Iran’s Ongoing Revolution

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Iran’s Ongoing Revolution (Textbook pgs. 896-8)

The 1960’s and 1970’s were a time of change in Iran. Since World War II, Iran had been ruled by Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi. The shah [ruler] was a friend to the West, especially the United States, but faced many opponents at home. As time went on, the shah clamped down on Iranians’ civil rights and crushed opposition to his rule through the use of a secret police force.
In the 1960’s, the shah launched a development program to modernize Iran’s economy and secularize Iranian society. Secularize means to change from religious to non-religious control. The program

included land reforms, reorganizing the military, improving education, and giving woman the right to vote; however, the shah used force to keep control ruling as a dictator. The shah’s changes were criticized by the people who lived in the countryside and by Muslim fundamentalists. Fundamentalists believe that religious beliefs and laws should be strictly followed. Muslim fundamentalists in Iran thought the changes the shah had introduced went against the teachings of Islam.

Islamic Revolution

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

(Leader of 1979 Iranian Revolution)
fter several years of protests, strikes and riots, the shah was forced to flee Iran in 1979. Revolutionaries took control under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Khomeini replaced the shah as the head of a strict religious government in Iran. Khomeini was a Shiite Muslim religious leader and fierce critic of the shah’s government. (Ayatollah is a title given to learned Shiite legal experts.) Khomeini proclaimed Iran an Islamic republic. He and a revolutionary council began to enforce strict policies based on the teachings of Islam. One of the new government’s first actions was to execute hundreds of officials with ties to the shah. It put down all opposition by banning political parties, shutting down universities, and getting rid of newspapers and magazines.

Then, the government focused on bringing traditional Islamic ways of life back. Women had to wear loose-fitting garments and a headscarf and many of their rights were taken away. Men were encouraged to grow beards. Western influences were forbidden; Western books, music, and movies were banned. Because the US had supported the shah and has served as a model for Iran’s Westernization, the followers of Ayatollah Khomeini hated Americans.

In 1979, Iranian militants protested against the US for supporting the shah. After hearing that the shah had entered the United States for medical treatment in the fall of 1979, a group of revolutionaries took over the US embassy in Tehran, the capital of Iran. They held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days demanding the shah be returned to Iran for trial. The United States refused to meet their demands. The shah died in 1980 in Egypt from complications of a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The hostages were finally released in January 1981.
Iran also tried to export its revolution; it urged Muslims in other countries to overthrow secular [not religious] governments in favor of governments ruled by religious rulers (theocracy). When Ayatollah Khomeini ignited a revolution in neighboring Iraq, the Iraqi leader (Saddam Hussein) responded by invading Iran in September 1980 (Iran-Iraq War).



  1. Why were people unhappy about the society in Iran in the 1960s and 1970s?

  1. Why weren’t the shah’s policies well received by some of the Iranian people?

  1. Did the shah’s relationship with the West hurt or help his rule? Explain.

  1. What are two changes that Khomeini brought when he came to power?

  1. Some people believe that if a third world war were to happen, it would start in the Middle East. Do you feel this is true? Explain why or why not.

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