It appears unbelievable that the clerical regime is still firmly in saddle in Iran even after 42 years as at its inception it was rated as extremely shaky. The spirit of the Iranians also appears to be intact as was manifest as thousands of them drove through Tehran to mark 42 years since the Islamic revolution but stayed in vehicles rather than marching on foot amid pandemic restrictions. Due to Covid-19 it was mentioned that this year there should be no gathering or marching to celebrate the 1979 overthrow of the Shah’s regime. Instead, people travelled by cars, motorcycles and bicycles to gather in Tehran’s iconic Azadi Square.
Many people had painted their cars in the red, white and green colours of the Iranian flag and chanted “Death to America” from vehicle windows. They carried portraits of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as Iran’s revered General Qasem Soleimani, killed in an American airstrike in Baghdad in January 2020. Replica ballistic missiles and Iranian-made military equipment were also paraded. Revolutionary poems were also read over loud speakers and the military practiced aerial maneuvers.
Iran’s ruling clerics seized power in a months-long Islamic Revolution that culminated in the overthrow of the nation’s monarch, or Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, on 11 February, 1979. The 42nd anniversary witnessed Iran’s prolonged economic recession and increasing regional isolation that is the result of Iranian rulers maintaining ideological adherence to their 1979 revolution through a discordant power structure. Iran currently is reported to be facing economic difficulties and the isolated political scenario has spread a sense of hopelessness across the civil society.
The number of people who view that their country is on the wrong track and their pessimism appears justified because Iran fell into recession in 2018 as toughening US sanctions exacerbated long-standing government mismanagement of the economy. The IMF’s latest world economic outlook estimates that Iran suffered a third consecutive year of recession in 2020, while projecting a return to GDP growth this year. Many analysts blamed Iran’s recession on its complex ruling system, created by an Islamist constitution that grants ultimate power to a supreme leader who oversees a variety of elected and unelected institutions that compete for influence and benefits. Iran’s top military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, keeps on fighting with other government agencies about who gets access to Iran’s oil revenue, the main national income source that has been hit hard by US sanctions.
Islamist-ruled Iran, which has long called for the destruction of its regional foe, Israel, also found itself increasingly isolated from its neighbours last year. With the help of US mediation, Israel signed peace agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, the first such deals between Israel and Gulf Arab nations who have long been wary of Tehran’s support for pro-Iran militias involved in several regional conflicts. Israel’s peace deals with the UAE and Bahrain expanded its relations to six of the 13 countries in the regions bordering and surrounding Iran. Israel already had relations with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Turkmenistan, but it still has no official ties with Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Animosity toward the US was the essence of the Islamic Republic’s creation as Washington had been a supporter of the Shah ousted by Iran’s first Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The incident that fatally ruptured US-Iran relations was the Ayatollah Khomeini-supported detention of 52 American hostages at the US Embassy in Tehran by Islamist students from November 1979 to January 1981 and their 444-day detention proved very embarrassing to the American national prestige. Furthermore, the Iran’s ruling clerics inspired attacks on US targets in the region ever since creating a feud that has not abated. It is generally agreed with the fact that Iran’s clerical rulers have stuck to their anti-Israel and anti-American policies because agitating against external enemies has been crucial for maintaining power in a theocratic country, enabling those rulers to mobilise supporters and suppress opponents.
The US imposed its toughest-ever sanctions on Iran under the administration of former President Donald Trump and he began tightening the sanctions in 2018, calling them part of a campaign of maximum pressure on Tehran to end objectionable behaviour, including its alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran denies having such a goal. President Joe Biden has said he will not ease the sanctions until Iran first returns to full compliance with a 2015 deal with world powers to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief. Trump withdrew the US from that deal in 2018, saying it was not tough enough on Iran, which retaliated a year later by starting to breach the deal’s nuclear activity limits.
Known in Iran as known as Bahman 22nd, it is the yearly anniversary is the National Day of Iran and marks the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Iran had been an absolute monarchy ruled by the Pahlavi dynasty since 1925. In the 1960s, a series of reforms intended to modernise Iran had failed to improve the economic conditions. Large-scale rioting took place following the arrest of the cleric, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who had made a speech attacking the Shah. Khomeini was sent into exile in November 1964. In 1978, resistance against the rule of the Shah intensified with marches, demonstration and strikes paralysing the country. Recognising that he had lost control and suffering from ill-health, the Shah left Iran on 16 January 1979.
On 1 February 1979, Khomeini made a triumphal return to Iran and led the campaign to overthrow the remnants of the Shah’s rule. The 10-day period from the return of Imam Khomeini until the revolution’s victory is celebrated annually in Iran and is known as the Ten-Day Fajr (Dawn). Ten days later, the Pahlavi royal regime was defeated when Iran’s military declared itself neutral after rebel troops overwhelmed those still loyal to the Shah. Two months later, the new government held a referendum on establishing the Islamic Republic based on a new constitution replacing the Persian monarchy that had ruled for 2,500 years. This event is marked by another public holiday, Islamic Republic Day. Khomeini served as Supreme Leader of Iran from 1979 to his death in June 1989.
Framed in a Marxist–Islamist mindset, the revolution was made on behalf of the mostazafin—the downtrodden—who were left behind by the monarchy’s uneven development model. In the following four decades, intense controversy has erupted over the Islamic Republic’s socio-economic performance. While some claim that under the Islamist regime remarkable progress has been made, others depict an entire country mired in misery. More nuance and contextualisation is needed. Iran has indeed experienced progress over the last 40 years but whether these successes have been a result of post-revolutionary policies, societal pressures, or the foundations laid by the Shah remains hotly debated.
The shift from the Shah’s pro-urban, elite-centered policies to a pro-rural and pro-poor (populist) approach under the Islamic Republic included expanding infrastructure and basic services—such as electricity and clean water—from cities to the countryside. In short, the revolution sought to eliminate the rural-urban divide but deprived the people of basic human rights and freedoms. Iran’s socio-economic challenges cannot be separated from its political economy that favours regime loyalists and is marked by mismanagement, cronyism, nepotism, corruption and the absence of much-needed structural reforms. It is also observed that the class character of Iranian society has remained unchanged with one ruling class replaced by another only with another social composition. TW