Chapter 118 - Dust in the Wind: Revolution Comes to Iran
September 16th, 1978; A student-led protest near the campus of the University of Tehran turns violent when soldiers called in to assist police in “containing” the event misinterpret their orders and open fire. The event, which resulted in the deaths of more than a hundred opposition protesters, would come to be known as Black Saturday, and marked a major turning point in the developing revolution.
“Now, don't hang on
Nothing last forever but the earth and sky
It slips away
And all your money won't another minute buy
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind”
- Kansas, “Dust in the Wind”
“Let me tell you quite bluntly that this King business has given me personally nothing but headaches.”
- Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, final Shah of Iran
“Government shall belong to human beings, not to priests or to God. Mankind can rule over itself by its own laws, however not made by a single person, but by the whole nation.”
- Mehdi Bazargan, first Prime Minister of the new Democratic Republic of Iran
It has been said that Rome was not built in a day. Nor did it topple in one. The same may be said of the Revolution that rocked Iran in the late 1970’s. The Iranian monarchy, which had, in some form or another, endured, relatively unabated for more than 2,500 years, the longest continuous tradition of its kind in the world, met its end when a nation, enraged at the ceaseless incompetence of their King, rose up, and demanded a change.
The nation, and the world, would never be the same.
The Revolution’s seeds were, arguably planted decades before, when in 1953, the United States and United Kingdom, then under the governance of the Eisenhower Administration and Churchill premiership, respectively, orchestrated a coup d’etat against the democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. Mosaddegh, a leading champion of secular democracy and fierce opponent of foreign domination over his country, had sought to audit the documents of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), a British corporation, and to limit the UK’s control of Iranian oil reserves. AIOC refused to cooperate with the audit. As a result, the Iranian parliament voted to nationalize the oil industry, and to expel all foreign corporate-representatives from the country. Though then-British Prime Minister Clement Attlee favored economic means of attempting to strike back at Iran for this decision, his successor, Winston Churchill, was more of an old-school imperialist. Thus, he favored a more direct approach.
Churchill contacted the incoming American President, his old comrade from World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and asked him if the United States would support a British attempt to back a military coup in Iran. Eisenhower’s own predecessor, Harry S. Truman had opposed a coup, fearful of the precedent that it could set for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to be so involved in foreign affairs. Eisenhower, for all his posturing about fearing the military-industrial complex, had no such fears. He gave his assent to Churchill and plans were laid.
Despite President Truman’s previous promises to Mosaddegh that the US would support his government against British economic imperialism, the coup took place from August 15th-19th, 1953. The CIA and MI-6 hired fearsome local criminals to stage pro-Shah protests following the coup. Mosaddegh himself was arrested, and would later be convicted of treason by the Shah’s military court, sentenced to three years in prison, and would spend the rest of his life under house arrest. Hundreds more of Mosaddegh’s supporters were arrested and tried in similar ways, with several even being sentenced to death. Between two and three hundred more civilians were killed in the violence that resulted from the “protests” and the military crackdown. In its wake, General Fazlollah Zahedi handed the reins of absolute power over to the Shah. Democracy in Iran was, effectively, dead.
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, shortly after his assumption of near-absolute power in 1953.
In the years and decades following the coup, the Shah increasingly relied on the West, and especially the United States, to maintain his grip on power.
Pahlavi was, as has previously been discussed in this chronicle, a deeply flawed individual. His turbulent and often loveless personal life was, according to some historians, a constant source of anguish for him. The Shah would, in his book, Mission for a Modern Iran, describe his father, Reza Khan, as “one of the most terrifying men” he had ever known. According to the future Shah, Khan was a dominating man with a violent temper. When Khan was a young man, serving in the elite cossack brigade of the Russian army, he was well-known for kicking his subordinates in the groin when they failed to follow orders. Khan later came to believe that if fathers demonstrated love for their sons, it would cause homosexuality later on in the son’s life. As a result, Khan was cold, cruel, and distant with Mohammad, refusing to show him even a hint of affection. Khan insisted that his son call him “sir”, and nothing else. Some historians believe that this upbringing left the future Shah a deeply scarred and insecure boy who lacked self-confidence and developed an inferiority complex. An admirer of Adolf Hitler during the 1930s and 40s, Khan deeply believed that history was written by “great men” who “seized the reins of power”. He impressed upon the young prince that the only “true” leader was an autocrat.
