“The Iranian Revolution has great significance in Iran and the Middle East collectively. The revolution transformed Iran’s political, social, economic, and legal structure.” The Shah lost his power, and the Islamic Republic of Iran was occurred. “Western and secular laws were replaced by Islamic laws, and the elite under the Shah were suddenly ousted.” In this study, the political situation in pre-Revolutionary Iran will be explained, with an emphasis on the actors.

Key words: Iran, the Shah, Iranian Revolution, Khomeini



Iran is a major regional power in the Middle East that also known as Persia, and officially name is Islamic Republic of Iran. The religion of Iran is Shia (Islam), Persian is official language, and Tehran is the country’s capital and largest city.

Persia was one of the greatest civilizations of the ancient world. Iran is named by first Pahlavi Reza Shah, in 1935. Nowadays, Iran has the largest population in the Middle East that is 80 million.

“Iran is a founding member of the UN, ECO, NAM, OIC, and OPEC. Its political system is based on the 1979 Theocratic Constitution which combines elements of a parliamentary democracy with a theocracy governed by Islamic laws.”

In the history, because of geographical of Iran, it is effected from different cultures and civilizations. Therefore, Iran incurred many lootings and occupations. The Arab Conquest and Western Penetration have momentous changes on Iran (Persia).

The Islam religion reach to people which live on the Arabian Peninsula, and the prophet of the Islam who is Mohammed died in 632, but his religion spread like wildfire.[1] Beginning in 633, KhalifOmar invaded and conquered Iran, “largely replacing the indigenous faiths of Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism by Sunni Islam”.

The rise of the Safavid Dynasty in 1501 led to the establishment of Twelver Shia as the official religion of Iran. “Most of their subjects switched from Sunni Islam and are Shi’ites to this day”.[2] This case was turning point in the history of Iran and Islam.

“Through the late 18th and 19th centuries, a series of conflicts with Russia led to significant territorial losses.”The process is resulted with Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1906, which was a turning point. With Constitutional Revolutionin Iran, established a constitutional monarchy and the country’s first legislative body (Majlis).[3]“Iran gradually became closely aligned to with the United States and the rest of the West but grew increasingly autocratic.”[4] Because of against foreign influence and political repression, a dissent wing was occurred, and, growing dissent led to 1979 Revolution and establish of the Islamic Republic, in Iran.


In the history, Iran was not colonial state, such as Chine. Nevertheless, it has continued politic and economic dependence to the Western. Caused by dependence semi-colonial status is outraged Iranians. Especially, the authorizing monopoly power to British merchant on tobacco sales which 1890 Agreement caused public anger. Against to British tobacco concession, Muslim clerics led to the mass hatred, and agreement was rescinded.[5]

In the same period, liberal and Western ideas of government infiltrated into Iran. 1906-1907 Institutional Revolution was a result of the ideas. The Institutional Revolution brought Persia’s first constitutions and first elected parliament. In 1907, a new Shah came to the throne, and he closed the parliament. Mass protests forced that the Shah escaped to Russia. At this same time, the 1907 Anglo-Russia alliance had already divided Persia in two, in the North with Russia sphere of influence, and in the South with British sphere of influence.[6] After this time, Persia entered into Western sphere of influence.


In 1921, Reza Khan who is a cavalry officer and CossackBrigade commander seized power, and in 1925 had himself crowned shah, the founder of Pahlavi dynasty (1925-1979). The nationalist Reza Shah took the pre-Islamic surname Pahlavi and told the world to start calling the country by its true name, Iran, from the word Aryan.[7]

Reza Shah determined to modernize his country. Firstly, he molded an effective Iranian army, create a modern Western-type civil service and a national bank. Then, replaced traditional and Islamic courts with civil courts operating under Western codes of justice. In 1935, the Shah founded Iran’s first Western-style university. On the other hand, the revenues of energy sources was increasing, and the economy grew, in Iran. Reza Shah was a modernizing tyrant. Indicatively, the Shah adopt Western-style dress and women to stop waring the veil, but Reza also kept the press and parliament closely obedient. Troublemakers and dissidents of died, in jail.[8]

In 1941, Reza Shah who trended toward Germany, was exiled to South Africa, by the British, and he died in 1944 there. Before he left, abdicated in favor of his son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.[9]



In twentieth-century history, Iran was shape by the oil. The oil revenues enriched the Iran. The great part of petroleum reserves discovered in 1908 and under a British concession, the Anglo-Persian(Iran) Oil Company (AIOC) was established. Persia got little from the oil deal, and Persians came the hate this rich foreign company in their midst. In 1932, Reza Shah terminated the profit status, and the petroleum patent of British was renewed.

