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IRAN. Iranians have always called their country Iran (Land of the Aryans, or “noble people”), but outsiders long used the name Persia (Parsa; Gk., Persis), referring to Pars, now Fars, the southern part of the country. The name Persia remained in use until 1935, when the government in Tehran formally requested the world community to use the name Iran.


Iran has one of the world’s oldest civilizations, dating back to about 2700 BCE, when the Elamites ruled over areas that include the present-day Khuzistan Province in southwest Iran and adjacent areas to the north and east. Indo-Europeans, migrating from the east, did not dominate the Iranian plateau until the Iron Age, about 1300 BCE. The Kingdom of the Medes, centered at Ecbatan (modern-day Hamadan), ruled the plateau and areas of the west and southwest from 728 to 559 BCE. During this time, other Indo-European peoples, such as the Scythians, crossed into the western plateau from the Caucasus Mountains. The Achaemenid (559-330 BCE), Parthian (247 BCE-226 CE), and Sassanian (224-651) dynasties secured their rule over areas of Iran, as well as regions of the Fertile Crescent, the Caucasus, Transoxonia, Afghanistan, and the Indian subcontinent. These dynasties left the indelible stamp of a recognizably Iranian civilization on the land.

The Arab invasion, beginning in 637, was a turning point in Iranian history. Zoroastrian beliefs, rooted in the idea of unceasing struggle between the forces of good and evil, were replaced by Islam, an austere, monotheistic religion. Although Iranians embraced Islam, they retained many of their native traditions. They also kept their language despite the fact that Arabic words pervaded it and the Arabic alphabet replaced the old script. For about a millennium, Iran became a territory of the caliphate and its successors, and Sunnism prevailed, except for local pockets of Shiism, as in the city of Qom (Qumm). During this period, Iranians contributed immeasurably to the development of literature, art, architecture, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and the Islamic sciences.

In 1501 a centralizing monarchy known as the Safavid dynasty secured control over the plateau and its adjacent areas on behalf of Shi i Islam. Iran has since been the home of Ithna `Ashari Shiism, although the short-lived Afsharid dynasty (1736-1747) tried to restore Sunnism. [See Safavid Dynasty; Afsharid Dynasty.]

The Safavid period witnessed the emergence of the Iranian `ulama’, (community of religious scholars) as an important social force. Safavid rule collapsed in 1722, later followed by the benevolent but brief Zand dynasty (1750-1779). The Zands were succeeded by the Qajar dynasty (1785/97-1925). The `ulama’, increased their power significantly in the Qajar era. By the end of the nineteenth century, they had become key actors in the social movements and institutions of the country. [See Zand Dynasty.]

The Qajar dynasty, never matching the power of the Safavids, was unable to withstand foreign military, economic, and political pressures or to overcome the ineptitude of its rulers. It was replaced by the Pahlavi dynasty, whose founder, Reza Shah and his son, Muhammad Reza, collectively ruled from 1925 to 1979. Their policies stressed modernization, westernization, and secular, integral Iranian nationalism. They resolved to uproot traditional practices and beliefs and to implant new ones from abroad. These policies led to the dynasty’s overthrow and replacement by a clerical regime controlled by the `ulama’, under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah al-Musavi Khomeini (1902-1989; ruled 1979-1989). The Islamic Republic of Iran has undone many Pahlavi policies. Contrary to popular notions, however, it has retained many features of the state that it overthrew and has continued some of its predecessor’s foreign policies.

Qajar Dynasty. The Qajar period was characterized by weak rulers, severe center-periphery problems, poor economic performance, and foreign domination. Iran lost territories to the Russians in 1804-1813 and 18251828. The British denied Iranian territorial ambitions in Afghanistan in the conflicts of 1836-1838 and 18561857. The Qajar shahs granted concessions and capitulatory rights to foreigners, allowing the British, Russians, French, Dutch, Swedes, Belgians, and Hungarians to dominate fields ranging from transport and banking to internal security. The most important concessions were the Reuters Concession of 1871 (mining, banking, and railroads), the Tobacco Regie of 1891, and the D’Arcy Concession of 1901 (oil). In 1891-1892 and in 190519o9, largescale collective protests broke out in opposition to the shah’s capitulations to foreign interests, as well as to his domestic policies and autocratic rule.

