It's been described as one of the most important revolutions in history, one that changed the face of a country and sent shock waves around the world. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 changed Iran from a monarchy into a theocracy and made political Islam a force to be reckoned with around much of the globe. The revolution unfolded 30 years ago, but its impact is felt to this day.
Former British Foreign Secretary Lord David Owen
said by the late 1970's, the Shah had managed to alienate much of Iranian
society. "The Bazaaris [merchants] were upset by inflation, which was roaring
ahead with no curbs on it at all," he said. "The religious mullahs were upset by
[the Shah's] apparent flouting of ... the Islamic faith; the students were upset
because there wasn't enough liberty and democracy."
Protests spread throughout the country.
On 16 January 1979, the Shah fled Iran, and 18 months later died of cancer in Cairo.
The revered cleric, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, return from exile in France on 1 February 1979 to a hero's welcome and as the undisputed leader of the revolution.
By April, the Islamic Republic was officially established. The revolution was about change.
Like many professionals and intellectuals, human
rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi had supported it. "The slogan of the revolution was
freedom and independence, and they had promised we would achieve the two," Ebadi
Change came, but not as many had hoped. There were executions, mass arrests, purges and chaos.
In November of 1979, a group of students took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
Washington severed ties and imposed sanctions; relations have yet to recover.
Christopher Rundle was a British diplomat in Iran just after the revolution. He says that while the revolution may have brought isolation, inside Iran it was seen as a victory.
"The people in power in Iran would say that one of the great achievements of the revolution has been independence from the United States, in particular," Rundle stated. "They are very proud of that achievement."
But, hard times followed. Iran's neighbor and arch rival Iraq used the chaos to launch an attack in 1980. The eight-year Iran-Iraq war cost as many as one million lives on both sides.
Internally, as the Islamists consolidated power, draconian laws were passed to curb personal and social freedom.
Speaking to VOA in London, Shirin Ebadi said the revolution threw off western influence, but did not deliver on other promises. "I never saw the freedom that I wanted being realized," Ebadi explained. "That is why I became a defender of human rights, and I am fighting so that we actually gain that freedom."
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