IntroductionThe following is an analysis of the domestic policies of the Shah of Iran concerning the economic factors that were the dominant reason the Iranian Revolution of 1979 took place. Further analysis will look at the ideology of Ayatollah Khomeini that was the second most dominant causal factor behind the 1979 revolution.
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had based his domestic economic policies designed to facilitate Westernization of Iran. This had resulted in having a centralized bureaucracy focused on ensuring the development of capitalism. The pressure of the Kennedy Administration in Washington on the Shah to initiate reforms that would alter his strict control of the press in Iran as well as sale of state-owned properties. Regardless of the stated intention of goals for reform the Shah’s regime failed to prioritize making rural and agricultural development a high priority that led to landless peasantry among the population to migrate to urban areas (Despite stated goals of land reform, the Shah’s government did not make agriculture and rural development a high priority. As a result, the landless peasant class began migrating to urban areas (Ansari 1999; Brandis 2017; Zahedi 2000; Milani 1994; Amuzigar 1999).
Amuzegar (1999) has explained the analysis still argues that the Shah’s economic focus on rapid modernization of Iran was a principal cause of the revolution and contends that this emigration of “basically rural, and avowedly religious society into a modern, highly industrial, and conspicuously Westernized (non-Islamic) society—without proper safeguards—is profoundly disruptive and destabilizing (Amuzegar 37)”. Such a transfer of villagers taking place so rapidly from the familiar even orderly patterns of village life to the cities and factories entrenched in moral anarchy would have had a psychological impact for wanting to return to their past lifestyles. “And because the shah rammed Westernization through fastest of all, the reaction was naturally the most violent (Amuzegar 37)” leading to the 1979 revolutionary uprising. The pragmatic aspects of the economic conditions that had been set in motion by the Shah without any consideration for equal distribution of access to economic growth by everyone was an underlying causal factor.
As Milani has explained:
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Shah’s regime embarked on a massive development project that led to uneven development of the economic and political spheres, modernizing the former without changing the nature of the latter. Thus, a gap was created between Iran’s rapidly growing productive forces and the regime’s institution-building initiatives. The Shah hoped to fill this gap by a combination of limited elite circulation, forced institution building, the infusion of more petrodollars into the economy, and unfettered economic growth. The more doses of these policies he injected into the body politic, the more explosive the political atmosphere became, paving the way for the Islamic Revolution. (Milani 59)
The complexities of what the Shah had created with his focus on economically bringing his Third World nation into a marketable country via Westernization manufacturing practices was a lopsided attempt at modernizing Iran. The economic policies had become viewed as oppressive by many of the Iranians. The Shah had set in motion incredible economic growth drawn from the oil revenues making the GNP of Iran grow from seven to eight percent. Of course, with an influx of government monies, Iran’s economic outlook had remained expansive as capitalism had established an air of competition along with an accelerated focus on modernization within the nation (Ansari 1999).
Ayatollah Khomeini’s Ideology
After a 14-year-long exile from Iran because of his stand against numbers of the Shah’s policies, upon his return the Ayatollah Khomeini set about promoting his ideology for a revolutionary movement. Among the Shiite teachings promoted by Khomeini was the belief that eminent Shiite Islamic figures should rule Muslim nations. This belief included anyone possessing qualities of a religious leader was also qualified to politically lead a nation. While his public speeches during this time had intentionally obscured many of his own basic philosophies the underlying plan set in motion by Khomeini was to destroy the Shah’s regime. This was the intention of emphasizing the need for clerical control over secular Iran (Ansari 1999).
This ideology appealed to the displaced rural villagers who had been rapidly transferred into the cities as has been explained by Amuzigar (1999). Further, “Under fatalistic Islam, and particularly under its inward-looking and melancholic Shi’ite variant as practiced in Iran, the flinching back to religion is said to be most natural (Amuzigar 34)”. This attitude made the taped sermons prepared by Khomeini that had insisted that government should derive all legitimacy from God attractive to the demographic changes in the population during the 1970s. This meant that any proper government in a Muslim nation such as Iran should require a radical reconstruction of society via radical Islam (Ansari 1999).
