Frontline World

IRAN - Forbidden Iran, January 2004

Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "Forbidden Iran"

A Brief History

Undercover With the Underground

Nobel Prize Winner

Government, People, the Press

Human Rights, Blogs, Nuclear Threats




The Struggle For Democracy
The Modern Past Khatami: The Harbinger of Change The Student Uprising The Third Force

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, is greeted by large crowds after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Khomeini was welcomed by many Iranians as an antidote to the corruption of the pro-Western Shah. (AP/Wide World Photos)
The Modern Past - The Islamic Republic of Iran is born out of revolution

The Islamic Republic of Iran was born out of a power struggle over the extent of foreign influence inside Iran. The conflict began in the early 1950s, when Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq, who intended to nationalize the country's oil wealth, momentarily seized control from Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the constitutional monarch representing Anglo-American oil interests. The CIA intervened in 1953, engineering a coup that ousted Mossadeq and reinstated Shah Pahlavi's pro-Western regime. Iranians came to perceive the shah's state, characterized by despotic repression and economic upheaval, as the betrayal of their nation for the benefit of Western powers, particularly the United States.

Growing opposition to the shah found a leader in the influential cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. His calls for a new religious government, to be based on the strict fundamentalist principles of Shi'iah Islam, represented a complete rejection of Western influence and values. Khomeini's message, readily accepted by a population angry at foreign intervention, ignited the Islamic Revolution that toppled the shah in 1979.

Khomeini declared the country to be an Islamic republic, and over the next two decades, the Islamic Republic of Iran became a tyrannical state itself. Khomeini's theocratic political system, rooted in Islamic law, granted absolute command to one ruling cleric, the Supreme Leader, a position Khomeini held until his death in 1989. A popularly elected president gave the republic a semblance of participatory politics, but this office was largely subject to the command of the Supreme Leader. Lower-level clerics controlled the everyday political operations of the regime.

Religious austerity and stifling social constraints became the hallmarks of the fundamentalist Islamic Republic. Opposition members could expect imprisonment and torture, often even execution. Untold numbers of political prisoners languished in jails throughout the country. Women were forced to endure the harsh constraints of religiously sanctioned discrimination. The ruling clerics and their families personally controlled most of the country's wealth while ordinary citizens suffered from high unemployment and a rising cost of living. Young people, who made up nearly three-quarters of the population, were forbidden to listen to Western music, openly criticize their rulers or mingle with the opposite sex.

By 1997 the children of the Islamic Revolution, raised under oppressive social and economic conditions, were ready for a revolution of their own.

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