The Prince’s mother, Tadj ol-Molouk was assertive, but deeply superstitious. She believed that dreams were “messages from another world” and that the sacrifice of lambs would bring good fortune and repel evil spirits. She made protective amulets for her children to wear, and doted on them constantly. Mohammad Reza’s mother became his sole source of emotional support and comfort in his youth. While their close relationship was certainly a comfort to the young prince, his mother also spoiled him, typical for the customs of the time, which held male children to be preferential to female ones. The sum result of Pahlavi’s upbringing and subsequent education was, in the words of American psychologist Marvin Zonis: “the growth of a man [The Shah] of low self-esteem who masked his lack of self-confidence, his indecisiveness, his passivity, his dependency, and his shyness with masculine bravado, impulsiveness, and arrogance.” This temperament did not improve much with age and experience.
In 1939, then-Crown Prince Mohammad Reza married Princess Fawzia of Egypt at a splendid ceremony in Abdeen Palace in Cairo. The union produced one child, a daughter, Princess Shahnaz Pahlavi, in October of 1940. The marriage was not a happy one, however, nor would it last. The Crown Prince was openly unfaithful. On multiple occasions, he was photographed by the press driving around Tehran in his expensive automobiles with one of his mistresses or another. Worse, the Crown Prince’s mother continued to act possessively toward him, seeing Fawzia as a rival for her son’s love and affection. A shy, quiet woman, Fawzia could put up little defense against these petty schemes. This was especially so given that her husband almost always sided with his mother. The couple divorced in 1947, by which time Fawzia had already returned home to Egypt, and Mohammad Reza was already on his way to his second marriage.
In the interim, during the Second World War, an allied Anglo-Soviet force invaded and occupied Iran under the pretext of removing German influence from the region. Reza Khan was forced to abdicate the throne and flee into exile, where he would spend the rest of his life. Mohammad Reza, at the age of only 23, was to become the Shah of Iran. The young King had mixed feelings about this turn of events. On the one hand, he had come to see his father as brutish and unsubtle as a leader, and was ready to take on command of his nation himself. On the other hand, he was humiliated that the Iranian army, which his father had spent his entire life modernizing and improving, had been so swiftly defeated by the Anglo-Soviet forces. After attaining full power following the 1953 coup, Mohammad Reza set himself to continuing his father’s work of modernization and westernization, though he also employed authoritarian methods and made himself the center of political life in Iran.
A second marriage, to Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiary, a half-German, half-Iranian woman (and the only daughter of the Iranian Ambassador to West Germany) began in February of 1951, but ended seven years later when it became clear that even with medical intervention, Soraya could not bear children.
Though it was said that the Shah was heavy-hearted about the decision to divorce, he swiftly remarried for the third and final time. This time, his bride was Farah Diba, daughter of an Iranian Army captain (and granddaughter of an ambassador to the Romanov Court of Imperial Russia). Following their marriage in 1959, the Shah and Shahbanu (Empress, a title created for Farah in 1967), would have four children together: Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi; Princess Farahnaz; Prince Ali Reza; and Princess Leila. And though the Shah and Farah were quite happy together, sharing a mutual love of cinema (though he liked light French comedies and Hollywood action flicks more than she would have liked), the Shah nonetheless continued his rampant philandery throughout their marriage. While his personal life was full of indiscretions, the Shah’s Imperial court at Tehran was noted by some for being open and tolerant. Two of Pahlavi and Farah’s favorite interior designers, Keyvan Khosravani and Bijan Saffari, were openly gay, and were not discriminated against due to their sexual orientation.
Politically, Pahlavi remained just as complicated. In foreign affairs, he was thrilled by the conclusion of the Kennedy Administration in 1969. The Shah’s relationship with JFK and especially his brother, Bobby Kennedy, was notoriously rocky. He was thus overjoyed when Kennedy’s successor, Republican George Romney, appointed the Shah’s old friend Richard M. Nixon as Secretary of State. While Pahlavi enjoyed “firm friendship” with his American counterparts throughout the Romney and Bush years, the election of Morris Udall, another Democrat, in 1976, presented a fresh wave of anxiety in the Iranian monarch. Pahlavi was unsure of what to think of the new President. Though Udall’s politics were far too much like Kennedy’s had been for the Shah’s taste, Udall’s 6’5” frame, the tallest of any U.S. President in history, was enough for the Shah to take him seriously. The two got off to a promising start when Pahlavi was one of the first world leaders to call Udall and congratulate him on his electoral victory. Soon however, the Shah’s attention would be wrestled firmly back to his own country. There, his “White Revolution” of land reform was about to become a whole lot less bloodless.
