Iran: Background

 

 


1906 Constitutional Revolution

The Iranian Constitutional Revolution took place between 1905 and 1911. The revolution marked the beginning of the end of Iran's feudalistic society and led to the establishment of a parliament in Persia (Iran). In 1905 Persia (Iran) was still under the rule of the Qajar Dynasty who had ruled Persia since 1781. Over the duration of Qajar rule, Persia had gradually become a victim of Russian and British imperial policies in The Great Game. This international rivalry had caused successive central governments to become increasingly weak and corrupt. The country's management was often handled by powerful regional nobles who paid their token respects to the monarchy. In effect, this resulted in the central government relying on these nobles for both income, justice, and security. In 1890 Naser al-Din Shah granted a nationwide concession over the sale and importation of tobacco products to a British citizen. However, popular protest compelled Naser al-Din to cancel the concession, demonstrating several factors of crucial significance for the years to come: first, that there existed in Iran a mercantile class of sufficient influence to make use of such broad, popular sentiment and, second, that such public outpourings of discontent could limit the scope of the shah's power. More important, the protest demonstrated the growing power of the Shi'ite clergy, members of which had played a crucial role in rallying Iranians against the monopoly and which was to have great influence over political changes to come. At the same time, Iran was increasingly interacting with the West. This contact sparked an interest in democratic institutions among the members of a nascent intellectual class, which itself was a product of new, Western-style schools promoted by the shah. Encouraged by the Russian Revolution of 1905 and influenced by immigrant workers and merchants from Russian-controlled areas of Transcaucasia, the new Iranian intellectuals were, paradoxically, to find common cause with Iran's merchants and Shi'ite clergy. All aggrieved parties found an opportunity for social reform in 1905–06 when a series of demonstrations, held in protest over the government beating of several merchants, escalated into strikes that soon adjourned to a shrine near Tehran, which the demonstrators claimed as a bast (Persian: “sanctuary”). While under this traditional Iranian form of sanctuary, the government was unable to arrest or otherwise molest the demonstrators, and a series of such sanctuary protests over subsequent months, combined with wide-scale general strikes of craftsmen and merchants, forced the ailing shah to grant a constitution in 1906. The first National Consultative Assembly (the Majles) was opened in October of that year. The new constitution provided a framework for secular legislation, a new judicial code, and a free press. All these reduced the power of the royal court and religious authorities and placed more authority in the hands of the Majles, which, in turn, took a strong stand against European intervention. Although the Majles was suppressed in 1908 under Mohammad 'Ali Shah (ruled 1907–09) by the officers of the Persian Cossack Brigade—the shah's bodyguard and the most effective military force in the country at the time—democracy was revived the following year under the second Majles, and Mohammad 'Ali fled to Russia. Constitutionalists also executed the country's highest-ranking cleric, Sheikh Fazlullah Nuri, who had been found guilty by a reformist tribunal of plotting to overthrow the new order—an indication that not all of Iran's religious elite were proponents of reform. In addition, as part of the secular reforms introduced by the Majles, a variety of secular schools were established during that time, including some for girls, causing significant tension between sections of the clergy that had previously advocated reform and their erstwhile intellectual allies.

 


 

The Pahlavi Dynasty

The new era in Iran's history opened in the 1920s with the coming to power of Reza Khan, a towering figure whose unique personality and unique career left a deep imprint upon the life of his nation. Reza Khan's military reputation, his native intelligence and professionalism served him well and he soon became well known by some prominent Iranians in Tehran and other provinces. In 1921 he headed a British orchestrated coup and occupied Tehran with his Cossack Brigade consequently became war minister. Later in 1921 he negotiated the evacuation of the Russian troops. Reza Khan became prime minister of the new regime in 1923. He negotiated the evacuation of the British forces stationed in Iran since World War I in 1924. In 1925 Reza Khan deposed Ahmad Mirza, the last shah of the Qajar Dynasty, and was proclaimed shah of Iran. He changed his name to Reza Shah Pahlevi, thus founding the Pahlevi dynasty. Reza Shah introduced many great reforms, reorganizing the army, government administration, and finances. He abolished all special rights granted to foreigners, thus gaining real independence for Iran. Reza Shah's achievements could be summed up under three headings: building up the infrastructure of a modern state, asserting independence from foreign domination, and launching sociocultural reforms. The first was the Soviet attempt to set up a separatist Communist government in the province of Gilan. This required both military and diplomatic countermeasures, the outcome being the conclusion of the Soviet-Iranian Treaty of February 1921 and the subsequent withdrawal of Soviet troops from Iranian territory. The second crisis that the Shah faced was the one with Great Britain. It revolved around oil, the concession for which was held by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the latter in turn controlled by the British Admiralty. Although the showdown between Reza Shah and the British over oil in the early 1930s abounded in moments of tension and recrimination, it ended by a compromise in which rationality and restraint were displayed by both parties. Under Reza Shah's 16 years rule the roads and Trans-Iranian Railway were built, modern education was introduced and the University of Tehran was established, and for the first time systematically dispatch of Iranian students to Europe was started. Industrialization of country was stepped-up, and achievements were great. By the mid 1930's Reza Shah's dictatorial style of rule caused dissatisfaction in Iran. And in 1935 name changed from Persia to Iran. In World War II the Allies protested his rapprochement with the Germans, and in 1941 British and Russian forces invaded and occupied Iran. Forced to abdicate in favour of his son, Mohammad Reza Shah, and he died in exile in Johannesburg of South Africa in 1944.

