one of demonstrations, violent deaths and widespread strikes
  • The pressures for the Shah to go had been building up for over 25 years
  • The last Shah of Iran was called Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi
  • The Pahlavi dynasty was only 53 years old

Factors as to why there was a revolution in Iran in 1979

• Opposition to foreign influence
• Dissatisfaction with the Shah's modernization programme
• Resentment at autocratic and repressive government
• The leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini

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Iran in 1978, The Last year of the Shah's rule

9 Jan 1978
• Protest in holy city of Qom against an official newspaper editoral denouncing Khomeini
• 5 deaths
18 Feb 1978
• Violent clashes between protestors and authorities in Tabriz
• government used tanks and helicopter gunships to regain control
• 13 fatalities

19 Aug 1978
• Cinema Rex in Adadan was burnt down
• more than 400 women and children killed
• Both SAVAK and militant Islamists were suspected of the arson

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Black Friday and the 'Shah Must Go' rally

8 Sept 1978 (Black Friday)
• protestors gathered in Jaleh Square, Tehran
• Troops opened fire when crowds refused to disperse
• 84 killed

11 Dec 1978 (Shah Must Go rally)
• held around Shahyad Square in Tehran
•involved crowds of more than 2 million people
• demands included establishment of an Islamic Republic
• exposed the inability of the government to enforce law and order

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Opposition to foreign influence

  • The Iranian PM, Mossadeq as popular with the people as he didn't want foreign domination
  • He nationalized Iran's oil industry thereby upsetting the British who controlled it
  • The Shah, supported by the CIA and the MI6, overthrew Mossadeq in 1953
  • The coup resulted in the Shah being associated with British and Americans whose main interests were the safeguarding of oil supplies to the West
  • The influence of the USA was more noticeable when the Shah began importing large quantities of American foodstuffs - affecting local farmers
  • The Shah even attempted to introduce local shopping malls, damaging the interests of the bazaar merchants
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Resentment at the Shah's modernization programme

  • The Shah introduced the White revolution in the 1960s
  • Many reforms were soon regarded as inadequate:
    - Land reform was supposed to redistribute land among the peasantry but most of the peasants ended up with holdings barely sufficient to support their families
    - It failed to ensure that villages all had piped water, electricity and roads
    - Health reforms increased the number of doctors, nurses and hospital beds but failed to reduce infant mortality rates
    - Education reforms failed to impact on the levels of adult illiteracy
  • By the end of the 1970s the distribution of income was becoming more unequal than it had been 20 years earlier
  • The rich were living in palaces while the poor were condemned to shanty towns without proper roads and other essential facilities (eample in Tehran - Iran's capital)
  • The actions of the Shah showed insensitivity to his people i.e. held a multi-million coronation (Oct 1967) and had the Shahyad monument constructed
  • Oil revenues had increased from $34 million (1954-5) to $24 billion (1975-6) making Iran a very wealthy country however, the money from the oil revenues were used to build up military capability while most of the population saw little improvement to their living standards
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Resentment at autocratic and repressive government

  • Members of the government had to prepared to accept the Shah's leadership
  • The cabinet and parliament were packed with supporters
  • March 1975: Shah established a one-party state
  • The new Resurgence party immediately made enemies by waging an anti-profiteering campaign in the bazaars, attacking the clerical establishment and by introducing a new calendar
  • Established the SAVAK secret police in 1957 to root out opposition against the Shah's rule
  • SAVAK known for brutal tactics e.g. torture, forced confessions and summary executions
  • In 1977, the Shah authorised the relaxation of police control, the release of a number of political prisoners he also allowed the Red Cross into prisons and introduced measures to ensure a fair trial in court...
  • ..But only as a response to the increasing international condemnation of human rights violations within Iran
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The leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini

  • By mid-1970s there was widespread opposition to the leadership of the Shah
  • Ayatollah Khomeini was a political activist who led the disparate opposition groups
  • He had been forced into exile in 1964 for undermining the Shah
  • Clarified the issues to be fought for, especially the Shah's readiness to agree to foreign influences and supporting Israel against the Muslim world
  • Returned to Iran on 1 Feb 1980 and was met by crowds of over 3 million
  • Thousands of civilians celebrated the popular revolution on the streets
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