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran (left); Mo Udall (D - AZ), 38th President of the United States of America.
Beginning in 1963, the “White Revolution” had been a far-reaching series of reforms which sought land reform (namely, the purchase and transference of land from the aristocracy to the commoners); the sale of some state-owned factories to pay for the land reform; the enfranchisement of women; nationalization of forests and pastures; the formation of a literacy corps; and the introduction of profit-sharing schemes for laborers in industry. While the Shah hoped that these changes would legitimize his dynasty in the eyes of everyday Iranians whilst simultaneously weakening the aristocracy, he did not expect that the reforms would also create social tensions that would ultimately prove to be his undoing. The Shah’s reforms more than tripled the size of the two classes that had traditionally been most adamant in their opposition to the monarchy - academics and the urban working class. These groups felt even further resentment toward the Shah when he disbanded groups and organizations that had traditionally represented them in the past, including independent newspapers, political parties, and trade unions. The land reform, rather than turning the commoners into loyal allies of the government, instead created a horde of independent farmers and landless laborers. These laborers, whose material conditions were little changed by the reforms, became political loose cannons, being increasingly attracted to and recruited by extremist groups. Rather than trickling down, as the Shah had once promised the Kennedy brothers that it would, Iran’s oil wealth remained fixed, held and enjoyed by a very small number of hands at elite levels of Iranian business and government. Jobs were not created. Prosperity was not held in common. When the economy took a turn in the mid to late 70s, blame fell almost squarely on the shoulders of the Shah. He was, in effect, hammering the nails in his own coffin.
Worse, because of increased demand from the first world, Iran experienced an “oil boom” throughout the 1970s. Due to corruption and mismanagement by the Shah’s government, this potential opportunity was squandered. Prosperity remained elusive. Inflation spiked at an alarming rate. An accelerating gap between the rich and poor turned Iran into an increasingly divided society. Many Iranians were also infuriated by the fact that the Shah and his family were among the foremost beneficiaries of the country’s newfound wealth. By 1976, the Royal Family was hoarding more than $3 Billion (US) in oil revenue. At the same time, the Shah’s government began the following year by introducing harsh austerity measures to fight the rampant inflation. Once again, these policies disproportionately affected the poor and working class. Many of the unemployed or underemployed male migrant workers became the first vocal, public critics of the regime. They were swiftly joined by merchants, who were targeted for “setting high prices” by the policies of the Shah’s newly formed political party, Hezb-e Rastakhiz. All Iranians were forced to join and pay dues to this party, and all other political parties were banned. This only served to politicize small business owners and led to an explosion in black markets across the country.
That same year, 1977, the new American President, Mo Udall, gave the Shah a “friendly reminder” of the importance of freedom of speech and other political rights. Pahlavi responded by granting amnesty to a handful of prisoners and allowing the international Red Cross to visit his state prisons. Throughout that year, liberal organizations formed a fledgling opposition, and issued open letters denouncing the government. Intellectuals, during readings of Iranian literature and other academic events, called for an end to censorship and restrictions on free expression. Led by the leftist intellectual Saeed Soltanpour, the Iranian Writers’ Association met at the Goethe Institute in Tehran to read anti-government poetry, which they broadcast on short-wave radios and printed on flyers, which were then distributed throughout the city. Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, an attempt was made on the life of Ali Shariati, a sociologist and leading critic of the Shah’s regime. Though Shariati narrowly survived the assassination attempt, public outcry in response was swift and fierce. The attempt, blamed on the SAVAK, the state’s secret police, was linked to the October, 1975 death of Ruhollah Khomeini, and seemed to demonstrate a clear pattern to the people of Iran: the Shah’s gestures toward free expression were only a facade. True criticism of the government would result in your “elimination” by the secret police. Following his recovery, Shariati joined Mostafa Khomeini, Ruhollah’s eldest son and another Muslim cleric, in condemning the Shah’s regime and calling for its overthrow, through violence if necessary.
Ali Shariati (left) and Mostafa Khomeini (right), two of the most prominent leaders of the Islamist/Conservative wing of the Revolution.
