Who started the Iranian Revolution?
A Reactionary Revolution
The Iranian Revolution of 1979 represented a culmination of resistance to sweeping reforms of Iranian society beginning in the 1950s. A broad coalition of leftists, messianic Shi'a clerics, and Iranian conservatives developed into a united front against the administration of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who was appointed through US intervention that overthrew the elected government of Iran in 1953. Pahlavi, tainted with the credible accusation of being a puppet of the United States, struggled to improve the image of his regime, but his White Revolution reforms meant to make Iran more Western and weaken the cultural basis of powerful traditionalist factions only exacerbated the situation. Eventually, the popular cleric, legal scholar, and philosopher Ruhollah Khomeini was chosen by the revolutionary forces as Supreme Leader of Iran due to his role in unifying the revolutionary coalition and undergirding its ideological motivation.
Answer and Explanation:
An easy answer would be Khomeini himself, due to his nearly messianic reputation in Iran itself (he is called Imam Khomeini by his supporters, a reference to their belief that he was the Twelfth Imam, or promised return of the Madhi, the messiah and redeemer of Islam in several sects of Shi'a Islam). However, Khomeini himself was a recluse and scholar, and largely filled a vacuum of popular leadership that led people beyond his own religious sect from regarding him as a worthy leader of Iran. It may be more helpful, therefore, to look for a core historical point which made the Revolution more or less inevitable, and that points us to the 1953 coup that overthrew Iran's only democratically elected government, under Mohammed Mossaddegh, whose coalition of supporters by 1952 closely resembled those who eventually threw their support behind Khomeini thirty years later. In this regard, the intervention of the CIA in Operation Ajax, largely the brainchild of the Dulles brothers (afraid that Mossaddegh could become a "Persian Mao"), is really the root cause of the Revolution, and the Islamic Republic owes its existence to this ill-considered move on the part of Alan and John Foster Dulles.
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fromChapter 29 / Lesson 5
A number of talking heads on the news concern themselves with the status of democracy in Iran as if some simple solution can be found. However, as this lesson demonstrates, democracy in Iran is far from simple.