Ever since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Iran has been viewed as an isolated, fundamentalist republic and to be fair there is a thread of truth to that belief. However, Iran is more than just that. They are a nation whose actions have had a great impact on the world stage.
Before the Iranian Revolution, Iran was under absolute monarchy, lead by the Pahlavi dynasty. The first Pahlavi came to power was Reza Khan (1878-1944), who was crowned in 1926 after deposing the previous shah of Iran, Ahmad Shah Qajar, and became Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran (though it was still called Persia at the time.
Reza Shah would change the name to Iran in 1935). Reza Shah and his son, the last shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah (1919-1980), would become well-known not only for their call and acts towards westernization and modernization of the nation, but also for their autocratic regimes.
Reza Shah was notably very dependent on his secret police force, SAVAK, to crack down on opposition or those who were critical of him and his reform. When the protests against Muhammad Reza Shah, it was out of frustration against the economic inequality and the regime.
After violent reactions from the government however, the protests became violent as well. Distaste for the shah caused the ears of many Iranians to listen to Ayatollah Khomeini, a shia cleric who was against the nation’s modernization. He was against giving women more rights, as the modernization of Iran would have brought that, but he also spoke out against the government’s election rigging, their neglect of the poor and their oil trades with Israel. He also believed that the power of a monarch was against shia belief and should be fought.
After the Shah was deposed in 1979, a referendum was held, which lead to the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The new government had a president and a prime minister but there would be a sharia law scholar who would have supreme power and the authority to overturn laws or bills passed by the elected government, making Iran theocratic.
Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran gets a lot of attention from the world. They are very well known for the troubled relations between the US and Iran. The deposed shah Mohammad Reza Shah was allowed to get cancer treatment in America by the American government, followed by the US embassy in Iran getting stormed and 60 Americans were taken hostage for 444 days. On 3 July, 1988, the USS Vincennes shoots down an Iran Air flight in the gulf, killing all 290 people.
In 2002, Bush described Iran as a part of an “axis of evil”. Than the infamous 2003-2013 presidency of the far right Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that damaged the already strained relations between the US and Iran. And the current debacle of Iran’s nuclear program. In 2002, after it was revealed that Iran was developing nuclear facilities, America accused them of planning to develop nuclear weapons, which Iran denies.
To the day I am writing this article, Iran and America still are on very shaky grounds. When the American government attempted to issue a travel ban on several countries, including Iran, there was a lot of outcry from Iran in response. Iran vowed to retaliate against this ban, such as banning Americans from entering their nation. Another nation that Iran has a strained relationship with is Israel.
Iran’s relationship with Israel is famously toxic around the world. Israel is a strong advocate for fighting Iran’s nuclear program, while Iran is one of the most outspoken critic of Israel’s presence in Palestine and have openly wished for the dissolution of the nation.
Now despite Khomeini’s beliefs on what a shia nation should be, women can vote in Iran and can serve in the government. Though that doesn’t mean Iran is a very free nation. It is still a theocratic nation whose policies made by elected officials can easily get overturned by an appointed supreme leader and have one of the highest rate of executions in the world. Change and the fight for individual rights are not lost, however.
Back in 2009, the Green Movement occurred when thousands of Iranians poured into the streets, demanding their civil rights and liberties in response to the election of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, believing that the election was rigged and illegitimate. Many of them were Iranian youth.
So while Iran isn’t exactly a model of human rights, to say it has no hope and will be forever a fundamentalist state would be premature. Iran is still a very strong nation in the region and it shows a lot of determination for rising up in the global stage.