During the nineteenth century, the clergy became increasingly assertive. Explanations for this lie in certain doctrinal changes in Shi’i Islam, as well as `ulama’, reactions to historical events. As early as the medieval period, some clergymen, such as al-Muhaqqiq al-Hill! (d. 1326), had claimed that the `ulama’, collectively exercised wala’ al-imdmah (guardianship) over the imamate of the Hidden Imam. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries a doctrinal dispute raged between those who maintained that the clergy were the deputies of the imam and those who believed that they were mere interpreters of the law with no special relationship to the Hidden Imam. The former group prevailed, signaling victory for the view that certain experts among the clergy (mujtahids) were entitled to exercise independent judgment (ijtihad) in determining the law in the absence of a clear textual rule in the Qur’an or sunnah.

Controversy exists over whether the clergy, in their interventions against royal policies, were defending popular sovereignty, democratic ideas, the interests of the religious institution, or their own private ambitions. However, the consensus is that-whatever their private motives-many of the `ulama’, did throw their moral authority behind challenges to foreign interference and the misrule of the shahs.

Some historians have held that the clergy harbored inherently antistate views on grounds that the doctrine of the imamate vests political rule exclusively in the imam, thus mandating opposition to secular rulers as usurpers. A more recent view is that Shiism has been apolitical ever since the sixth imam, Ja’far al-Sadiq (d. 765), suspended the political dimension of the imam’s authority until some future unspecified date. This view holds that clergymen have not only not been doctrinally opposed to the state but in fact have supported it and called on it to protect Shiism and Shi’i Muslims. Even Ayatollah Khomeini, who was later to abjure this position, argued in a work published in the early i94os that the clergy had never opposed secular rulers in principle but merely asked the state to seek their counsel.

In 1891-1892 the clergy utilized the Shi’i tax known as khums provided by believers, especially the bazaar merchants, to finance a collective protest against the Tobacco Regie. Later, most clergy demanded a constitution and a “house of justice” during the social movement known as the Constitutional Revolution of 1905 to 1909. Many mujtahids at this time couched their admonitions to the Qajars in the familiar terms of zulm (oppression of the justice of the Hidden Imam). The merchants were generally fed up with the influx of foreign goods and favorable terms extended to foreigners to sell their wares in Iran. Many had become declassed and others had been driven bankrupt by the competition of European entrepreneurs. Others also resented the shah’s failure to repay their loans and hiring of a foreign financial expert to rationalize tax collection, suggesting further efforts to wrest money from them. At times, merchants took the initiative in challenging the state, while senior clergymen played a secondary role. [See Khums; Constitutional Revolution; Zulm.]

The constitutionalists, though victorious, still faced a problem that was to bedevil future constitutionalist movements, such as those of 1949-1953 196o-1963, and 1978-1979: the relationship between revelation and positive law. Their opponents maintained that the promulgation of a fundamental law implied that shari `ah (the holy law) had to be supplemented by manmade law, an idea they held as anathema. They additionally maintained that the creation of a Parliament suggested that sovereignty reposed in the nation, rather than Allah, an intolerable bid’ah (heretical notion).

The Constitutionalists acknowledged these difficulties but stressed the urgency of upholding the principles of hisbah, the legal norm of holding an authority to account, and al-nahy `an al-munkar (prohibiting evil), both of which were ineluctable duties (fard al-`ayn/fard alkifayah) of the Muslims as commanded by Allah. Were Muslims to fail in such duties, they argued, the ruler’s despotism could mortally endanger Islam itself. [See Qajar Dynasty.]

