Why the Iranian Scenario Failed in Egypt? – Part Two

Anti-Shah demonstrators, marching near a shopping street in Tehran, Dec. 27, 1978.

— By Alexandra Kinias —-

Leaving behind the unrest that had erupted a year earlier by the anti-royalists and had spread to every corner of Iran, Mohamed Reza Pahlavi, who was then diagnosed with cancer, fled Tehran with his family. He and his family arrived to Aswan, Egypt; the first stop on their journey to exile. The departure of the Shah from Iran ended the rule of the Pahlavi Dynasty that had started in 1926 with the coronation of his father Reza Khan after he deposed of Ahmed Shah Qajar, the last Shah of the Qajar dynasty in 1925. In less than two decades after his coronation, Reza Pahlavi alienated his government and the people of Iran. His rule was brutal and he eliminated not just his opponents, but also his allies if he suspected their disloyalties.

The Anglo-Russian invasion of Iran in 1941 forced Reza Shah to abdicate the throne in in favor of his son Mohamed Reza. He went to exile to South Africa where he died in 1944. Mohamed Reza was coronated as the new Shah at the age of 22. The young Shah followed in the footsteps of his father. A failed assassination attempt on his life in 1949 caused strife, unrest, and demonstrations which resulted in imposing martial law.[1]

Under the tyranny of the Shah’s rule, Iranians lived a very difficult life for four decades. The dramatic saga of the Pahlavi Dynasty was filled with perpetual episodes of turmoil and turbulence. The Shah tightened his grip on power and maintained stability by repressing, torturing and executing the dissidents and opposition. Candidates in the government were selected based on their support, loyalty and obedience to the Shah, and so were the members of the religious council. However, in time even the religious clerics became hostile to the ruler and his regime. SAVAK (The Iranian Security Agency) grew in power and efficiency in hunting down all oppositions and it became the symbol of brutality.

In 1963 the stardom of Ayatollah Rouhalla Khomeini, the young preacher from Qom, was raised. In his sermons, Khomeini attacked the corrupted government of the Shah and its failure to provide to the poor and needy and its allegiance to the US on account of losing the Iranian sovereignty.[2] SAVAK raided the madrassah where Khomeini preached and he was arrested. After his release he persisted on attacking the government. Upon his second arrest, demonstrations erupted in Tehran and other major cities and lasted for many days. Martial law was imposed and the army troops took the streets to reinstate law and order. Hundreds of protesters were killed in these events.[3]

His eloquence, intellect and shrewdness in addressing political issues and avoiding the ones that created political division, eventually elevated him to the rank of a national leader that attracted even the liberal opposition. Khomeni was arrested and released multiple times before he was sent to exile in 1964. These events that led to his exile made him the leading political figure opposed to the Shah.[4]

After Khomeni’s exile, SAVAK brutality soared. Activists were thrown in jail, tortured and executed. The media and press were controlled and censored, and elections were rigged. In 1975 Amnesty International pronounced the Shah’s government to be one of the world’s worst violators of human rights.

While the economy improved because of the soaring oil prices, the Shah had no political vision or plan for reform. His short term solution to achieve political stability, until the country prospered under his economic policies was the repression, torture or execution of the dissidents. He believed that only the economic reforms would secure his rule. However, his policies proved to be a failure and in time the monarchy became more remote and disconnected from the needs of the people.

While on exile, Khomeni’s speeches and messages criticizing the regime were recorded on cassette tapes and smuggled into Iran for everyone to hear. He developed his theory of opposition and wrote a book about his vision of an Islamic government. [5]

Having succeeded to alienate almost all sectors of the society, the Shah’s popularity plummeted and by 1977 it reached its worse state. In January of 1978 an article published in a newspaper attacking Khomeni was widely disapproved and created an upheaval in his home town of Qom. Thousands of students demonstrated demanding an apology to Khomeni and an end to his exile. Clashes between the police and the students resulted in several deaths of students. And from his exile in Paris, Khomeni praised the courage of the students and called for more demonstrations.[6]

In an escalation of events, more demonstrations erupted in cities across Iran and more students were shot dead. The numbers of demonstrators augmented and the violence intensified. The army took control of the streets. Tanks and helicopters intervened to disperse the demonstrations and as the streets got bloodier, the voices that demanded that the Shah should grew louder.

By then all opposition groups stood in support of Khomeni. With more desertion from the army, the demonstrations were no longer controllable. And as his health deteriorated, the Shah lost control.On June 16, 1979, the Shah and his family left Tehran for Egypt, the first stop in his journey to exile. In two weeks after his departure, Khomeni returned to Tehran on February 1, 1979, and a new Iran was born ….

To be continued …..

[1] Michael Axworthy, A History of Iran, Empire of the mind,235
[2] Baqer Moin, Khomeini: Life of the Ayatollah, 31
[3] Michael Axworthy, A History of Iran, Empire of the mind,243
[4] ibid,245
[5] ibid,252
[6] ibid,256

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