The Islamic Republic1. Iran Since 1979a. Checkmate1: The RevolutionThe Shah's Iran is perhaps the best example of the failure of wholesale, selective modernization. Iran is a nation blessed with wealth (oil) and a relatively small population. It had decades of impressive economic growth before the Revolution. An explosion of post-OPEC spending beginning in 1974 caused rapid inflation, led to further corruption and heightened social conflicts. The Shah's tentative and limited effort at democratization in 1977 opened the way to a massive outpouring of opposition from virtually all segments of Iranian society. The Shah's programs had urbanized Iran, but in so doing concentrated discontent. In an effort to counter left opposition to his regime, the Shah's regime tendered covert support to Islamic political groups. His regime fell not to armed groups operating in the countryside, but to unarmed urban masses--the first successful urban revolution since 1917. Although the urban intellectuals and students who spearheaded this opposition were primarily on the secular left, the Shah’s repression of organization among these groups open the way from Shi’ite political opposition led by Ayatollah Khomeini.2Women from strict Muslim families wearing the chador—the black cloak covering the whole body who as a rule were allowed out of the house only in the company of male relatives—played an important role in demonstrations against the Shah. “To participate in the fight against the dictatorship [of the Shah] is your religious duty. You must actively join the revolutionary struggle,” Khomeini had told them in 1979. The Shah was forced into 1The word "checkmate" comes from the Persian sha mat, meaning "the shah is dead."2Those who have read Marjane Satrapi, Persopolis, will recognize this secular left opposition to the Shah’s regime.
exile in January 1979 and Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran the following month.3In succeeding years (1979-1981), clerics with the support of thousands of armed revolutionary committees defeated secular contenders for power from the middle class, the left and regionalist movements (Kurds). Perhaps 10,000 Iranians were executed and one-half million, mostly middle-class professionals, went into exile. And it was during this period that the regime held American diplomatic personnel hostage. The Shah never abdicated his throne and militants, fearing a repetition of 1953, did not believe that he was simply seeking medical treatment in the West. They sought the repatriation of the Shah to stand trial and the return of the billions he had taken out of the country with him: 1953 had come back to haunt the United States. b. The Clergy in Power1. Culture. Earlier twentieth-century revolutions had brought a new revolutionary elite (e.g., the Communist party) to power; in Iran the ulamaformed the basis of this elite.