Why was there an Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979?

Why was Muhammad Mossadeq overthrown?

1. Who was Muhammad Mossadeq and why did he want to nationalise the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company?

The Wealth needed to build Iran was leaving the country as the oil was taken by Britain.

2. What actions did the British take after the company was nationalised in 1951?

They took Iran to the world court and tried to hit Iran’s economy by blockading the gulf and halting trade and tried to persuade the US to assist with changing the regime.

3. What was Operation Ajax?

The CIA was sent to engineer it. Iran’s monarch the Shah returned to power

4. Who did the British and American intelligence services replace Mossadeq with?

The Shah, Iran’s monarch.

What factors led to the Iranian Revolution?

1. Hatred of the Shah’s Rule

  • The Shah ruled over Iran in an authoritarian way. He closed down the Iranian Parliament in 1953 and banned many popular political parties. Iran was effectively a one-party state.

  • On 8th September 1978, the Shah’s police opened fire on protestors in Tehran, killing around 100 people. This became known as Black Friday.

  • During 1978, there were huge demonstrations against the Shah. The police and army broke these up and martial law was introduced.

  • The Shah lived an extravagant lifestyle. In 1971, he spent $330 million on celebrations for the 2500th anniversary of the Persian monarchy.

  • The Shah used his secret police force, SAVAK, to arrest, imprison and torture anyone who criticized him. This created a climate of fear and repression.

2. The Role of mullahs and the Ayatollah Khomeini

  • Muslim religious leaders (mullahs) criticized the Shah and his corrupt rule during Friday prayers at mosques. One of the most popular was Ayatollah Khomeini.

  • Ayatollah Khomeini was sent into exile for criticizing the Shah. However, his writings and recordings of his speeches continued to be smuggled into Iran.

  • Ayatollah Khomeini was very charismatic and clever. He persuaded moderates and liberals to support his Islamic revolution by focusing on criticisms of the Shah rather than his desire to set up an Islamic state.

  • Many mullahs were banned from preaching and the most radical were arrested and imprisoned by SAVAK.

3. Economic Inequality in Iran

  • Although the Shah used some of the profits from oil to improve education and infrastructure, there was still a big gap between rich and poor with the Shah himself living a very luxurious life.

  • Many Iranians had a low standard of living. Most villages did not have piped water, electricity or adequate roads as most of the government’s oil wealth was spent on the Iranian military.

4. Dislike of Western Influence

  • The Shah passed a law protecting American businessmen and advisers living in Iran from being prosecuted for crimes. Many Iranians dislike this law believing that it gave favourable treatment to the Shah’s Western allies.

  • Ayatollah Khomeini made influential speeches urging Iranians to reject Western culture which he believed was un‐Islamic.

  • A group of Western oil companies agreed a deal with the Shah in which they would restart production for a 40% share of oil profits. Many Iranians hated that much of Iran's oil wealth was being taken by the West.

  • Some of the foreign films shown in Iranian cinemas had scenes of a sexual nature which offended many Muslims.

  • The Shah had a close relationship with the West, signing trade treaties with them and joining an anti‐Soviet alliance, CENTO, in 1955.