In the early 1950s, Iranians who against foreign influence began to gather around the radical nationalist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. Under influence Mossadegh, it has taken important steps on the nationalization of oil revenues. With support from Iranian nationalist, liberals, and leftist, Mossadegh nationalized AIOC holdings, and Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi fled the Iran, in 1953. However, the Shah was brought to power by a military coup with the support of the CIA and Britain, and dissident facade weakened and banned the works.[10]



After 1953 Coup, Mohammed Reza Shah took steps absolutize the direction of the personal management, with received support from USA. Firstly, The Shah became stronger against parliament with constitutional amendments. Then, he strengthened the sovereignty on politic and economic structures. Behind, the Shah launched an ambitious development projects. However, oil revenues are deemed inadequate, and asked for help from the United States.Kennedy government wanted to make some reforms –especially on making land reform and the liberalization of political life- fromthe Shah, in Iran.[11] Resulting in those, after a while, Shah Reza announced reform package by name White Revolution. Shah wanted to develop the economy and politics that permeates all spheres of social life with the White Revolution.

White Revolution is within the framework of the modernization program of land reform as a foundation.[12] White Revolution was presented to the public with a referendum, and the referendum was approved by 95 per cent in favor of the White Revolution.

White Revolution was accepted with six articles. These substances:[13]

  • The feudal system will be removed and land reform will be done.
  • The forests will be nationalized
  • For privatization, factory shares to go on sale removed
  • Workers share receivables from the income derived from manufacturing and industrial plants
  • Election reform will be held
  • Education to be made compulsory and literacy mobilization to be announced

The aim of the White Revolution which bring Iran to a secular and modern society from based on tribal and religious society. In relation to that, some arrangements have been made in social life such as Women’s suffrage and nationalization of industry. However, the main subject of the revolution “land reform” formed the basis of the turmoil in Iran. [14]

Shah, the religious ulema and develop programs to reduce the social activity and has tried to reduce the importance of Islamic education.These policies have angered the religious sector. Besides, the main problem seen in bureaucratic decay. Abandoned merit in the government bureaucracy was appointed the head of the faithful to the regime but not eligible. Corruption, bribery, nepotism, fraud, nepotism practices were widespread.With the decisions of prosecutors and judges of the pro-regime, the society was shaken confidence in the state and justice.[15]



In this period, spiritual leader Khomeini animadverted to criticize the government as dissidents. After the Women’s suffrage, Shah has been accused of violating the constitution by the religion ulema and landowners. Khomeini was arrested who accused the Shah with promote to “Westernization” disease, makebenefits available to foreign economic resources of the country. After a brief detention, Khomeini was exiled, in 1964.

At the end of 1970s, due to the economic crisis and repressive and authoritarian attitudes, the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi faced with international pressure. Therefore, the Shah went the way of partially liberalization, released many political prisoners, and dismissedAmir Hoveyda who was prime minister for 11 years. While partial liberalization of the political environment, intellectuals began clearly to enter into political activity and political parties re-emerged.[16]

The Iranian Revolution is an example of the effects of mass media on political revolutions.Khomeini was following the developments in exile, in Iraq and France. In a Paris suburb, from which his recorded messages were telephoned to cassette recorders in Iran to be duplicated and distributed through mosques nationwide. Cheap cassettes bypassed the Shah’s control of Iran’s media and helped bring him down. [17]This aspect, the Iranian Revolution is called “Cassette Revolution”.