Pahlavi Dynasty. The Qajar period was known for the contrast between the shahs’ claims to omnipotence and their actual weakness. By World War I, faced with external pressures and constant challenges to their authority by tribal chiefs, provincial governors, reforming bureaucrats, and obstreperous clergymen, the dynasty reached the brink of collapse. Iran narrowly escaped partition by Russia and Britain in 1907 and conversion into a British protectorate in 1 9 1 9, in the latter case rescued by its parliament’s refusal to back the prime minister’s endorsement of the deal.

Under these circumstances, a military leader in the Russian Cossack Brigade, Reza Khan, seized power in 1921 and made himself Iran’s strongman. In 1923, he installed himself as prime minister, and in 1925 he engineered the dissolution of the Qajar dynasty by the Constituent Assembly, followed in January 1926 by his formal elevation to the throne as Reza Shah Pahlavi. The dynasty’s watchwords were Western-style modernization and centralization of authority. Reza Shah mounted successive military campaigns against the periphery, brutally suppressing the tribes, implanting a heavyhanded state bureaucracy, and forming a standing army loyal to him.

Reza Shah’s reforms were modeled on those implemented by his neighbor and fellow ruler, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Turkey. Among them were wholesale legal changes involving the importation of European civil, criminal, and commercial law codes, and administrative centralization based on the French model. Most of the revenue from state monopolies (such as sugar and cement) were allocated to infrastructure development (especially roads and railroads) and to pay for his growing army. Unfortunately for him, private enterprise did not flourish, as financiers demurred from investing in new industries and instead directed their energies to speculation and real estate.

Reza Shah did try to secure more revenue from the British-owned and -operated Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), but in the end, he contented himself in1933 with a paltry 20 percent increase in revenues from annual profits. These added revenues were not invested in the economy, however, but were earmarked for the modernization of the shah’s military forces.

Reza Shah’s social reforms were more successful than his economic reforms, although advances were generally confined to the urban areas. The Qajars had taken some halting steps toward establishing state schools, but Reza Shah’s policies greatly accelerated their construction and the training of teachers to staff them. Admiring both the method and content of Western education, his government sponsored annual student missions to European universities to promote the study of law, economics, medicine, and engineering as an aid to the country’s modernization. Tehran University, opened in 1934, was the first institution in what was to become a national university system. Significant gains were also made with the establishment of hospitals, clinics and laboratories, the testing of foods, and the inoculation of school children against debilitating diseases. Much less successful were the shah’s efforts to abolish the veil, require the adoption of Western forms of dress, uproot the influence of the clergy in society, and streamline the operation of bureaucratic and business organizations. His policies did displace and declass the clergy, but this was only a temporary accomplishment.

The shah pointedly refused to allow any political liberalization or local autonomy. On the contrary, many who dared disagree with him, or even those whom he merely suspected, were either exiled, jailed, tortured, executed, or reported dead under suspicious circumstances. Perhaps the most famous individual to run afoul of Reza Shah’s autocracy was Mohammed Mossadegh (Muhammad Musaddiq), the future leader of the Iranian nationalist movement and prime minister from 1951 to 1953. Important clergymen, too, suffered from his tyranny. Moreover, the religious institution was not only deprived of most of its resources, but the original constitutional mandate in the 1906-1907 supplementary fundamental laws to create a committee of mujtahids to ensure the conformity of parliamentary acts with ShN law was never implemented.

In summary, Reza Shah tried to westernize the country through fiat. He gained the grudging respect of some, but his state was not securely rooted in any particular social class. The ease with which he was forced to abandon the throne underscores the narrow base of his rule.

Reza Shah, mindful of the weakness of the Qajars in their submission to the great powers, was a nationalist who yearned to end foreign domination of Iran. As World War II approached, he permitted German agents to agitate against British interests in the south, especially in the oil fields. He followed this line not because he was sympathetic to Nazi ideology and conduct (although he undoubtedly admired what he perceived to be the Germans’ “Prussian discipline”) but for tactical reasons: to neutralize British influence. However, the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 sealed his fate. In September, British and Soviet troops invaded Iran and forced his abdication.