 


 

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1919-80), king of Iran (1941-1979), was born in Tehran on October 26, 1919, the eldest son of Reza Shah. He completed his primary school in Switzerland. He returned to Iran in 1935, and enrolled in a Tehran military school, from which he graduated in 1938. He replaced his father, Reza Shah, on the throne on September 16, 1941, shortly before his 22nd birthday. He continued the reform policies of his father, but a contest for control of the government soon erupted between the shah and an older professional politician, the nationalistic Mohammad Mosaddeq. During World War II, Britain and the USSR were concerned by Reza Shah's friendly relations with Germany. In 1941 the two countries invaded and occupied large areas of Iran. They forced Reza Shah to abdicate, and in the absence of a viable alternative, permitted Mohammad Reza to assume the throne. Despite his vow to act as a constitutional monarch who would defer to the power of the parliamentary government, Mohammad Reza increasingly involved himself in governmental affairs and opposed or thwarted strong prime ministers. Prone to indecision, however, Mohammad Reza relied more on manipulation than on leadership. He concentrated on reviving the army and ensuring that it would remain under royal control as the monarchy's main power base. In 1949 an assassination attempt on the Shah, attributed to the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party, resulted in the banning of that party and the expansion of the Shah's constitutional powers. In the context of regional turmoil and the Cold War, the Shah established himself as an indispensable ally of the West. Domestically, he advocated reform policies, culminating in the 1963 program known as the White Revolution, which included land reform, the extension of voting rights to women, and the elimination of illiteracy. From 1963 and into the seventies, the Shah struggled to modernize Iran - with the help of U.S. foreign policy strategists who saw him as a stabilizing force in the Middle East. And the U.S. appreciated the Shah's acceptance of the existence of Israel. With help from the United States, Iran laid plans for a proliferation of atomic power plants, and the new economic development included the introduction of new fertilizers and pesticides. In 1967 he crowned himself as King of the Kings (Emperor of Iran) and his wife, Farah Diba, as Shahbanoo (Eperess), which caused discontentment amongst diffrent levels of society. These measures and the increasing arbitrariness of the Shah's rule provoked both religious leaders who feared losing their traditional authority and students and intellectuals seeking democratic reforms. These opponents criticized the Shah for violation of the constitution, which placed limits on royal power and provided for a representative government, and for subservience to the United States. In 1976 he replaced the Islamic calendar with an "imperial" calendar, which began with the foundation of the Persian empire more than 25 centuries earlier. These actions were viewed as anti-Islamic and resulted in religious opposition. The shah's regime suppressed and marginalized its opponents with the help of Iran's security and intelligence organization, the SAVAK. Relying on oil revenues, which sharply increased in late 1973, the Shah pursued his goal of developing Iran as a mighty regional power dedicated to social reform and economic development. Yet he continually sidestepped democratic arrangements and refused to allow meaningful civic and political liberties, remaining unresponsive to public opinion. By the mid-1970s the Shah reigned amidst widespread discontent caused by the continuing repressiveness of his regime, socioeconomic changes that benefited some classes at the expense of others, and the increasing gap between the ruling elite and the disaffected populace. Islamic leaders, particularly the exiled cleric Ayatollah Khomeini, were able to focus this discontent with a populist ideology tied to Islamic principles and calls for the overthrow of the shah. The Shah's government collapsed following widespread uprisings in 1978 -1979 and consequently an Islamic Republic succeeded his regime. Beset by advanced cancer, the shah left Iran in January 1979 to begin a life in exile. He lived in Egypt, Morocco, the Bahamas, and Mexico before going to the United States for treatment of lymphatic cancer. His arrival in New York City led to the Iranian takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran by "Students of Imam's Line" and the taking hostage of more than 50 Americans for 444 days. The Shah died in Cairo, Egypt, on July 27, 1980.