Demonstrations began in January 1978, it has spread to almost all countries until August. Khomeini who was in exile issued a message that the purpose of the scramble is establish an Islamic Republic instead destruction of the Shah’s regime and the monarchy system.On Khomeini’s message, events in Iran would regain speed, andmartial law was declared in the country.

The demonstrations and strikes had caused great harm to the national economy. By late 1978, the Shah, facing huge demonstrations and dying of cancer, was finished. Shooting into the crowds of protesters just made them angrier. The ancient Persian game of chess ends with checkmate, a corruption of the Farsi shah mat (“the king is trapped”). On January 16, 1979, the last Pahlavi left Iran. Shah mat.[18]

Iran officially became the Islamic Republic in the April 1, 1979. The country approved that a theocratic constitution and Khomeini as a country’s supreme leader.

The Iranian Revolution led to end of established the monarchy.From this point of being anti-monarchy it is natural.However, unlike other monarchy against revolution or movement, Iranian revolutionaries turned it into a doctrine in Islam this feature, and the fact that the anti-monarchy Islamic political understanding, so they propagandized the need to end the monarchy management in the Islamic world.This propaganda is a major concern, especially in the Gulf Arab monarchy and form the background of the tension lasted until today.[19]



During the Revolution, the Iranian people wanted only one thing: the overthrow of the Shah.This objective was supported by the great part of Iranian; liberals, leftists, secularists, Islamists, students, workers. There were two major forces behind the 1979 revolution: first one is secular intellectuals who want democracy, and another is Islamists who want theocracy. They occurred the revolution which want. After the revolution, there was a distinction between the two forces. Islamist who are population more than prevailed to secular intellectuals.

On the one hand, because of the religious repression and theocracy Liberals criticize the Islamists. On the other hand, Islamist power suppress tothe critiques and the dissents, in Iran. The rigorous management on the liberals and other parts of society requires liberalization policies, in Iran. In this regarded, especially, Arab Spring had a significant impact on Iran.United States to lift its embargo on Iran is an indication of Westwardly of Iran.



  • Roskin, Michael G., Countries and Concepts, Politics, Geography, Culture, eight edition.
  • Sinkaya, Bayram, ‘İran İslam Cumhuriyeti’ndeSiyasalYapıveYönetim’, OrtadoğuSiyasetinde İran, (ed. Şahin, Mehmet – Yılmaz, Türel), 2011.
  • Gündoğan, Ünal, GeçmiştenBugüne İran İslam Devrimi: GenelDeğerlendirme, OrtadoğuAnaliz, May 2011, Volume 3, issue 29.
  • Yegin, Abdullah, İran SiyasetiniAnlamaKılavuzu, SETA, 2013.
  • Yılmaz, Türel, UluslararasıPolitikadaOrtaDoğu, (Ankara: Akçağ, 2004)


[1] Michael G. Roskin, CountriesandConcepts, Politics, Geography, Culture, p. 520.

[2]Roskin, p, 520.

[3]Roskin, p. 521

[4]Abdullah Yegin, İran Siyasetini Anlama Kılavuzu, SETA, 2013, p. 26.

[5]Roskin, p. 521

[6]Roskin, p. 521

[7]Roskin, p. 521

[8]Roskin, p. 522.

[9]Roskin, p. 523.

[10]Yegin, p. 24.

[11]Yegin, p. 13.

[12]Ünal Gündoğan,‘Geçmişten Bugüne İran İslam Devrimi: Genel Değerlendirme’, Ortadoğu Analiz, May 2011, Volume 3, issue 29, p. 96.

[13] Türel Yılmaz, Uluslararası Politikada Orta Doğu, (Ankara: Akçağ, 2004), p. 246.

[14]Yilmaz, p. 246.

[15] Gündoğan, p. 96.

[16]Sinkaya, Bayram, ‘İran İslam Cumhuriyeti’nde Siyasal Yapı ve Yönetim’, Ortadoğu Siyasetinde İran, (ed. Şahin, Mehmet – Yılmaz, Türel), 2011, p. 15.

[17]Roskin, p. 525.

[18]Roskin, p. 525.

[19] Gündoğan,  p. 98.

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