As with the first global war, World War II devastated Iran’s economy. But politically this period witnessed liberalization. Political prisoners were released, the press grew freer, a more vital parliament emerged, and political parties arose. However, the landed aristocracy, a sodality left virtually intact by Reza Shah, retained its power and privileges. The new shah, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, inexperienced and uncertain of himself, was a mere figurehead beholden to the British. Nonetheless, he succeeded in invigorating his ties with the army and, in 1949, oversaw the creation of a docile upper chamber (the Senate) in parliament that would support him against his critics, a move many regard to have been a virtual coup d’etat.

Later in the same year a coalition was formed of nationalist groups known as the National Front, led by Mossadegh and ardently seeking the nationalization of the hated AIOC, a concession that symbolized British hegemony in Iran. As head of the oil commission in parliament, Mossadegh shepherded the nationalization bill to passage. At this point, the prime minister resigned, and public opinion compelled the reluctant shah to appoint Mossadegh as premier. The latter immediately moved to implement the nationalization decree and at once became involved in a bitter dispute with the British government, the AIOC’s majority owner.

London, under American pressure, first tried negotiation, but it concomitantly embargoed Iranian terminals and threatened would-be purchasers with dire consequences. Mossadegh sought to overcome the embargo’s effects by relying on nonoil exports, but these added only a fraction of the revenues needed to fund his programs. Meanwhile, his National Front coalition began to unravel, as leftists upbraided the prime minister for playing up to the Americans, while the clergy feared that he was falling under the sway of the communists. If Mossadegh had been able to secure revenues from other sources, he would likely have headed off catastrophe. The Truman Administration encouraged negotiation between Iran and Britain and generally distanced itself from London’s hardline position. However, the Eisenhower Administration abandoned its predecessor’s evenhandedness, believing that Moscow was controlling events in Iran. Furthermore, Eisenhower believed that an Iranian victory would set a precedent against Western oil interests, despite the fact that the precedent had already been set in the Mexican oil nationalizations of 1938. Eisenhower rejected Mossadegh’s request for a loan and secretly planned with the British to overthrow him.

As the crisis unfolded, Mossadegh was also challenging the shah over authority to control the military. Mossadegh invoked the Constitution, whereas the shah cited his father’s role in creating the army. With covert U.S. and British backing, a coup d’etat was mounted against Mossadegh: Unfortunately for him, a key group within the National Front, led by Ayatollah Abol-Qasem Kashani (Abu al-Qasim Kashani; d. 1962), abandoned him and went over to the royalists. Kashani accused Mossadegh of being a dictator and condemned his request for extraordinary powers, his suspension of the 1952 elections in the countryside to prevent procourt landowners from winning any more seats, and his requirement that those opposed to him in the July 1953 referendum (on extending his extraordinary powers) must go to special precincts to vote no. Weakened by great-power pressures from without and internal crises from within, Mossadegh’s government fell to the conspirators in August 1953. [See the biography of Kashani.]

This action earned the shah and the West the bitter hostility of many Iranians. Nothing seemed more symbolic of the shah’s dependence on the British and Americans than their role in restoring him to his throne after his panic flight to Rome at the onset of the coup. Upon his reinstallation, the shah began to rule as an absolute autocrat. In the early 1960s, the Kennedy Administration urged him to implement reforms to gain popular support. He reluctantly agreed to do so only after it became clear to him that Iranian politicians in his own state bureaucracy, who were more responsive to the need for reforms than he, were gaining independent stature and popularity among the people.

The keystone of the shah’s program was land reform, begun in the early 1960s and completed in the early 1970s. Scholars are divided as to the net impact of these reforms. Some believe that they merely served to replace the traditional aristocracy with the state in rural areas and were never intended to benefit the peasants. Others hold that a significant number of families obtained enough land to render them viable freeholders and thus to rescue themselves from destitution. Since the accuracy of these competing claims depends on the kinds of data one uses, it is not easy to make a conclusive assessment. It seems, however, that the great majority of landless peasants at the start of the reform (sometimes estimated to be half the population of rural Iran at that time) ended up still having no land.