Consequently, the religious ideology and principles that Khomeini had introduced to the listening masses in Iran had purposefully involved a radical reinterpretation of the 1,300-year-old social standards according to Islam. In doing so, Khomeini had asserted himself as the spokesman of Allah thus, achieving authority as was based on his belief he alone embodied the ideal principles of Islam to lead (Ansari 1999).
He found that with the rapid urbanization that had taken place in Iran, the Shah had done little to provide the urbanized migrants with any kind of support. This had led them to look to the clergy for both moral and financial assistance. Along with the Shah’s poor treatment of the lower class in Iran, effects of modernization of Iran had produced a climate ready for social upheaval that Khomeini readily took advantage. The migrant population began turning to religion to create a much-needed identity and they were willing to do so based on the familiarity of their religion and the ideology of Khomeini was welcome (Ansari 1999; Takeyh 2009). Brandis has offered explanation:
The charismatic Ayatollah Khomeini succeeded in gaining recognition by those he addressed, and as such was viewed as a legitimate leader, whom happened to also be a learned religious scholar that justified his rhetoric through scripture. (Brandis 5)
The implications are readily understandable. Iran was a nation made mostly of poor, very religious malcontents by 1979 and Khomeini offered an ideology that had made sense.
The Shah had created preconditions via his economic policies that drastically had affected a large portion of the Iranian rural population (Cooper 2008). This had a direct effect on the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini reaching the prominence he was able via his religious-political ideology appealing to the disenfranchised urban population more than some others in the country. While Khomeini had enjoyed respect among the religious strata with his position in the Shi’a hierarchy, nonetheless he still needed to promote his ideology to the rest of the Iranian masses (Brandis 2017).
Rather keenly, Khomeini realized that by addressing the socioeconomic impacts of the Shah’s proposed reformations through … use of Islamic rhetoric, he would not only win support from the religious Iranians, but the secular Iranians as well. Ayatollah Khomeini capitalized upon the discontent the Iranian people felt towards the Shah’s reform policies, policies that threatened the economic livelihood of many Iranians. (Brandis 17)
As a result, what may be termed a perfect storm, the economic policies of the Shah and the ideology of Khomeini had met. The primary causal factor of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was the economic policies of the Shah, and the secondary primary causal factor of the revolution was clearly the ideology of Khomeini.
The above analysis of the economic policies for the domestic Westernization of Iran by the Shah’s regime as well as the ideology preached by Khomeini have proven the underlying reasons for the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The above analysis has successfully discussed the reasons in both cases.
- Amuzegar, Jahangir. The Dynamics of the Iranian Revolution: The Pahlavis’ Triumph and Tragedy. Albany, NY: State U of New York, 1991. Questia. Web. 6 Nov. 2017. Book.
- Ansari, Ali. Iranian Revolution of 1979. 1999. Web.
- Brandis, Dov Ashur. The 1979 Iranian revolution: the revolutionary revolution. 2017. PDF.
- Cooper, Andrew Scott. “Showdown at Doha: The Secret Oil Deal That Helped Sink the Shah of Iran.” The Middle East Journal 62.4 (2008): 567+. Questia. Web. 6 Nov. 2017. Print.
- Maloney, Suzanne. The Revolutionary Economy. 2016. Web.
- Milani, Mohsen M. The Making of Iran’s Islamic Revolution: From Monarchy to Islamic Republic. 2nd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1994. Questia. Web. 6 Nov. 2017. Book
- Takeyh, Ray. Guardians of the Revolution: Iran and the World in the Age of the Ayatollahs. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. Questia. Web. 6 Nov. 2017. Book.
- Zahedi, Dariush. The Iranian Revolution Then and Now: Indicators of Regime Instability. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2000. Questia. Web. 6 Nov. 2017. Book.