understand the political forces and factions which led to the 1979
Iranian Revolution we should begin with the post World War II period.
Social and economic difficulties of this period had taken their
toll on Reza Shah's regime (1926-1941) and this weakness had provided
the opposition with the rare opportunity to expand its activities.
that the loss of control by Reza Shah might lead to the empowerment
of the left, The United States and Britain pressured Reza Shah to
resign. This move was intended to remove one of the main reasons
of opposition. Reza Shah resigned and left the crown to his son,
Mohammad Reza Shah. This change, however, did not slow down the
opposing social movements.
These movements, nourished by different thoughts and ideologies,
aimed at defining and implementing a national policy, which would
bring economic development and also guarantee social and individual
Reforms Under Prime Minister Mossadeq
apogee of these movements was the selection of Mohammad Mossadeq,
one of the nationalist leaders, as the prime minister (May 1951).
To implement parts of his national policy -- including the nationalization
of Iran's oil industry -- he relied heavily on public support and
in many occasions called for street demonstrations to force his
agenda. His government, however, did not last long. In 1953, through
a coup that was planned and funded by the CIA, Mohammad Reza Shah
removed Mossadeq and put an end to his progressive policies.
to Mohammad Reza Shah's Regime
of the major efforts of Mohammad Reza Shah was the creation of a
secret police (SAVAK, 1957) whose main duty was to find and uproot
anti-government organizations. SAVAK was successful in this endeavor
but the anti-government movement continued its subjective and conceptual
existence within three major ideological frameworks: Islam, Marxism,
and Nationalism. SAVAK's violent tactics prevented these movements
from having a significant social presence until the year 1963, when
the Shah proposed a social and economic reform plan and after a
rigged referendum declared that more than 99 percent of the voters
had endorsed his plan. Reacting to this plan and the referendum,
many political figures including Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini initiated
and organized a number of demonstrations in major cities. The upheavals
lasted three days and left hundreds of dead. Shortly after that
Khomeini was deported from Iran to Iraq, where he continued his
activities from Najaf (Iraq). But his voice did at first find a
strong echo inside Iran. It seemed that Shah had overcome this first
second wave of uprisings began around 1971. This period is marked
particularly by armed struggle of guerilla groups. The two largest
groups were Mojahedin-e Khalgh-e Iran and Fada'iyan-e Khalgh-e Iran.
These groups had chosen Islam and Marxism, respectively, as their
leading ideologies. The majority of their members were from the
intelligentsia and their main recruiting domain was the universities.
During 1971-1977 university students became increasingly involved
in political activities and organized a number of large demonstrations.
These activities popularized the anti-government culture and provided
practical experiences, which in the following years became quite
social uprisings were gradually penetrating different aspects and
layers of the society, the Shah was busy preparing for the celebration
of 2500 years of monarchy. He clearly considered himself the legitimate
heir of Cyrus, the founder of the Achaemenian dynasty. His following
steps also aimed at strengthening the legitimacy of his rule and
concentrating more power in his own hand. He declared that the Iranian
calendar had to be changed and the first year of this calendar should
refer to the beginning of the Achaemenian dynasty. Almost simultaneously
he formed the Rastakhiz (Resurgence) party (1975) and coerced every
individual and the few remaining political parties to become part
increasing number of street demonstrations finally made him realize
that his control over the situation was threatened. His first measure
to regain control was to change his long time prime minister, Amir
'Abbas Hoveyda (July 1977), who was replaced by Jamshid Amuzegar.
This move, which implied a slight desire to liberalize the situation,
resulted in radicalization of the movement. Demonstrators now attacked
police stations, banks, and headquarters of Rastakhiz party. Police
and army were sent to confront demonstrators. The confrontations
resulted in many casualties, and mourning for each martyr triggered
The Year of "Black Friday"
the middle of 1978, street demonstrations reached an unprecedented
level. The Shah replaced Amuzegar with Sharif-Emami (August 27).
Many cities were placed under martial law. It was too late. People
poured to the streets to defy the Shah. Sharif-Emami, once more,
sent the army in front of the people. This time tanks were used
to disperse demonstrators. The tactic was not successful. Soldiers
were ordered to shoot. They did, and according to the opposition,
more than 600 people were killed in Zhaleh Square alone. This day
(September 8) became known as the Black Friday and that square's
name was changed to the Square of Martyrs.
the beginning of his appointment Sharif-Emami had tried to reach
a kind of compromise with moderate groups of opposition; Black Friday
made any compromise impossible. Shah, once more, changed the prime
minister. This time he appointed a military man, General Azhari
(November 6). It was useless. Along with daily demonstrations, workers
strikes in major industries-including oil-had paralyzed the country.
