Iranian Revolution

1978–1979 revolution that overthrew the monarchy

The Iranian Revolution (Persian: انقلاب ایران‎, translit. Enqelāb-e Iran; also known as the Islamic Revolution or the 1979 Revolution) refers to events involving the overthrow of the Persian monarchy under Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, and eventual replacement with an Islamic Republic under the Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution.

Mohammad Beheshti in the Tehran Ashura demonstration, 11 December 1978

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  • A situation in Asia that was not without considerable promise for the USA was to become far more threatening in 1979. The overthrow, in the face of mass-demonstrations, of the Shah of Iran, who left Tehran on 16 January 1979, and his replacement by a theocratic state hostile to the USA, combined with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan at the end of 1979 to create a highly volatile situation that posed problems for analysts. There was the prospect, first, that the USA might lose the struggle for regional hegemony and, secondly, that this might have wider consequences across Asia. Although authoritarian and prone to initiatives that were not always welcome, Iran was America’s leading ally in South Asia, an opponent to Arab radicalism, and a block to Soviet expansionism and that of Iraq, a key Soviet ally. The USA had used Iran to support the Kurds against Iraq, and, in 1973, to send troops to help the Sultan of Oman overcome left-wing rebels based in the region of Dhofar, rebels backed by Communist powers. Iran was also a major purchaser of American arms, and a key oil exporter. Under the Shah, it had long played a central role in the forward containment of the Soviet Union, not least by providing important radar bases to screen the southern Soviet Union. After the collapse of Iran, the Americans fell back upon Israel.
  • There is an irony lodged deep in the heart of the revolution that turned Iran from a Persian kingdom into an Islamic theocracy, a revolution cheered and organized by secular leftists and Islamist modernists. The irony is that the Iran of the fundamentalist ayatollahs owes its ultimate birth pang to cities of sin and freedom: Beirut, capital of Arabic modernity, once known as the Paris of the Middle East; and Paris, birthplace of the Age of Enlightenment. If not for the permissive freedoms in both, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini—a patient man with a cunning mind—might have died forgotten in a two-story mudbrick house down a narrow cul-de-sac in the holy city of Najaf, in Iraq. The Iranian cleric had agitated against the shah of Iran for over a decade and spent time in prison in Tehran. He was sent into exile and arrived in Najaf in 1965, where he languished in anonymity for thirteen years, popular among his circle of disciples but shunned by most of the Iraqi Shia clergy. In Najaf, clerics stayed out of politics and disapproved of the firebrand ayatollah who thought he had a special relationship with God. Outside the cities that busied themselves with theology, there were those who saw in Khomeini a useful political tool, someone who could rouse crowds in the battle against oppression. Different people with different dreams, from Tehran to Jerusalem, from Paris to Beirut, looked to Khomeini and saw a man who could serve their agenda, not realizing they were serving his.
    • Kim Ghattas Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East (2020)
  • Animosity toward the shah and the intensification of Iranian nationalism, aroused by the perception of the shah’s regime as an instrument of foreign imperialism and moral corruption, united otherwise incompatible groups into a powerful revolutionary alliance. In the course of one year, 1978, the monarchy was swept away. Among the contending revolutionary forces, religious leaders possessed a greater cultural affinity with Iran’s masses and better access to extensive social networks for mobilizing large numbers of people than any other component of the anti-shah coalition. The result was a startling innovation in the history of world governments—the creation of the Islamic Republic.
    • James DeFronzo, Revolutions and Revolutionary Movements (2018), p. 247
  • Global arrogance, is not satisfied with the Islamic Revolution's success because it is quite aware of the fact that our victory would result in the globalization of Islam.
  • I admit that I called it wrong really from the beginning and in the direction that it went. The direction that it went -- this rather harsh and brutal and intolerant direction that it went -- certainly surprised me. I didn't expect it. Nor did I expect that we and the Iranians would remain estranged for as long as we have.

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