The Iranian Revolution

“If I want someone to go to the left, I push them as hard as I can to the right.”

“Driving people insane is the most powerful weapon of the gods.”

The Shah of Iran was the leader of a constitutional monarchy. He ruled from 1941 until 1979. He maintained ill relations with the Shia clergy. In the latter years of his rule he attempted to undermine their influence. He wanted to change the official calendar from Islamic to one based on the Persian Empire. The state did not enforce Islamic laws. His government built universities and schools and advanced Iranian culture. He advocated women’s suffrage.

Intellectuals began to advocate for the overthrow of the Shah in 1977. According to the Iranian Constitution, the Shah was supposed to support the ideals of Islam. Distribution of wealth hadn’t lifted up the lower classes despite and economic oil boom. The stories in the Iranian press about lascivious behavior of the Ayatollah Khomeini, in exile since 1964 sparked protests in his hometown of Qum.

According to US Embassy staff, the Shah had lost any grip on reality and some questioned his sanity. Martial law was declared in 1978 as things got progressively worse. The Carter administration debated on whether to continue to support the Shah with the Ayatollah Khomeini (see Case Study 31) returning to the country as a peaceful spiritual leader.

The Ayatollah returned to Iran on the promise not to take over the country. The ongoing strife levels elevated. Soon the country was in full revolution mode. When the dust settled the student and pro constitution forces were out in the cold with the Shia forces under Khomeini in full control. The people of Iran were out of the frying pan and into the fire.