Shah Flees and Ayatollah Khomeini Returns
January 6, 1979, the Shah appointed his last prime minister, Shahpur
Bakhtiar. Bakhtiar knew many members of moderate groups of opposition.
This appointment, therefore, was supposed to imply that Shah has
agreed to accept parts of the demands of opposition. But Khomeini,
who since October 6, 1978 had been living in France, and other anti-government
groups and organizations simultaneously, dismissed this move and
demanded the Shah to leave Iran. By the end of January 1979 he was
out of the country and on February 1, 1979 Khomeini, after fourteen
years of exile, returned home.
days after his arrival, Khomeini appointed Mehdi Bazargan (affiliated
with moderate/nationalist groups) as prime minister of the provisional
government. Real power, however, was concentrated in the Council
of Revolution which was controlled by Khomeini. The Council's first
move was to decide upon the form of the government. In March 1979,
a referendum took place where people were asked to answer the following
question: "Islamic Republic, Yes or No?" The majority
of political organizations objected to this question on the ground
that it did not provide any opportunity for people to express their
ideas about the government's form. Radical groups boycotted the
referendum but the Islamic Republic of Iran was born in the month
of March 1979.
second item of the agenda was the constitution. In June, Khomeini
and the Council of the Revolution prepared a draft of the new constitution.
In August, elections for the Council of Experts took place. This
Council was supposed to finalize the draft. The governing laws of
the election were written with the specific purpose of preventing
small, radical groups from having any representation in the Council.
Once more many political groups boycotted the election. The resulting
73-member Council became another powerful organization which was
closely controlled by Khomeini and the Council of the Revolution.
In objection to the results of the election demonstrations began
to take place in major cities. In the middle of August 1979, Khomeini
expressed his dissatisfaction with these demonstrations. Shortly
after that many journals and newspapers were closed. While the government
of Bazargan was trying to find a moderate solution to these problems,
the Council of the Revolution increased the pressure on the opposition.
On November 5, Bazargan who found himself in disagreement with the
Council and Khomeini over major issues such as human rights and
foreign affairs -mainly with regard to the idea of exporting the
Islamic Revolution- offered his resignation to Khomeini.
"Islamicizing" of Government
November 15, 1979 the final draft of the new constitution was published
and immediately drew criticism. The most common objection (even
from some top rank clerics) was the extreme power allocated to the
Velayat-e Faqih (the supreme religious leader) who is not an elected
official. In the referendum, however, the new constitution was ratified.
Following the constitution, the first presidential election was
to take place. 124 individuals announced their candidacy. Khomeini
announced that he did not recommend that a cleric become president.
Another Council was selected to decide upon candidates' eligibility.
Many other tactics were used to reduce the number of potential rivals.
Finally, in January 1980, 'Abolhassan Bani-Sadr who was Khomeini's
favorite candidate was elected to be the first president of Iran.
With elections for the Majlis (parliament) which were governed by
similar rules and regulations the process of islamicizing major
institutions of political power was almost complete.
the same time the power struggle had reached its peak. To eliminate
the opposition, government relied not only on legal procedures but
also on "questionable" practices of pro-government entities
such as Komiteh (local organizations), Sepah-e Pasdaran (the revolutionary
guard), and pressure groups. The increasing violence exercised by
these entities expedited the disillusionment process of the opposition.
By early summer 1980 all political groups opposing the government
had to go underground. In the meantime border clashes between Iran
and Iraq which had begun around the end of 1979 began to turn into
a full-size war. (1980-1988).
who did not have much control over political power institutions,
tried to begin his quest for power by riding the nationalist/anti-Iraq
wave. He immediately lost Khomeini's support and soon after that
clerics in power began their efforts to force him out. Bani-Sadr
had popular support, and once he faced ruling clerics he received
the support of many radical political groups as well. This situation
led to a polarization, which forced Bani-Sadr to move closer to
the now-disillusioned Mojahedin-e Khalq. On June 1, 1981, he was
removed from power and knowing the inevitable fate that awaited
him he immediately went into hiding. A few weeks later he was in
last event of this period, which delineated the antagonism between
the ruling clerics and the opposition, was the explosion of two
bombs in the headquarters of the Islamic Republican Party (June
28, 1981). Mojahedin-e Khalq accepted the responsibility. Most of
the 74 dead were right-wing leaders. This event and the expansion
of Iran-Iraq war were the government's main arguments to use institutionalized
violence against the remaining opposing forces.
Mehdi Khorrami, Ph.D. is a professor of Persian Literature and Language
at New York University.
Ervand, "Iran Between Two Revolutions" (Princeton University
Sandra, "The Iranians" (Dutton, 1996)