Beginning with the coming of the new year, protests led by young working class men and college students broke out in Tehran and other major cities across the country. The largest of these was on February 18th, 1978, in Tabriz, where a full-scale riot broke out. Movie theaters, bars, state-owned banks, police stations, and other so-called “Western” symbols were set ablaze by the enraged rioters. Units of the Imperial Iranian Army were deployed to restore order, resulting in a disputed death toll. While the Shah’s government claimed that only six perished, Shariati and Khomeini claimed that as many as “hundreds” were “martyred by the state”.
Forty days later, on March 29th, demonstrations were organized and carried out in at least fifty-five cities, including the capital of Tehran. In what became a tragically predictable pattern, the Army would deploy units to “quell rioting” in the cities, only to engage in firefights with unarmed protesters, killing dozens and further draining popular support for the Shah’s regime.
Completely caught off guard by the protests, the Shah displayed his oft-observed trait for indecisive leadership during this time of approaching crisis. Many of the decisions he did finally make would only make things worse as the year dragged on. While Pahlavi did attempt to press on with his liberalization plans, many Iranians found this to be a hollow gesture, far too little, too late. Pahlavi also attempted to negotiate with the still mostly peaceful protest movement, rather than employ overt force. Promises were made. Compromises reached. In addition to vowing to hold democratic elections the following year (1979), the Shah ordered that censorship laws be loosened, and a resolution be passed in the mostly for-show parliament that government corruption would be investigated and prosecuted, to try and help combat the economic issues facing the people. Protesters were tried in civilian, rather than military courts, and most were swiftly released after their arrests. While these overtures might have shown the more moderate elements of the opposition that the Shah was at least willing to meet them in the middle, Pahlavi did little to prepare his security apparatus if the radicals were not swayed. Police throughout the country were not trained in riot control tactics, meaning that the army needed to be called in to quell riots whenever they broke out, which was increasingly often. And while the Shah gave strict orders to the army to employ non-lethal force in breaking up riots, these orders were not always possible to carry out. For starters, the United States, under President Udall, refused to sell rubber bullets, tear gas, and other “non-lethal” equipment to the Iranian Army, under the (correct) assumption that they would be used on the Iranian people. Worse, inexperienced and poorly trained soldiers often cracked under the psychological pressure of combat situations and acted against the orders anyway. Instances such as these accounted for many of the tragic, deadly confrontations between the army and protesters as the Revolution gained steam.
Besides the conservative, Islamist forces rallying behind Ali Shariati and the younger Mostafa Khomeini, the opposition was, broadly, made up of a diverse range of ideological groups. The Freedom Movement of Iran, led by Mehdi Bazargan, and the National Front, led by Shapour Bakhtiar, generally called for a centre-left blend of liberalism and social democracy, though most of their supporters still advocated a thorough rewriting of the country’s constitution, if not the outright abolition of the monarchy. There was Hussein-Ali Montazeri, another leading theologian and writer, who argued that while Iran should become an “Islamic state”, this new prospective government must insist on democracy and equal treatment of women and minorities under the law. While the various factions comprising the opposition held different political beliefs and even objectives, they were generally united in their desire for an end to the current Shah’s reign. Under the new liberalization program, Bazargan, Bakhtiar, and Montazeri were able to publish an open letter, calling on the Shah to either govern the country in accordance with the Iranian Constitution, or abdicate the throne. The letter was widely published in a number of independent newspapers, and attracted much attention in the western press.
Mehdi Bazargan (left); Shapour Bakhtiar (center); Hussein-Ali Montazeri (right); three leaders of the democratic opposition to the Shah in the Summer of 1978. Jointly, these three men published an open letter calling on Pahlavi to either “govern according to the constitution of Iran” or abdicate.
Once again, the Shah responded to this development poorly. By July, the protests were really catching fire, with the number of protesters ballooning into the hundreds of thousands. The Amuzegar cabinet, under direction from the Shah, cut government spending to try and combat inflation. This resulted in a fresh wave of layoffs and even further unemployment across the country, only further increasing the number of jobless men taking to the streets. A wave of politically-motivated violence and terrorism swept the country. In what would be, at the time, the largest terrorist attack in history, more than four hundred people were trapped inside of a movie theater in the southwestern city of Abadan which was then set on fire. While it is unclear who started the cinema fire, Mostafa Khomeini and his supporters pinned the attack on the Shah and his secret police. The fervor against his rule continued to grow.
On the 16th of September, tensions reached a boiling point.