During this period (1961-1963) professionals, intellectuals, elements of the bureaucracy, and the clergy and its supporters were engaged in collective protest. The secular opposition attacked the shah’s violation of the Constitution in suspending parliament without calling for new elections. The clergy protested aspects of the monarch’s reform program-the “White Revolution”-particularly women’s suffrage and land reform. Some clergymen believed that any putatively meaningful reform the shah sponsored was a sham, because he would ensure its subversion to keep his power. Others, however, undoubtedly feared losing either their own lands or their administration of waqf (religious mortmain). Virtually all clerics maintained that enfranchising women would bring them into public arenas and endanger their modesty and virtue.

In March and June 1963 major clashes between students and the army broke out at Tehran University and the seminary in Qom, and Ayatollah Khomeini, then one of several marja` al-taglids, publicly and bitterly attacked the shah for unleashing his forces against the `ulama’, for his dependence on the United States, and for his commercial and intelligence cooperation with Israel. In October 1964, Khomeini openly accused the shah of restoring the hated capitulations by compelling his hand-picked parliament to pass, at Washington’s request, an amendment to the Status of Forces Agreement with the United States. This amendment extended the protections of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Immunity to U.S. armed-forces personnel, their families, and any employees working for those families. The bill was so unpopular that even many pro-shah deputies could not vote for it, but enough deputies were rounded up to pass the measure by a narrow margin.

The regime, which had arrested Khomeini several times, reportedly was set to execute him this time but was stayed by the intervention of other marja` al-taglids. Instead, he was exiled, first going to Turkey, and then to Iraq, where he was to stay for about fourteen years. Although the regime survived the disturbances of 1961-1963, in retrospect they marked the beginning of the end of the Pahlavi dynasty.

Before its collapse, however, the monarchy appeared to be invulnerable. Economic growth in the 1960s and early 1970s was enviably high, reaching as high as io percent per year. The shah finally celebrated his rule by holding his coronation in 1967, investing his wife as empress and his son as crown prince. In 1971, scandalous amounts were spent on the so-called 2,500th anniversary of the Iranian monarchy. The shah apparently felt it necessary to match this pomp with commensurate military might, including the purchase of Mi tanks, spruance-class cruisers, hovercraft, and state of the art fighter planes. All of this cost enormous sums of money. On paper at least, Iran had become the most powerful regional actor.

The fragility of the system was its dependence on oil revenues. The huge increase in oil prices after the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War enabled the shah to purchase vast quantities of weapons but also so emboldened him that he discarded carefully crafted economic planning in favor of grandiose, showcase projects, such as nuclear reactors. The state’s expenditures were so high that they fueled great rates of inflation and created major bottlenecks in the distribution system.

Meanwhile, a glut of oil worldwide led to a sudden decline in prices, caused a fiscal crisis, and forced the regime to borrow in the financial markets. The government alienated businesses by launching an antiprofiteering campaign and arresting merchants and businessmen. Inflation ate into workers’ wages, although the regime repeatedly hiked wages to prevent collective action by labor. Compounding these difficulties were mounting attacks by guerrilla groups influenced by the writings and practice of Mao Zedong and Che Guevara. Although these attacks did not threaten the existence of the regime, they did contribute to the sense of its vulnerability. Increasingly, groups in society repudiated the cultural alienation spawned by the Pahlavis’ westernization policies. The term gharbzadagi (“plagued by the West”), introduced by a well-known lay author from a prominent religious family, Jaldl Al Ahmad, became a particularly damaging charge that was used by the opposition to characterize these policies. It began to seem as though Iranians of all political hues were yearning for a reassertion of autochthonous values, which had so long been under official near-ridicule.

The shah’s awareness that he was dying from cancer, coupled with mixed signals from Washington toward the regime, encouraged the ruler’s liberal critics, especially the lawyers’ syndicate, parliament, and the press. All these factors contributed to the collective protests of late 1977 to early 1979. But by themselves, they were insufficient to overthrow the shah.

