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Iranian Revolution of 1979


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Revolution in which a coalition of forces opposed to the Western-oriented Pahlavi regime and dominated by Shii Muslim clerics overthrew the government of Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. The acknowledged leader was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Causes included the modernization/westernization programs undertaken since the 1920s, particularly the economic and social reform programs of the 1963 White Revolution; state control of religious institutions, which deprived clerics of power and income; and the perceived corruption and extreme wealth of the shah and the ruling class. The revolution began on 9 January 1978, when theology students in Qom protested a newspaper article accusing Khomeini of licentiousness and crimes against the state. Demonstrators and police entered into violent conflict, fostering other protests throughout country. Khomeini, in exile in France, preached that the shah had conspired with foreign powers, particularly the United States, to exploit the Iranian people and undermine Islam. The message appealed to a broad base of economic classes from all regions of the country. The shah was forced to leave Iran on 16 January 1979. Khomeini appointed his own provisional revolutionary government and returned to Iran on 1 February 1979, to great popular acclaim. Khomeini officially seized power on 11 February. In March a referendum was held to determine the form of the new government, and Iran became an Islamic republic. The constitution adopted in 1979 invested ultimate power in Khomeini as the chief jurisprudent (faqih), along with a five-person religious Council of Guardians. The revolution was a symbolically important event that demonstrated that Western-influenced secular regimes could be overthrown by opposition forces organized under Islamic reformers. It gave new impetus to Islamic revivalists and triggered a rise in Islamic fundamentalist activities from Morocco to Southeast Asia.

See also Khomeini, Ruhollah al-Musavi

Subjects: Religion


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