A student-led protest at the University of Tehran spiralled out of control when soldiers who had been called in by local police to quell violence between different factions of protesters misinterpreted their orders and opened fire on the crowd. In the confusion that followed, sixty protesters and at least twenty-two soldiers were killed. The massacre sparked retaliatory attacks across not just the capital that day, but the whole country. Before the day was done, more than a hundred civilians lay dead. The event, which came to be known as “Black Saturday”, marked a turning point in the revolution. Though the Shah was horrified by the events of that day, and denounced the actions of his soldiers in the strongest possible terms, there was little that he could do or sway to soften the public’s perception of him. Most Iranians blamed him for being behind the massacre, even if only indirectly.
The following Monday, the 18th, more than seven hundred workers at Tehran’s main oil refinery went on strike. Two days later, the same occurred at refineries in five other cities across the country. On the 21st, bureaucrats and other government workers went on strike in solidarity. By the end of the month, a general strike had broken out across the country. Workers in virtually all major industries walked off their job sites, refusing to work. The pain was at its worst in the oil and print industries, though nearly every workplace was affected in some way. It was the largest such strike in the country’s history. The strikers had but one universal demand: the Shah needed to go. Pahlavi once more tried to deflect. He refused to use force to break up the strike, but also refused to abdicate. Instead, he offered the strikers generous wage increases, and allowed striking workers who lived in government housing to continue to dwell in their homes. The strikers wouldn’t budge. As the strike continued on into October, the Shah came under increasing pressure from high-ranking officials in both his government and the military to employ violence against the strikers.
In a rare moment of humility, the Shah, utterly lost as to what to do, turned to the good natured (not to mention tall) American President Udall and his Secretary of State, George Ball. Despite a protesting report from the CIA that “there is no evidence that any kind of revolution will occur in Iran”, Ball, who listened closely to his ambassador and other diplomats on the ground in Tehran, urged the Shah, in the strongest possible terms, to summon the leaders of the various opposition factions to the Palace to negotiate and oversee a new constitutional convention. The Shah was hesitant. He knew that any convention would immediately call for his abdication. How could he abandon his throne, the one he had worked so hard to protect? His people, his country needed him. It needed a strong leader! That’s what his father would have said, isn’t it? More than anything, he feared spending the rest of his life in the humiliation of exile, as his father had. He wanted to be better than that, stronger. But he was running out of road to run on.
Ball argued that the Shah was being faced with a rather simple choice. He could either remain in power, and push his people ever closer to the brink of truly violent revolution, where he would ultimately have no control over its outcome whatsoever. Or, he could stand aside, and hope to maintain the existence of the monarchy, even in a completely ceremonial role, for his son, and the future of his bloodline. Using the example of George Washington, Ball explained to the Shah that he could be the father his country needs, that sometimes the strongest leaders are the ones that know when the time has come for them to step away. Humiliated, but begrudgingly accepting this assessment, the Shah agreed.
George Ball, American Secretary of State who convinced the Shah to call for a new constitutional convention. Historians would later credit this move with preventing the violent overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran.
On the morning of November 5th, 1978, the Shah officially reached out to the National Front, the Iranian Freedom Movement, and the various Islamist parties and organizations. The cable, sent from the Imperial Palace, was short, but cordial. It invited each group to send delegates in a month’s time, just after the start of the new year on the Muslim calendar, to “amend, to any necessary degree” the constitution of the Imperial State of Iran. The Opposition leaders would be free to name their own leaders, as well as to establish the procedures of the convention. The only role that the Shah would play would be a ceremonial one, to lend his credibility and prestige to the proceedings. Meanwhile, Shapour Bakhtiar, head of the National Front, was named interim Prime Minister. Pahlavi believed that Bakhtiar, who had fought in the Spanish Civil War against Fascist troops under Franco, and again in World War II for the French Foreign Legion, was a popular, liberal democrat whom most Iranians would trust to lead the government until the new constitution could be hammered out. The Shah also privately informed Bakhtiar, Bazargan, and Montazeri that he was “open” to abdicating in favor of his son, the Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, who was newly eighteen, a cadet of the Imperial Iranian Air Force, and currently in the United States training to become a fighter pilot. Pahlavi insisted however, that this only be considered if “all other options had been absolutely ruled out”.
The constitutional convention, which was notably attended by Ali Shariati, but not Mostafa Khomeini (who refused any and all negotiation with the monarchy), began on December 4th. Though the Shah had hoped, in vain, that the convention might be swayed by his gestures of goodwill, it was clear that the opposition had grown tired of his constant broken promises. The first motion carried by the convention declared that while the convention would entertain the idea of maintaining the monarchy in a strictly ceremonial role (ala the United Kingdom), it would also require the Shah to be “utterly removed” from the deliberations. Pahlavi reluctantly agreed, sending Farah and their other children on a vacation to Morocco in case the negotiations turned sour. Blessedly, in the end, they did not.
