Revolutionary Iran: Opportunities for Mobilization
This subsection of the final Iran Country Report will focus on revolts and revolutions within Iran in terms of what opportunities allowed certain classes and groups to mobilize and enact change. Starting with the 1979 Revolution, I will explain how the mobilization of certain classes and political groups resulted in the installation of an Islamic Republic and then how that republic was successful in limiting the opportunities for subsequent social movements. This will lead to an assessment of the Green Revolution and what internal and international factors were responsible for influencing the people to rise up for change and then the various opinions on if and why the movement failed. I will then analyze Iran’s reaction to the Arab Spring, how the Green Movement has or has not contributed to its current position, and if and why Iran appears to be exempt from these spreading revolutions.
The 1979 Islamic Revolution
Here’s another comprehensive and helpful timeline of Iranian history, found here from BBC World. For the purpose of this blog this post starts with the Islamic Revolution, but the page provides an excellent overview of Iran’s history reaching back to ancient times.
This article by Haideh Moghissi, found on Project Muse here, discusses women’s roles in the 1979 revolution and after from a very different perspective than Dr. Ansia Khaz Ali as posted earlier on this blog. Moghissi talks of her own experiences as a participant in the Islamic Revolution, what she describes as the secular forces’ “miscognition of the true character of the Islamists’ agenda,” and characterizes Khomeini’s government as a propaganda machine that used Islam to limit women’s social and legal rights. Where Dr. Ali asserted that the Islamic Republic’s enforcement of the hijab was a means of promoting women’s rights because it banned the sexual objectification of women, Moghissi argues that it one of many ways that the government seeks to keep women subordinate to men and keep them from participating in politics or forming powerful oppositions. She frames this discussion in terms of her severe disillusionment with the Islamic Revolution, in which she claims the left was so infatuated with Khomeini’s anti-imperialism that they overlooked the authoritarian, repressive, and misogynist undertones of the Ayatollah’s rhetoric. Now Iranian women live in a society where every action is scrutinized in terms of religious morality as defined by men, which she characterizes as a violation of personal agency and human rights. It seems as though Moghissi believes that the choice to dress and act as one wants, whether it can be interpreted as sexually objectifying or not, is a right, where Dr. Ali believes that revealing oneself in a society where one can be objectified if it is not intended is a violation of rights in itself.
This article from Iran Chamber found here is a quick and easy history of the Palhavi Dynasty.
When Mohammed Reza Pahlavi took the throne as Shah in 1941, he dedicated himself to continuing the fast paced trajectory of modernization that his father, Shah Reza Kahn, had begun in 1925. Reza Khan had spearheaded a modernization campaign with large scale road such as developing large-scale industries, implementing major infrastructure projects, building a cross-country railroad system, establishing a national public education system, reforming the judiciary, and improving health care. Although these reforms brought great benefits to the Iranian people such as public education and health care, the speed and ferocity of industrialization and urbanization in the country alienated and displaced many groups within the class structure. The socio-economic reforms such as the extension of women’s rights and the ban on wearing clerical garb and the hajib also angered the religious elite who felt that they may lose control over their traditional leadership role within the community. The Shah’s dictatorial style of rule left little room for open opposition, and those who disagreed with his policies and his regime were quickly arrested and taken away before opposition could fester in his country…
Letters from Iran
This Al-Jazeera documentary examines post-Green Movement Iran and how the opposition is still operating under the severe repression of the Iranian state today. With a focus on middle class students, protesters, and their families, Letters from Iran documents the brutal tactics of current regime to crush any opposition whether it be peaceful or not. Public gatherings to mourn the dead are forbidden, universities are infiltrated by members of religious militia forces in attempt to eliminate student movements, and there are secret prisons all over Iran where students and protesters are regularly tortured and killed for their peaceful political activities. This film looks at the lives of several activists who speak of how they live their lives fear but will not give up the fight for justice and democracy in Iran. Even by participating in the filming of this documentary, they have greatly put there lives at risk. Yetthere is still a glimmer of hope in each of their stories that their efforts will result in eventual freedom from oppression. Letters from Iran is a rare look inside an extremely closed country from the perspective of people who are regularly silenced by their government. Take a look!