 


 

1953 Military Coup

When Britain and Russia forced Reza Shah from power in favour of his son, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, in 1941, Dr. Mosaddeq became a member of Parliament. He was hailed as a hero for his fiery speeches on the evils of British control of Iran's oil industry. In 1951, when Parliament voted for Oil Nationalization, the young shah, recognizing the nationalists' popularity, appointed Dr. Mosaddeq prime minister. He amassed power. When the shah refused his demand for control of the armed forces in 1952, Dr. Mosaddeq resigned, only to be reinstated in the face of popular riots. He then displayed a streak of authoritarianism, bypassing Parliament by conducting a national referendum to win approval for its dissolution. Meanwhile, the United States became alarmed at the strength of Iran's Communist Party, which supported Dr. Mosaddeq. In August 1953, a dismissal attempt by the shah sent Dr. Mosaddeq's followers into the streets. The shah fled, amid fears in the new Eisenhower administration that Iran might move too close to Moscow. The 1953 Iranian coup d'état removed the nationalist cabinet of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh from power, supported by a covert operation, codenamed Operation Ajax (officially TP-AJAX) by the United Kingdom and the United States. The coup was performed in order to support the Pahlavi dynasty and consolidate the power of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, attempting to preserve the Western control of Iran's oil infrastructure and to prevent the rising influence of communists in the Iranian government. The coup was the culmination of a long conflict between Mossadeq, the Shah, and the parliament of Iran. Mossadeq was taken to trial and served three years in prison and ended up under house arrest at his estate. In March 1967, in his mid-80's and weakened by radium treatments for throat cancer, he died. The coup was a turning point in modern Iranian history and remains a persistent irritant in Tehran-Washington relations. It consolidated the power of the shah, who ruled with an iron hand for 26 more years in close contact with the United States. He was toppled by Iranian Revolution of 1979. Later that year, "Students of Imam Line" went to the American Embassy, took diplomats hostage and declared that they had unmasked a "nest of spies" who had been manipulating Iran for decades.

 


 

1979 Islamic Revolution

It has been called "the third great revolution in history," following the French and Bolshevik revolutions. It was aimed at liberating Iran and the Third World from colonialism and neo-colonialism. Despite economical growth, there was much opposition against the Mohammad Reza Shah, and how he used the secret police, the Savak, to control the country. Strong Shi'i opposition against the Shah, and the country came close to a situation of civil war. The opposition was lead by Ayatollah Khomeini, who lived in exile in Iraq and later in France. His message was distributed through music cassettes, which were smuggled into Iran in small numbers, and then duplicated, and spread all around the country. This was the beginning of Iranian revolution. On January 16 1979, the Shah left Iran. Shapour Bakhtiar as his new prime minister with the help of Supreme Army Councils couldn't control the situation in the country anymore. Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran on February 1. Ten days later Bakhtiar went into hiding, eventually to find exile in Paris. Processes against the supporters of the Shah started, and hundreds were executed. On April 1, after a landslide victory in a national referendum in which only one choice was offered (Islamic Republic: Yes or No), Ayatollah Khomeini declared an Islamic republic with a new Constitution reflecting his ideals of Islamic government. Ayatollah Khomeini became supreme spiritual leader (Valy-e-Faqih) of Iran. Subsequently many demonstrations were held in protest to the new rules, like extreme regulations on women's code of dress. Khomeini and his ulama allies wanted an judiciary government - rule by Islamic Sharia. On March 3, Khomeini announced that no judge was to be female. On March 6, he announced that women were to wear the hejab head covering. Khomeini declared that all non-Islamic forces were to be removed from the government, the military, judiciary, public and private enterprises and educational institutions. Corrupt behavior and customs were to be ended. Alcohol and gambling were to be banned and so too were nightclubs and mixed bathing. Friday noon prayer and sermons were to be focal point of the week, and all Friday prayer leaders were to be appointed by Khomeini. In school classrooms prayers were to become mandatory. Khomeini spoke of music corrupting youth, and he banned all music on radio and television and closed twenty-two opposition newspapers. Khomeini called the United States the "Great Satan" and the U.S. embassy a "den of spies." His followers seized the embassy and held 53 Americans there hostage, demanding that the U.S. deliver to Iran the Shah as an exchange. The Carter Administration refused, and Americans were to remain as hostages until November 1980. The Shah meanwhile had died of cancer. The Khomeini regime began new negotiations to free the hostages, fearing perhaps the tougher man, Reagan, more than they had Carter. In January 1981, on the day that Reagan was inaugurated president, Iran agreed to free the hostages in exchange for $8 billion in frozen assets and a promise by the United States to lift trade sanctions. In November: The republic's first Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan resigned. In 1980 Abolhassan Beni Sadr was elected for president. In 1981, on January 20, the hostages in the US embassy were released, after long negotiations, where USA concedes to transfer money, as well as export military equipment to Iran. In June, Beni Sadr was removed from power by Ayatollah Khomeini, and fleed to France in July. Former prime minister Mohammad Ali Rajai was elected president.