From abroad, Ayatollah Khomeini continually berated the shah and his system for their dependence on the United States, ties to Israel, and domestic policies that he believed had impoverished the masses. At the same time, Khomeini’s allies at home had established networks of mobilization and support for thousands of the urban poor population. Many of these had been driven into the cities from the countryside by landreform policies that had failed to provide sufficient credit and other resources to the peasants to keep them on the land. Newly arrived migrants in these towns were absorbed not by the institutions of the Pahlavi state nor private enterprises but by the religious solidarity associations administered by the allies of Ayatollah Khomeini from neighborhood mosques.

When it came, the shah’s overthrow was achieved not by the singleminded determination of any particular group in society but by the actions of a broad array of groups in response to a combination of factors. These included incompetent economic policies between 1973 and 1978, resentment over growing class disparities, the immobility of the state, policies that alienated industrialists and businesspeople, opportunities and willingness of key actors, especially the bazaar, to engage in largescale collective protest, inconsistent regime responses to such protest after January 1978, the organizational skills of the opposition, the willingness of the various groups in that opposition to unite behind the common objective of overthrowing the system, Khomeini’s effectiveness as a leader of the opposition, and the shah’s advancing cancer. [For biographies of Reza Shah and Muhammad Reza Shah, see under Pahlavi.]

Islamic Republic. The opposition’s victory was secured with the return of Ayatollah Khomeini from exile in February 1979. The revolutionaries did not have a blueprint, but Khomeini had already revealed his general intentions in his book The Mandate of the Jurist (Hukumat-i Islami; 1969-1970), which vindicated the clergy’s right to rule and called for the implementation of Islamic law in all areas of life. He proceeded to appoint a provisional government, although effective power lay in his own hands and in that of the Revolutionary Council, which was made up mainly of his staunch supporters.

The provisional government was forced to resign in November 1979 when Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan was accused of plotting with the United States over the future role of the shah. Just weeks earlier, on 23 October, Washington, in a fateful decision, had agreed to permit the shah to enter the United States for medical care. Many Iranians rejected this explanation, feeling instead that the Americans were preparing to restore the shah to the throne the way they had done in 1953. In a defining moment of protest, students occupied the American embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979 and held most of its diplomats hostage until Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president in January 1981.

Although Khomeini had not ordered the storming and capture of the embassy, after the fact he realized that the hostages could be used for at least two purposes: to humiliate the United States, and to defeat the liberals in his own regime, people he saw as insufficiently committed to his policies. The key players in this power struggle were Prime Minister Bazargan, President AbolHasan Bani Sadr, Ayatollah Muhammad Husayn Bihishti (a powerful cleric who enjoyed Khomeini’s total trust), and Bihishti’s numerous allies on the council. Bazargan and Bani Sadr were accused of being proAmerican liberals and were eventually removed from office. [See the biography of Bdzargan.]

The guerrilla groups, who had expected some reward for their role in the revolution, were the next targets of the regime. At first, the regime moved gradually against them through administrative measures designed to hamper their access to the media and encouraging street ruffians known as hizbullah to attack their rallies and property. Later, blunter methods were used, including armed clashes, arrests, torture, and executions. In the middle of all this, Iraqi forces invaded Iran in September 1980. intending to overthrow Khomeini but instead unwittingly shoring up his support among Iranians. Ten months later, in a showdown with the regime, the main guerrilla group, Mujahidin-i Khalq, began to assassinate key clergymen in the government. Many of the top leaders, including Bihishti, were killed, causing the regime to unleash a reign of terror, the bloodiest phase of which lasted for about a year and a half. [See Hizbullah, article on Hizbullah in Iran; Mujahidin, article on Mujahidini Khalq.]