The general strike ended. For the time being at least, the workers agreed to return to their jobs. Meanwhile, in Tehran, the disparate factions struggled to determine what sort of nation Iran should be as it neared the end of the twentieth century. Moderates like Bakhtiar wanted to maintain the monarchy, albeit in a more ceremonial role. The National Front presented a plan that would amend the constitution to empower parliament and the position of prime minister. Islamist and conservative delegates quickly denounced this, however, with some claiming that Bakhtiar was only proposing such a plan to benefit himself, as he was serving as prime minister at the time. Shariati and his supporters demanded that the monarchy be abolished and the nation declared a “democratic islamic republic”, one in which Islamic clerics would play a large role in judicial review. Montazeri and his backers were in line with this, though they also wanted a bill of rights for women, and the enshrinement of freedom of speech. There were also socialists and other left-wing groups, who had piled into the convention, and organized demonstrations in the streets to try and swing the conversations their way. Some within the convention believed these to be backed by the Soviet Union, though this was never proven. In any case, these mutually incompatible visions for Iran nearly caused the convention to deadlock. For five grueling months, deliberations were had, arguments heard, and speculation throughout the world aroused. It was not until April of the following year, 1979, that a compromise was struck by Montazeri and Bazargan.
Its main points can be summarized thus:
- Iran would cease to be an Imperial State. It would become a Democratic Republic.
- The Monarchy was to be abolished.
- Officially, the country would be renamed “the Democratic Republic of Iran”.
- Pillars of the new constitution would include:
- Enforcement of Iran’s national and economic sovereignty
- Freedom of political activity and expression
- Social justice under a moderate interpretation of Islam
- Respect for the new constitution by the head of state and head of government; as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Charter of the United Nations.
- Separation of church and state.
- A President, elected every six years, would serve as head of state.
- A Prime Minister, leader of the largest party or coalition in parliament, would serve as head of government.
Though the agreement found widespread acceptance amongst the delegates, it horrified the Shah. He felt betrayed by the convention, which he was certain would, at the very least, protect the monarchy, even if his powers were to be vastly reduced. Still, he knew he could not publicly denounce the convention’s decisions. Such a move would surely reignite the violence. The people voted to approve the new constitution in a referendum held on April 1st, sealing the monarch’s fate. Shortly after the referendum, the United States, Soviet Union, and other nations around the world recognized the opposition and began to establish diplomatic ties.
Some high-ranking officers of the Imperial Army offered to instigate a coup, to try and better secure the monarchy’s position, but Pahlavi realized that the writing was on the wall. Such a move would practically leave him a prisoner in his own palace. As soon as he left the country for a trip abroad, his government would be swarmed by dissidents. He could very well spark a civil war. Overtures to the CIA were likewise fruitless. The Udall Administration was not going to prop up an unwanted autocrat. Finally, Pahlavi caved, and decided to allow the constitution to go through. By the end of the year, the Shah would abdicate, ending his reign, and more than 2,500 years of monarchy in Persia along with it. Pahlavi would, like his father, spend the remainder of his life in exile, eventually passing away of chronic lymphocytic leukemia in Cairo, Egypt, in 1980.
In the fall, as the new constitution fully took effect, the Iranian people would go to the polls to elect their first fully democratic government. As it happened, a coalition of parties, mostly centre-left-leaning, with a pronounced conservative and islamist opposition, was swept into power. Mehdi Bazargan, the man who had once served as the first head of Tehran’s Engineering Department, would be the new country’s first Prime Minister. The Ayatollah Montazeri, widely considered to be the most knowledgeable senior Islamic scholar in Iran, and a grand marja of Shia Islam, would serve as its first President. Though the new Republic would face a myriad of issues, both foreign and domestic in the years that followed, for the time being at least, it appeared that the people of Iran had finally rid themselves of an ineffective ruler and outdated system of government, without giving way to extremism on either side.
Only time would tell if such an arrangement could last, however.
Ayatollah Montazeri (left) and Mehdi Bazargan (right), first President and Prime Minister, respectively of the Democratic Republic of Iran.
Next Time on Blue Skies in Camelot: More Events from 1978