1953-1979 History of Iran 1989-2003

Islamic Republic, 1979-1989

Islamic Revolution . In 1978, Shah Reza Pahlevi underwent treatment against cancer in a US clinic. Ayatollah Khomeini, the unquestioned leader of Iran's Shiite community, from his exile in France sent cassette tapes of his sermons, in which he called for the overthrow of the Iranian government. These cassettes were played in mosques all over Iran. Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan (Feb.-Nov. 1979), himself a returned exile and liberal reformer, faced a mass movement calling for the overthrow of monarchy and secular democratic institutions. The Iranian army found itself under siege by the Revolutionary Guard. When Bazargan resigned, the Islamic Republic was proclaimed.

Constitution and Administration . The monarchy was abolished. Iran's parliament, the Majlis, continued to function, regular elections being held. The Shiite clergy, represented by the Council of Guardians, exercises control over the democratic process by screening candidates running for office, and barring those deemed not suitable to represent the Islamic Republic.
Ayatollah Khomeini held the position of de-facto head-of-state, the guiding figure behind the Islamic Revolution.

Foreign Policy . U.S. diplomacy had regarded Shah Reza Pahlevi as "our man". The new Iranian administration requested control over bank accounts in the U.S. registered under the name of Shah Reza Pahlevi, which was denied. In response Iranian students occupied the U.S. embassy in Teheran and took the embassy staff hostage (Nov. 4th 1979); the hostage crisis was to last until Jan. 20th 1981. An attempt to send in a U.S. commando and liberate the hostages (April 24th 1980) failed. The U.S. and Iran, since 1979, do not maintain diplomatic relations. In 1981 a deal with the Reagan administration was reached; Iran released the hostages; the U.S. tacitly approved of Iranian arms purchases. The profits were used to finance Nicaraguan rebels (Iran-Contra Affair). In 1988 the US navy downed an Iranian passenger plane full of pilgrims on their way to Mecca, mistaking it for a military plane; compensation was offered and paid. In 1989, the US unfroze some of the Iranian assets deposited in US banks.
In September 1980, Iraq ordered her forces to invade Iran. As the Iranian army had undergone restructuring (the generals, as loyalists of the Shah, and some having collaborated with the U.S. attempt to liberate the embassy hostages in April 1980, having been replaced), Iran was perceived as not being ready. Initially the Iraqi forces made progress; yet Iran was unwilling to concede defeat, mobilized the masses, and in the later part of the war inflicted heavy pressure on the Iraqi forces. In 1988 a peace treaty was signed, based on the status quo ante.
The Islamic Republic, from the beginning, took a hostile stand toward Israel. It was critical of the monarchies in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf, who supported Iraq in the Gulf War. Libya (until 1983) and Syria sided with Iran. In 1987, Iranian pilgrims in Mecca (Saudi Arabia) rioted, causing Saudi authorities to restore order by force; 275 Iranians were killed (BBoY 1988).
The Islamic Republic condemned the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and supported the Mujahedeen. C. 3 million Afghan refugees fled into Iran.
The Islamic Revolution in effect left CENTO disfunctional.
Iran criticized Egypt for having entered in diplomatic relations with Israel, and froze relations with Egypt (1979). Iran supported the Hezbollah in the civil war raging in Lebanon (1975-1991).

Domestic Policy . Elections to the Majlis were held in 1980. Two leftist parties (Mujahedeen-i Khalq and Tudeh) were banned, their leaders persecuted (BBoY 1981). The dominant position of the Shiite clergi caused concern among Iran's Sunni Kurds and in the Arab-speaking province of Khuzestan; when Iraqi forces invaded, Kurd politicians spoke out in support of Iran; no rebellion took place in Khuzestan (BBoY 1981). Elections again were held in 1984 and again in 1989.