In March 1979, a national plebiscite endorsed the restructuring of the political system from a monarchy to a

theocratic republic. In December 1979, another referendum approved a new constitution that gave enormous powers to the fagih (chief jurist; i.e., Khomeini). This aroused misgivings among certain senior clerics who opposed Khomeini’s doctrine of wilayat al fagih (guardianship of the jurisconsult) as usurping the prerogatives of the Hidden Imam and who believed that it could be invoked only during a temporary emergency when the normal institutions of the state had collapsed. [See Wilayat al-Faqih.] In January and March to May 1980. elections for the presidency and the parliament were held. By June 1981, Khomeini’s supporters were in charge of all the crucial institutions of the state, including the judiciary, with its numerous revolutionary courts, both civilian and military. Using these powerful instruments, supplemented by Komitehs (revolutionary committees), the religious militia known as the Pasdaran (Sipah-i Pasdaran-i Ingilab-i Islami), quasi-governmental organizations known as bunyad (“foundations”), the Society of Combatant Clergymen, and a variety of socalled popular organizations, the government crushed its critics. Among these were eminent clergymen who had come to be distressed by all the bloodshed and violence. These senior clerics were threatened, placed under house arrest, and in one case tried for treason and “defrocked” (although there is no mechanism for defrocking clergymen in Islam). [See Komiteh; Sipah-i Pasdaran-i Ingilab-i Islam-i; Bunyad.]

Despite the triumph of the members of the central clerical tendency, who appropriated for themselves the name Maktabi (i.e., adhering to the true doctrinal line), cleavages continue to divide the ruling group. Although they are generally united on cultural issues, factionalism persists over economic matters. The key to these divisions is property ownership, nationalization of trade, and land reform. Despite all the efforts of Ayatollah Khomeini and his successors to pass final legislation on these matters, they remain unresolved. Bitter disputes have persisted among the officials of the state, the government, and other agencies over the proper role of the state in the economy. Recourse to scripture has not resolved these disputes, since the scriptures themselves are open to various interpretations.

Initially, few expected the rule of the clergy to endure, but as the years passed, the regime consolidated its power, marked by the regular holding of elections for the presidency and the parliament. The war with Iraq proved extremely costly to the government, but Ayatollah Khomeini and his supporters evidently saw its continued prosecution as necessary to maintain their hold on power, an advantage that outweighed the enormous costs. In order to retain the loyalty of its hardcore support, the urban poor and the petite bourgeoisie (small shopkeepers, artisans, smallscale merchants, the self-employed), the regime has favored them with ration cards and other services. It has also maintained a steady stream of criticism of Western tahajum-i farhangi (“cultural imperialism”), which resonates well with these constituencies, who believe that their very identities have been under attack by such things as Hollywood films, rock music, teenage dating, and even Western dress.

In July 1988, the government announced its acceptance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 598 of 1987, imposing a cease-fire in the Iran-Iraq War. Although the cease-fire was supposed to have been followed by exchange of prisoners of war, mutual withdrawal of troops behind existing international frontiers, and the initiation of an inquiry as to who was responsible for launching the war, none of these steps has yet been completed and some not even commenced. In June 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini died, and a month later, constitutional amendments were made to eliminate the post of prime minister. ‘Ali Akbar Hashimi Rafsanjani was elected president, while ‘Ali Khamene’i was selected to replace Khomeini as rahbar (revolutionary leader).

However, since he was not even an ayatollah, the government had difficulty claiming that Khamene’i had the requisite stature to play the role of faqih. Accordingly, arguments were advanced as to why the leader did not have to be a marja` al-taqlid, namely, that a marja` altaqlid was likely to be a poor administrator, something the revolution could not afford. The press mounted a campaign to have Khamene’i recognized as a grand ayatollah (ayat Allah `uzma), but it soon dropped this and settled for the lesser appellation of ayatollah (which was still a promotion). In late 1993, the leader of the judicial branch of government, Ayatollah Muhammad Yazdi, resumed the effort to have Khamene’i recognized as a marja` al-taqlid in the wake of the deaths of three grand ayatollahs-Abfi al-Qasim Khu’i (Abol-Qasem Kho’i), Shihab al-Din Mar’ashi Najafi, and Muhammad Riza Gulpaygani. It remains to be seen whether this effort will succeed, but if it does, it will set a precedent in view of the practice since the inception of maija`iyat in the nineteenth century of designating individuals as marja` al-taqlids through popular acclamation. [See the biography of Kho’i. ]

Iran remained officially neutral in the Gulf War of 1991, although it has refused to return Iraqi planes that had flown to Iran to escape destruction by coalition forces. Tehran has not, however, prevented smuggling over the Iran-Iraq frontiers, despite UN resolutions embargoing trade with Iraq. These frontiers, however, are notoriously immune to any attempt to stop all crossings along their entire length, no matter how much effort is exerted to this end.

