Pahlavi’s rule began during the Second World War, with his father, Reza Shah, being forced to abdicate power to his son by the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran.
After the war, in 1953, the shah fled to Italy before UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the US Eisenhower administration interfered with the democratically elected government led by Mohammad Mossadegh.
The shah was later reinstated to power, but under the shah’s rule there were concerns over elitism, forced Westernization and modernization, disregard for the society’s religious traditions, the repression of social movements and political parties, particularly the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI). In fact, the Islamist party of Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, thrived because of the shah’s crackdown on other political entities, resulting in the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist, and president of the International American Council, writes, “To the surprise of many, Khomeini’s fundamentalist organization ultimately hijacked the revolution. After the shah fled the country, many Iranians did not conceive that Khomeini’s party would be committing the atrocities that they are committing now — such as pursuing hegemonic ambitions and destructive behavior in the region and implementing militaristic and expansionist policies — or that they would have such an unrelenting hunger for power. Instead, the country thought it was on a smooth path toward democracy, with no expectation of returning to the shah’s era.”
Khomeini won the support of liberals, leftists, and modern Islamists, who believed that the clerics would would not be interested in the business of running the government, and so would hand over power after the revolution. The clerics had portrayed themselves as spiritual and peaceful, but Dr. Rafizadeh continues, “…the ruling clerics rose to the top and, as soon as they had a stranglehold on the country, they shifted gears to become one of the most ruthless regimes in Iran’s history.”
Jimmy Carter, US President at that time, viewed Khomeini as a good, religious man. The Carter administration even paved the way for Khomeini to return to Iran, according to recently declassified documents.
Other internationally famous scholars, such as French philosopher, historian, and social theorist Michel Foucault, thought highly of the revolution. His articles can be seen in the European newspapers that were written just before and after the revolution.
Khomeini kept his fundamentalist and revolutionary principles, such as imposing or exporting his interpretation of Shiite thought, to himself. But soon, the true nature of the revolution showed itself, when thousands of people were executed for voicing their opinion. In the summer of 1988, according to human rights groups, some 30,000 political prisoners were hanged for suspected loyalties to anti-theocratic resistance groups, mainly the PMOI. This abomination was largely ignored by media outlets.
The shah’s departure marked the end of Iran’s monarchy. However, now the people’s dissatisfaction with current theocracy is on display with protests, strikes, and demonstrations seen almost daily in Iran. Most Iranians seek a genuinely representative and democratic system of governance, and have raised their voices, calling for regime change.