The Economy . The restructuring caused by the Islamic Revolution, the social policies of the Islamic Republic, a trade embargo imposed on Iran by the U.S. affected the Iranian economy. The greatest factor was the war; the costs of supplying the army, supporting internally displaced, widowed, orphaned, injured soldiers and Iraqi Kurd and Afghan refugees proved an immense burden, which Iran attempted to cover by exporting oil far beyond her OPEC quota; this again resulted in the fall of oil prises and in the end of the Oil Crisis (1973-1981). Iran experienced high inflation, a shortage of consumer goods; a number of development projects were abandoned by international contractors. In June 1981, Iran and the USSR signed a trade agreement (BBoY 1982). Iran continued in her policy to build up a nuclear energy industry, with Soviet contractors taking over the nuclear power station under construction at Bushehr, abandoned by West German contractors. In 1983 a Five Year Development Plan (1983-1988) was launched, which "effectively lapsed" (BBoY 1984). In 1988, close to the end of the Gulf War, Iranian cities (Tehran, Qom) became targets of Iraqi missiles (BBoY 1989).
In 1979, Iran produced 171.3 million metric tons of crude petroleum, in 1981 72.0 million, in 1989 140.4 million (IHS p.364).
In 1979, Iran produced 6.0 million metric tons of wheat, in 1988 7.2 million, in 1989 6.0 million (IHS p.199).

Social History . Under the Shah, the middle class had prospered while little concern had been spent on the general population, many of whom lived in poverty, without electricity and drinking water in their dwellings. The Islamic Republic pursued a social agenda, improving the living conditions of the poor.
In 1981, the Iranian displaced persons, due to the Gulf War, numbered c.1.5 million (BBoY 1982). Iranian losses in the Gulf War are estimated at 500,000 killed or wounded (Wikipedia : Iran-Iraq War).

Cultural History . Iran announced that it was not prepared to host the 1984 Summer Olympics, which had been awarded to the city of Tehran a few years prior to the Islamic Revolution; the IOC then gave the games to Los Angeles. Iranian athletes, absent from the summer olympics in Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984, participated in the Seoul games of 1988.
In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini signed a fatva calling on Muslims to kill author Salman Rushdie, a U.K. resident who, in his Satanic Verses, had written a satire on Islam.

Timeline Iran, from BBC News The Iran Embassy Assault 1980, from Britain's Small Wars
Article Politics of Iran, Iran Hostage Crisis, Iran-Iraq War, CENTO from Wikipedia
CASCON Case IRI : Iran-Iraq 1980-1990, by L.P. Bloomfield, L. Moulton
DOCUMENTS Estimates of Victims of Iran State Suppression since 1979, posted by Matthew White, scroll down for Iran
Iranian Statesmen, from World Statesmen (B. Cahoon)
Historical Population Statistics : Iran, from Population Statistics (J. Lahmeyer)
REFERENCE IHS : International Historical Statistics : Africa, Asia & Oceania 1750-2000, edited by B.R. Mitchell, Basingstoke : Palgrave MacMillan 4th ed. 2003
Article : Iran, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1980 pp.458-460, 1981 pp.459-461, 1982 pp.458-460, 1983 pp.451-452, 1984 pp.454-455, 1985 pp.486-487, 704, 1986 pp.482, 701, 1987 pp.450-451, 670, 1988 pp.410-411, 622, 1989 pp.409-410, 623 [G]
Article : Iran, in : Statesman's Yearbook 1979-1980 pp.680-688, 1980-1981 pp.678-686, 1981-1982 pp.681-688, 1983-1984 pp.683-689, 1984-1985 pp.685-691, 1985-1986 pp.688-694, 1986-1987 pp.691-696, 1987-1988 pp.697-702, 1988-1989 pp.699-704, 1989-1990 pp.706-711 [G]
Article : Iran, in : The World in Figures 4th ed. 1984 pp.171-172 [G]
Article : Iran, in : Americana Annual 1988 pp.288-290, 1989 pp.288-291 [G]
Article : Iran, in : Yearbook on International Communist Affairs 1980 pp.409-412 (James A. Bill) [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on May 28th 2002, last revised on May 22nd 2007

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