The Islamic Republic’s relations with most Arab states remain cool, and with Egypt in particular they are poor. The Egyptian and Algerian governments, as well as Washington, have accused Tehran of training radical Islamists from Sudan, Algeria, and Egypt in guerrilla warfare, with the purpose of overthrowing what the radicals consider un-Islamic governments and replacing them with Iranian style regimes.

In late 1993, tentative voices in the Parliament were raised calling for a restoration of ties with the United States. Even President Rafsanjani, noting that much of the machinery and infrastructure of the economy, inherited from the monarchy, had been of American manufacture, called for limited economic ties with the United States. Meanwhile, trade relations with European countries seriously declined in 1992 and 1993 because of growing defaults on credits and loans on the part of the Islamic Republic. Thus Tehran’s relations with the West overall remain troubled.

[See also Iranian Revolution of 1979; Shi’i Islam; and the biography of Khomeini. ]


Abrahamian, Ervand. Iran between Two Revolutions. Princeton, 1982. Classic social history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Iran. Algar, Hamid. Religion and State in Iran, 1785-1906. Berkeley, 1969. Extended in-depth analysis of clergy-state relations under the Qajars.

Arjomand, Said Amir. The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam. Chicago and London, 1984. Detailed historical sociology of Shiism and the state from the perspective of Weberian sociology of religion. Avery, Peter, et al., eds. The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 7, From Nadir Shah to the Islamic Republic. Cambridge, 1991. Authoritative historical, cultural, and economic studies of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Iran.

Bakhash, Shaul. The Reign of the Ayatollahs. Rev. ed. New York, 1990), Political history of the early years of the Islamic Republic. Bayat, Mangol. Iran’s First Revolution. New York, 1991. Revisionist interpretation of the Constitutional Revolution, emphasizing the role of lower-ranking clergymen and nonreligious groups.

Bill, James A., and William Roger Louis, eds. Musaddiq, Iranian Nationalism, and Oil. Austin, 1988. Contains major research articles on aspects of Iranian politics and economics during the early 1950s. Chehabi, H. E. Iranian Politics and Religious Modernism. Ithaca, N.Y., 1990), Investigation of the rise of liberal Shi’i thought in the late Pahlavi period, with a focus on the Liberation Movement of Iran.

Cottam, Richard W. Nationalism in Iran. Rev. ed. Pittsburgh, 1979. Examines the various strands of nationalist thought and practice in Iran under the Pahlavi shahs.

Dabashi, Hamid. Theology of Discontent. New York, 1993. Thorough investigation of the social thought of seven thinkers whose ideas were crucial to the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Goodell, Grace. The Elementary Forms of Political Life. London and New York, 1986. Critique of the Pahlavi state’s development policies under Muhammad Reza Shah.

Halliday, Fred. Iran: Dictatorship and Development. 2d ed. Baltimore, 1979. Examination of Iranian politics from the perspective of political economy and class structure, with a focus on the Pahlavi period. Hooglund, Eric J. Land and Revolution in Iran, 1960-1980. Austin, 1982. Trenchant critique of the Shah’s land reform policies. Keddie, Nikki R. Roots of Revolution. New Haven, 1981. Overview of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Iranian history.

Lambton, Ann K. S. Qajar Persia. Austin, 1987. In-depth examination of nineteenth-century Iranian history.

Parsa, Misagh. Social Origins of the Iranian Revolution. New Brunswick, N.J., 1989. Detailed structural analysis of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, emphasizing particularly the role of the bazaar.

Zonis, Marvin. Majestic Failure. Chicago, 1991. A psychologically oriented analysis of Muhammad Reza Shah.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/iran/

  • writerPosted On: May 25, 2014
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