This article by Mehrdad Mashayekhi, found on JSTOR here, discusses the student movements that erupted in Iran in 1997, 17 years after the Islamic Revolution. As the Islamic Revolution brought about extreme change in Iranian politics and society, it seems peculiar that no other opposition movements erupted as the new regime stabilized. After all, secularists were a large part of the movement and the conservative policies adopted by the religious regimes obviously did not appeal to the entirety of opposition forces that participated. Aside from the veil protests and Ayandegan (free press) protests immediately after the revolution in 1979, however, there were no social uprisings in Iran until 1997. Mashayekhi explains that this was due to an imposed “Cultural Revolution” in 1980 where all campuses were shut down for three years and severe repression of public dissent took place. This “Cultural Revolution” supposedly encouraged the “Islamification” of Iranian society as purges eliminated any opposition to the Islamic regime, no activism was allowed to take place, and the Iranian people had no choice but to accept the policies of the current regime. It wasn’t until 1997 that the first opportunity for citizens to express themselves presented itself again.
Mashayekhi breaks down why 1997 was the opportune time for dissidence to rear its head in Islamic society. Most importantly, he sights University campuses as the site of revolutionary sentiment. As many students in the Islamic Republic of Iran were unemployed, they congregated in Universities and discussed their frustrations with the current regime and the possible outcomes of their futures. These students participated greatly in the 1997 election of president Khatami, who was very liberal in his policies. His rise to office along with the death of Supreme Leader Ayotollah Khomeini brought a new reformist/legalistic political culture that was more adaptable to every day Iranian life. Thus, student movements had the opportunity to erupt in campuses across the country, where students were able to speak out for the first time since 1979. The question now is why did that dissidence come to end? Mashayekhi explains that, as with many social movement, those participating became too divided, organization links crumbled, and the political level of student political discussions was not advanced enough to sweep an entire nation into revolutionary fever again. This is evident in the fact that few wide spread social movements formed in Iran until the Green Revolution during the supposedly rigged elections in 2009.
This article, found on JSTOR here, was written by Ervand Abrahamian in 1979 as the Revolution in Iran was unfolding. It takes a look at the people on the ground and discusses who the “opposition forces” that spearheaded the revolution really were. Abrahamanian states that the revolution was directly caused by the failure of the Shah to influence or appease class formations in Iran. He identifies five groups as particularly responsible for rallying their discontent and spreading revolutionary fever throughout the country:
- Religious Conservatives
- Religious Radicals
- Religious Reactionaries
- Secular Reformers
- Secular Radicals
These groups were all fighting for the removal of Shah and the installation of a new government, yet they all obviously have different ideas of what the post-revolution government should be. So if so many secularists, communists, and students were participating in the revolution, why did it end with an Islamic Republic? According to Abrahamian, religious groups were most successful in mobilizing the masses, especially when it came to the bazaar population, shanty-town poor, and industrial proletariat who all together made up a very large portion of the movement. As for the large amount of secular participants, the Shah’s regime crushed almost all of the grass-roots organizations belonging to secular opposition and had many of them arrested by the SAVAK. However, he left bazaar guilds, clergy, seminaries and local mosques to function where much of the revolutionary moment began to fester without harassment from the Shah’s regime. Public opposition to the state began to primarily converge in mosque which then led to a religious revivalist movement sweeping the country, especially among the lower middle class and shanty-town poor. Lower clergy and Shari’ati supporters also encouraged higher wages for the poor during a time when they were suffering under the Shah’s economic reforms, which would simultaneously bankrupt the state and lead to the installation of a new government. These broad gestures appealed greatly to the masses whether they were religious or not, and many disregarded the conservative religious undertones while caught up in the revolutionary fever. As for the Marxists and communist Tudeh party, their mass appeal was hurt by the Soviet Union and People’s Republic of China’s support for the Shah. With the SAVAK having arrested and killed many secular opposition forces, and their appeal to the masses dwindling, religious conservatism took center stage and the 1979 Iran Revolution birthed an Islamic Republic.