Iranians carrying the picture of  Mohammad Mossadegh, the late Iranian Prime Minister of Iran.

By Track Persia

September 10, 2018

A modern version of pan-Islamist ideology for the Ja’fari branch of Shi’ism emerged in Iran when the clergy took power through a revolution against the Pahlavi monarchy in early 1979.

The background to this goes back to 1905 during the era of Qajari monarchy when protests broke out over the collection of Persia’s tariffs to pay back a Russian loan for Muzaffar Din Shah’s royal tour. The Turmoil in 1905-11 featured elections to the first parliament,majles, with crises and Bakhtiari tribal forces capturing Tehran in 1909 for a constitutional movement. Since then, the post of prime minister gradually gained importance.

In the 1920s, Reza Khan, an officer in Persia’s Cossack Brigade, named himself shah of Persia after his coup d’état against the government of the Qajar Dynasty. Ahmad Shah, the Qajar dynasty’s last ruler, was deposed; the parliament voted in Reza Khan Pahlavi as Persia’s new shah. The new shah was crowned, marking the start of the Pahlavi Dynasty. The shah’s eldest son, Muhammad Reza, became crown prince. In 1935 Persia was re-named Iran. But later Reza Khan’s dictatorial rule caused dissent.

Reza’s drive to modernise the country led to a development in the public education, rail-road system and healthcare. However, though he declared Iran neutral during World War-II, Iran’s British-controlled oil industries were mostly maintained by German professionals. Nevertheless, against British demands, Reza refused to expel all Germans.

By September 1941, after the British and Soviet occupation of western Iran, Reza Shah was forced out of power and his son, Muhammad-Reza Pahlavi succeeded him on the throne. An attempt on the life of Reza that was blamed on the pro-Soviet Tudeh [communist] Party resulted in an expansion of the latter’s powers.

In the early 1950s, the nationalist PM Muhammad Mossadegh was not successful in his endeavours to nationalise the British-owned oil industry. The shah opposed Mossadegh and removed him from power. However, Mossadegh later regained power and the shah had to flee the country. The shah returned to Iran in 1953 as US-backed Gen Fazlollah Zahedi toppled Mossadegh in the August coup.

By 1957, the Federation of American Scientists said US and Israeli intelligence officers had worked with Tehran to set up SAVAK, an intelligence agency blamed for torture and execution of thousands of prisoners and violent suppression of dissent.

The shah in 1963 staged a “White Revolution” – a bold socio-economic Westernisation drive met with a strong popular opposition from the clergy such as Ayatollah Khomeini who was arrested in one of many crackdowns on the shah’s foes. By the late 1960s, the shah had relied on SAVAK to quell dissent.

In reforms alienating his people, the shah replaced the Islamic calendar with an imperial one, started with the founding of the Persian Empire. Many of the shah’s multiplied critics saw that as anti-Islamic.

Iranians in 1976 resort to rioting, mass rallies and strikes to protest the shah’s authoritarian rule forcing the shah in early 1977 to fled Iran amid intensifying unrest. Khomeini on February 1, 1979, returned from France, where he had been exiled for his opposition to the shah, to encourage the brewing revolution.

Under Khomeini’s guidance, Iran declared itself a Shi’ite theocracy and a referendum was held to name the country as ‘The Islamic Republic of Iran’.

Islamic students on November 4, stormed the US Embassy in Tehran, taking hostage 52 US employees and demanded the shah’s return from medical treatment in the US to face trial in Iran. The hostage issue ignited a crisis between the US and Iran leading to the cut of diplomatic ties between the two countries in April 1980. The US Embassy became a training ground for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The Shah died in exile in Egypt.

In September the eight-year war broke out between Iraq and Iran after long years of disputes over control of the Shatt al-Arab waterway.

After the 1981 negotiations mediated by Algeria, the US hostages were freed from 444 days of captivity. Yet the US and Israel secretly began selling arms to Iran in return for the release of 7 US hostages held by Iran-guided Hezbollah in Lebanon, prompting the Iran-Contra scandal.

The US Navy’s Vincennes war-ship shots down an Iranian civilian plane, killing all 290 passengers and the crew. Later Washington apologised and agreed to financial compensation for the victims’ families, saying the civilian plane was mistaken for an attacking war-jet.

Iran in August 1988 accepted UNSC Resolution 598 that demanded a cease-fire in the Iran-Iraq War.

The February 1989 Indian author Salman Rushdie’s book “The Satanic Verses” caused uproar among fundamentalist Muslims, and Khomeini issued an edict on the writer, accusing his book of being “blasphemous against Islam” urging all “zealous Muslims” to kill Rushdie and placing a $3m bounty on his head. Khomeini died in June 1989.

the Iranian  Assembly of Experts (AoE) chose outgoing president Ali Khamenei to succeed Khomeini as the Supreme Leader. Leading powerbroker and Speaker Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani became president, keeping his post as head of the Council of Revolution’s Guardians. He was re-elected president in 1993.

The US imposed oil and trade sanctions on Iran, accusing it of sponsoring terrorism, committing human rights abuses and seeking to sabotage the Arab-Israeli peace process. The mid-level cleric Muhammad Khatami in 1997 was elected as president in a landslide victory amid his pledges of political and social reforms as well as economic revitalisation. He was re-elected to this post in 2001 after his pro-reform candidates and allies won 189 of the 290 seats in parliament. While the Conservatives won 54 seats, independents 42 and another five seats were reserved for religious minorities – mainly Armenian Christians and Jews. In his January 2002 State of the Union speech, US President George W. Bush made Iran part of an “axis of evil”, accusing Tehran of actively pursuing WMDs.

The UN’s IAEA in 2003 said Iran admitted to plutonium production, however, it said there was no proof Iran was producing nuclear weapons. The temendous international pressure forced Iran to agree to more rigorous UN inspections of nuclear facilities.

In 2004, Conservatives reclaimed control of Iran’s parliament after controversial elections boycotted by reformists. Iran’s government said that it would consider re-starting its nuclear plan. Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the hardline Islamic mayor of Tehran, who campaigned as a champion of the poor and pledged to return to the values of the revolution of 1979, defeated Iran’s elder statesmen Rafsanjani in presidential elections.

President Ahmadi-Nejad in 2006 sent a letter to President Bush calling for ways to ease tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme, however, he continued to defy UN deadlines to halt uranium enrichment activities, claiming that the nuclear plan was only for civilian energy purposes. He visited the US and accused Israel of occupation and racism during a speech to the UN General Assembly.

The US announced additional economic sanctions against Iran to impact the country’s military and halt Tehran’s nuclear programme. A US National Intelligence Estimate reported finds that Iran had stopped developing nuclear weapons in 2003, but continued to enrich uranium and could still develop atomic bombs in the future.

The IAEA in 2008 released a report saying that Iran’s suspected research into the development of nuclear weapons remained “a matter of serious concern”. That prompted the EU nations to impose new sanctions against Iran.

Ahmadi-Nejad in June 2009 was declared the landslide victor in presidential elections, sparking protests by supporters of moderate candidate Mir-Hussein Mousavi, who unsuccessfully appealed the results to Iran’s Guardians Council.

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.