 


 

Iran-Iraq War

On September 22, 1980, Iraq invaded Iran with the aim of seizing control of the strategic Arvand Rood, gaining control of Khuzestan's oil fields, and establishing a puppet government in the occupied territories of Iran. In fact, Iraq provoked and supported by governments that had lost their economic advantage and political influence in Iran - was among those who attempted to exploit situation in Iran in the aftermath of the Revolution. Within months, however, Iraqi troops had come mired in intense combat in the Khuzestan province. And, within less than two years, the Iranian military forces along with a mobilized popular army, had pulsed most of the Iraq forces from Khuzestan. withstanding the outrageous Iraqi invasion, the international community failed at the time, to identify Saddam Hussein as the aggressor, and did not help to restore peace in the region. Moreover, the pro-Iraqi position of the U.S States, the former Soviet Union, and some countries of the Arab world enabled Baghdad to continue its aggression. By initiation the "tankers war" in the Persian Gulf in February 1984, the Iraqi regime sought to internationalize the conflict in order to intensify the pressure on Iran to accept negotiations on Iraqi terms. Meanwhile, in gross violation of international law, Iraq resorted to widespread use of chemical weapons and ballistic missiles against Iran. In 1987, the Security Council adopted resolution 598 in which, for the first time, the question of responsibility for the conflict was raised. Iran did not reject the resolution because, from the beginning of the Iraqi aggression, Iran had been calling for the identification of the aggressor and its punishment. The re-flagging of Kuwait oil tankers by the US and the Soviet Union in Spring 1987 and the US attacks against Iranian oil installations in the Persian Gulf as well as the US covert and overt assistance to Iraqi on intelligence matters during 1987-88 represented the sharpest tilt by the superpowers, particularly the US, towards Iraq. The shooting down of an Iranian civil airliner by the USS Vincennes in the territorial waters of Iran in the Persian Gulf in which more than 290 innocent civilians were killed added a new dimension to the war. The continued Iraqi use of chemical weapons and missiles attacks against the civilian areas coupled with the super- powers' support for the Iraqi war efforts proved that Iraq and its supporters had decided to spread the war at any price. Therefore, on July 18, 1988, Iran officially declared its acceptance of resolution 598, and subsequently the cease-fire became effective. In 1991, Mr. Javier Perez de Cuellar, then UN Secretary- General, in implementation of paragraph 6 of resolution 598, declared Iraq as the responsible party for the conflict.

 


 

Post-Revolutionary Iran

In October 1981, Hojatoleslam Seyed Ali Khamenei was elected president. Khamenei was one of the founders of the Islamic Republican Party, which dominated the Majlis (the national legislature) after the 1979 revolution. He was appointed to the Council of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and between 1979 and 1981 he was a member of the Majlis, serving as deputy minister of defense, commander of the Revolutionary Guard, and representative on the Supreme Council of Defense. He also served several times as general secretary of the Islamic Republic Party. Following Ayatollah Khomeini's death on 3 June 1989 of a heart attack, Khamenei assumed the role of supreme spiritual leader. The Assembly of Experts (Ulama) met in emergency session on June 4 and elected President Khamenei the new Valy-e-Faqih (supreme spiritual leader), simultaneously promoting him to the status of ayatollah. And Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, speaker of the Majles (parliament) was elected as a president. He graduated in the late 1950s as a Hojatoleslam, a Shiite clerical rank just below that of ayatollah. Opposed, like his mentor, to the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, Rafsanjani became the exiled Khomeini's chief agent in Iran, was arrested on several occasions, and spent three years in prison (1975-1977) for his activities. In 1990-1991 Iran condemned both Iraq's invasion in Kuwait and the allied forces actions against Iraq. Rafsanjani was re-elected in 1993 but stepped down in 1997, since the Iranian constitution limits the president from seeking a third term. From 1995 was total ban on trade with Iran by USA.

 


 

Modern Day Iran

In 1997 Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami was elected president by gaining almost 70 percent of the votes cast. He pursued political reform and opposed censorship. He is considered to be reformist towards democratization of Iran's society and willing to normalize the relation with west and reduce tensions in the region. Although popular among much of the Iranian public, these policies met considerable opposition from conservatives who controlled the legislature and judiciary. Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami was again re-elected as president in 2001 election by greater mandate of Iranian people (almost 78% of the vote cast). On 24 June 2005 Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected as Iran's sixth president. He swept to the presidential post with a stunning 17,046,441 votes out of a total of 27,536,069 votes cast in the runoff election.