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Many Shades of Iranian Revolutions


On Monday, at the 2022 FIFA Iran’s soccer team stood silently as their national anthem was being played. The Iranian crowd booing their own national anthem.

Another revolution is underway – the “Gen-Z Revolution” – in Iran since its last revolution forty-three years ago on February 11, 1979, known as “The Iranian Revolution,” also called the “Islamic Revolution.” 

However, the Iranian people’s experimental dance with revolution is nothing novel. This is not the first or second revolution in Iran in recent history. Albeit this is the first revolution which the world is witnessing since the Islamic Revolution. 

However, Iran’s history criss-crosses revolutions, coups, betrayals, back-stabbing, foreign interventions, every few decades disguised as power struggle between the “Conservative” Islam and the “Secular” Islam. It seems that in over past 100 plus years, and after countless revolutions, and coups, the Iranians have yet to makeup their mind as to what kind of governance would please them, the “Conservative” or the “secular” Islam – an authoritarian kingdom, or western style democracy. 

Until the Iranian people can finally agree upon their love-hate relationship with the conservative and secular Islam. This struggle seems unending.

Revolution is not a new concept in Iran. Iran’s recent history of revolutions dates to 1905-1911, the “Constitutional Revolution” supported by clergy, landowners, merchants, and intellectuals which culminated in installing Reza Shah Pahlavi, in 1921, with the central role played by the United Kingdom, and supported by the Russians and the Americans.  

By 1941, the same forces, UK and Russia that had installed Reza Shah in 1921, as the “Shah of Iran” had forced him into an exile and replaced him with his son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi as the new “Shah of Iran.” 

In 1953, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and U.K. Secret Intelligence Services (MI6) played in instrumental role when they orchestrated the coup against Iran’s Prime Minister, Mohammed Mosaddegh, to neutralize the power struggle between Iran’s PM and the Shah, in Shah’s favour. 

Few years later the Shah dismissed the parliament and launched his own “White Revolution.” Yes, you read it correct “White” – an aggressive modernization program that curbed the wealth and influence of landowners, clergy, disrupted rural economies, rapid urbanization, and transformation of Iranian society towards westernization of Iran – trampling human rights and democratic values. The program was successful, but the benefits were distributed unevenly. 1970’s global monetary policy, and oil crises, western oil consumption demands, high-cost project for oil productions, and eventual boom in international oil prices led to inflation and eventual stagnation of Iranian economy. 

The socioeconomic disparity amongst Iranians created a political vacuum which was being filled by the left-wing and pro-soviet socialists’ parties demanding equal distribution of wealth amongst all Iranians. 

For the first time secular intellectuals found refuge in a populist leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a popular professor of philosophy at the University of Qom who was forced into an exile in 1964 after speaking out harshly against   the Shah and his westernization reforms. His appeal to the seculars and his argument that with the help of the Ulemas (Religious Scholars) the Shah’s government could be overthrown. 

Khomeini continued to preach in exile focussing on “evils” of Pahlavi regime accusing Shah of irreligion and subservient puppet of the western powers, appealed to the poor and unemployed Iranians. Khomeini’s lectures were smuggled into Iran and his following increased. Iranians began to see Khomeini as the only knight in shining armour to save Iran from a pro-American, and pro-Israel puppet leader, which was also threatening to the neighbouring Sunni Arabs states. 

In January 1978, a pro Shah newspaper, Ettela-at published an article against Khomeini which his followed deemed slanderous. Thousands of Madrassah students took to the streets in protest, joined by thousands of Iranian secular youth, marking the beginning of the end of Shah’s era over Iran. 

Shah hastily fled Iran. The forty-four-day revolution toppled Shah’s reign in Iran, and ultimately, the Iranian people declared Imam Khomeini as the “Supreme” leader of Iran. 

On April 1, 1979, after an overwhelming victory in a referendum. Imam Khomeini declared Iran as an Islamic Republic of Iran.  

Khomeini turned against the very same people who saw him as the saviour – the secular intellectuals, nationalist, merchants, left-wing political leaders etc. He excluded them from holding any position of power. Once in full control Khomeini started enforcing conservative social values. He reversed the changes to the Family Act which provided further rights to women in marriage – declaring it void. Mosque-based Komitha (committee) bands were dispatched to patrol streets in enforcing Islamic dress codes and powers to dispatch impromptu justice if any perceived to be enemies of the revolution. 

The Islamic Revolution in Iran by Khomeini in 1979 has by far the longest surviving revolutions when compared to others because of its iron-fist enforcement of people. 

However, the Khomeini and his later clergies seemed to forget the basic tenet of Islam, “There is no compulsion in Islam. The right direction is clearly distinguished from the wrong.” Quran 2:256

Faith is an intensely personal issue and plainly each person should be allowed to find their own path in life. Many are surprised that it took this long for people to rise and assert their fundamental rights granted in Quran and have allowed the cleric to subjugate them into their own understanding of Islam for more than four decades. 

On September 16, a young 22-year-old Iranian protestor, Narges, in flagrant defiance dared to walk through the ranks of riot police on her way to work without a hijab. She was arrested immediately by the “morality” police and died in police custody. 

This has sparked a newest wave of revolution, the “Gen-Z Revolution.” 

The Gen-Z’s have surprised the Iranian government and the world. They refused to back-down. Collectively, the Millennials and Gen-Z’s make up half of the 88 million Iranian population. 

“Women, life, and freedom” has become their crying call, and will rest at nothing except overthrowing the ruling clergies in favour of a secular democracy. 

They are up against the formidable clergies who have ruled over Iran with an iron-fist for nearly forty-three years, the clergy controlled Revolutionary Guards, and businessmen whose financial interests depend upon continuation of the status-quo. 

The Gen-Z revolutionaries don’t seem to be backing down, neither are clergies so easily willing to give up their stronghold over Iranian people. Tough days lie ahead for the Iranian people.