Page last updated at 18:16 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Recalling Iran's diverse revolution

By Jamshid Barzegar
BBC Persian

Anti-Shah demonstration in Tehran
All strands of revolutionary support were united under the banner of Islam

The dynamic alliance of various socio-political groups prior to the Iranian Revolution of 1979 has always intrigued analysts.

The colourful patchwork of leftists, communists, nationalists and Islamists, all united to mark an epoch-changing development in Iranian modern history, has prompted so many questions and analyses.

"Before the revolution, all factions took part in the anti-Shah movement with one single objective, echoed in their main slogans 'Independence, Freedom, and the Islamic Republic' and 'Neither the East, Nor the West, but the Islamic Republic'," says Mohammad Maleki, acting chancellor of Tehran University after the revolution.

"All of our revolutionaries, from Islamists to leftists and the less religious people, had faith in these slogans."

Farokh Negahdar, a leader of leftists, also believes a common renunciation of the Shah was a unifying bond between different groups in years leading to the revolution.

"All people had one demand: the Shah must go away and monarchy must be abolished. They all thought when the Shah is gone, Iran would become a better country," he adds.

At that time, most Iranians believed that Islam, the predominant religion of their country, was a panacea to all their ills.

Experts maintain that Ayatollah Khomeini and his aides shrewdly managed to exploit this collective feeling and commandeer the leadership of the revolution.

Freedom of expression

Mr Negahdar says Ayatollah Khomeini's supporters had a monopoly on the leadership and would not allow others to chant their own slogans in anti-Shah rallies.

Ayatollah Khomeini
Some analysts claim that Ayatollah Khomeini hijacked the revolution
"At that time, all people believed they should somehow approve the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini so that the revolution would stand a chance of victory," he adds.

Ayatollah Khomeini used to talk about freedom of expression and democracy in a way that was tantalising to secular revolutionaries.

But some analysts deny that the leadership of the revolution was hijacked by Ayatollah Khomeini.

Mohammad Borghei, a political activist, contends non-Islamists faced a fait accompli when they saw the extent of Ayatollah Khomeini's support.

"Different political groups didn't reach any kind of agreement, but as the movement initiated by Khomeini was so huge, they merely joined it without any agreement or coalition among them," he says.


After the revolution, a fresh struggle broke out among various political groups, each seeking some share of power in the new state and demanding representation in power centres.

As the theocracy started to take shape, these groups, from Marxists to nationalists, gradually changed their mind and stopped following Ayatollah Khomeini as the supreme leader.

Meanwhile, his religious followers, relying on public support for him as the true leader of the revolution, started to elbow out other factions from power.

They practically barred these non-Islamist groups from the newly-established power centres such the Supreme Council of Revolution, the militant Committees, Revolutionary Guardian Corps, ministries and parliament.

Ayatollah Khomeini declared Islam and its rules as the only common ground and the main prerequisite for any political activity.

Relying on his charisma and high popularity, he single-handedly set guidelines for the debate about the nature of the new state and singled out "Islamic Republic" as the only option for people during the referendum.

Thus, shortly after February 1979, a variety of revolutionary groups started to defy the Islamic Republic and its figurehead Ayatollah Khomeini. This defiance sometimes burst into military skirmishes.

Less than two years after the revolution, Iranian prisons were once again brimming with political prisoners. Waves of mass executions, many summarily, followed.

This process of erasing political opposition has intensified during the last three decades and as many experts believe, it will go on to ensure the dominance of those who inherited Ayatollah Khomeini's doctrine.

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