Stern, Eric

After a long buildup of frustration toward Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s absolute monarchist regime, the Iranian people took action in 1977. To successfully protest against the Shah, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a shia cleric living in exile in Paris, urged his fellow resistance fighters to go on strike and to stop paying taxes. Interestingly enough, the United States President, Jimmy Carter, continued supporting the Shah’s government and soldiers. Huge crowds of demonstrators flooded the streets as oil workers went on strike. The nine million protestors eventually caused the Shah to flee to Egypt on an “extended vacation” in January 16, 1979. As illustrated in the photograph, some of the protestors held up images of Khomeini during the riots, a symbol of hope for many citizens. Before leaving Iran, the Shah transferred power to Shahpour Bakhtiar, who promised to create a social democracy that would fight to end the vast corruption. But trouble persisted as Khomeini’s followers removed the Shah’s statues around Tehran. When Khomeini returned from exile on February 1, 1979, political and social instability struck the nation, sparking fights in the streets between pro-Khomeini supporters and police officers. With the onset of more riots, Iranians thought that a possible military coup was in order; however, the army had no intention of taking control. As a result, demonstrators broadcasted throughout Tehran: “This is the voice of the revolution of the Iranian people!” After Prime Minister Bakhtiar stepped down, Khomeini instituted a theocratic form of government after being elected as the political and religious leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

By challenging the country’s previous political structure, Khomeini can be considered as an agent of change, as he played an instrumental role in shifting Iran both politically and ideologically. After Khomeini’s election, Iran experienced a fundamental change in their political structure as they transitioned from an absolute monarchy to the Islamic Republic governed by theocratic ideals. Historian professor at Baruch College, Ervand Abrahamian, stated in his book, A History of Modern Iran, that the people’s ideology during the revolution can be referred to as a “complex combination of nationalism, political populism, and Shia Islamic religious radicalism.” Khomeini created a new ideology when he declared that it was a Shia Islam’s duty to create an Islamic state through his policy of Guardianship of the Jurist. This doctrine “challenged the legitimacy of [the] monarchy and advocated [for] rule by qualified Islamic jurists.” While Khomeini was significant in creating a new Islamic Republic, it was his ideological beliefs that sparked the desire for political change in Iran.