40 years after the Islamic Revolution, Iran is under massive pressure and yet stable. Resistance at home and abroad is the political basis of business in Tehran
In 1979, the Islamic Revolution in Iran overthrew Shah Reza Pahlavi. The mass movement behind it must be seen as an accumulation of several cycles of uprising in Iran, which first took off in 1890 in the form of the “tobacco revolt.” At that time, the population revolted against the exploitation of its own tobacco industry by the British. After demonstrations with bloody clashes, in 1891 the then ruling Nasser al-Din Shah gave in and revoked the tobacco concession granted to the British Major Gerald F. Thalbot.
Just 15 years later, the “constitutional revolution” of 1906 produced the first parliament in the Middle East region. Due to the ever louder demands for more political participation, Mozaffar al-Din Shah signed the constitution of a constitutional monarchy. But in 1908, his successor Mohammad Ali Shah declared the constitution invalid and, with British and Russian support, had the parliament building bombed. The most traumatic experience of the crushing of the popular will, however, was the coup against the democratically legitimized prime minister, Mohammad Mossaddegh. In 1953, the nationalist was overthrown by “Operation Ajax,” carried out by the CIA and MI-6. Mossaddegh, who wanted to nationalize Iranian oil and bring it out of foreign control, spent three years in prison and was under house arrest until his death in 1967.
The revolution fights back
The Islamic Republic’s ability to endure today must be traced back to those early years of its founding. “Resistance” (“moghaavemat”) is now more than ever the credo of Iran’s leadership. This resistance is directed against pressure from outside and inside.
Internally, a large part of the population is pushing for more social, cultural and political freedom. Reforms should allow for more political participation, media diversity and cultural self-realization. The country’s political leadership gives room to this demand only to the point where it fears for the preservation of power structures. Tehran rejects the sometimes massive pressure from abroad with even greater determination. The objects of Western criticism are Iran’s domestic political conditions, its rejection of Israel’s right to exist and Iran’s regional policy. Ironically, it is precisely this pressure from Western states (above all the United States) that keeps the spirit of the 1979 revolution alive.
Resistance to U.S. imperialism remains a core element of the Islamic Republic’s state ideology today, as it was then. Iran’s security doctrine postulates that, because of its military inferiority to the United States and its regional allies, the country must acquire means of deterrence and asymmetric warfare. Iran uses ballistic missiles (deterrence) and a network of non-state militias (asymmetric warfare) to keep its enemies at bay. The goal here is to be able to hit the enemy (i.e., the U.S., Israel or Saudi Arabia) sensitively should they decide to launch a military strike against Iran.