Revolution is the last resort to bring about reforms that people yearn for. Revolutions have specific historical objectives. Some, like the American Revolution, are quite successful. Others, like the Iranian Revolution of 1979, fail to secure their core objectives for a variety of complex reasons.
Iran’s 1979 revolution was in the spirit of the 1906 constitutional revolution and the 1951-53 national movement under Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq. The primary goal of the 1906 revolution was to limit the power of absolute monarchs through a change in the constitution and formation of Majlis, or the parliament. However, Reza Mirpanj, later assuming “Pahlavi” as his last name, became the main instrument for reversing the democratization process and for re-establishing absolute monarchy. Years later, due to his burgeoning alliance with Nazi Germany, the Allies removed him from power in 1941 and crowned his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
In the power vacuum that ensued Reza Shah’s departure, the Iranian people could breathe again. They organized themselves to bring about a lasting change. Most notably, the movement to nationalize oil under the leadership of Mossadeq was taking steps to reform and democratize Iranian politics. However, Mossadeq was removed through a coup d’état with the help of Britain and the U.S. What followed was 25 years of absolute cruel reign by Mohammad Reza Shah. His notorious secret police, SAVAK, was pivotal for the prevailing repression in society.
After the failed attempts of the Iranian people to reform the absolute monarchy system – variations of which colored Iran’s 2,500-year history – the 1979 revolution sought to uproot that repressive system once and for all. The revolution succeeded in putting an end to monarchy in Iran; however, it failed to achieve its second objective of bringing about lasting freedom. From this perspective, the 1979 revolution in Iran resembles the French Revolution of 1789.
Both ended the monarchy but failed to achieve the freedoms they promised. In both France and Iran, the revolutions ended with a reign of terror shortly after. Sadly, this outcome is not surprising since a reliable mechanism of transition to a free and democratic society is required. There are many prerequisites for this, including independent and democratic political parties or organizations, adequate education, and profound culture of resisting tyranny. The most important pre-requisites, however, is democratic leadership for the transition phase. But the absolute monarchs prevent these necessary institutions and conditions from taking roots in society.
Therefore, the Shah played the most pivotal role in paving the way for Khomeini to take over Iran through (a) creating explosive conditions for a revolution as a result of his refusal to deliver meaningful political and economic reforms, and (b) eliminating all democratic forces in Iran before the 1979 revolution. In addition, the Shah spared the mullahs, giving them the sufficient political space they needed to influence the outcome of the revolution in their favor. Specifically, the Shah provided the mullahs with stipends and let them expand their organizations and networks.
On the other hand, the Shah executed the founders of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and the scores of its members. He imprisoned the entirety of the MEK organization for the seven years preceding the revolution. It was only four days after the Shah was forced to flee Iran and three weeks before the fall of his regime that MEK members, including MEK leader Massoud Rajavi, were freed from prisons by the people. By then, Khomeini was riding the wave of the revolution, and his image was being “seen on the moon.”
The 1979 Revolution in #Iran sought freedom and democracy. Khomeini hijacked the revolution and drenched it in blood.
I salute the brave men and women who have risen up to liberate the country from the clutches of religious fascism. #IranProtests pic.twitter.com/Cic3C14GAB
— Maryam Rajavi (@Maryam_Rajavi) February 11, 2022
In contrast to the masses who were undeservedly deceived at the time, the MEK was well aware of Khomeini’s reactionary nature. Khomeini had garnered unrivaled political legitimacy and power not seen throughout Iran’s history. Nonetheless, the MEK led the movement for a free and democratic Iran and attempted to participate in the political process. However, not only did Khomeini deny MEK an opportunity to take part in the political process, but he also refused to even allow their political existence. For the past four decades, the MEK has made relentless efforts to keep the flames of hope and resistance burning and to bring the fundamentalist mullahs down.
The movement led by the MEK represents the genuine nature of a tolerant Islam, where women lead the movement against the misogynist mullahs, and freedom is viewed as the foundation to human nature and political life. During the 1979 revolution, Massoud Rajavi famously identified the source of failure of most revolutions in their lack of adherence to the cause of freedom as the primary objective.
Today, the protest movement in Iran, led by the rebellion units of the MEK, is paving the way for the next wave of uprisings to topple the mullahs. This movement is the continuation of the 1979 revolution to achieve freedom. Nevertheless, this movement guards the achievement of the 1979 revolution, which is the abolishment of monarchy as the longest-lasting impediment to liberty in Iran. The people of Iran have learned from the experiences of the French Revolution, which failed to prevent a return to the monarchy. As a result, the cause of freedom and democratization was delayed in France. For that reason, the Iranian people cherish the abolishment of the monarchy in Iran in 1979, and they celebrate this gain every year on the anniversary of the revolution.
A stable, free, and non-nuclear Iran is achievable only within the framework of a republic based on the principles of a secular democracy. Standing for a free republic in Iran, therefore, is not merely a domestic cause but should be viewed as a necessary global objective. To this end, support for the rebellious resistance units in Iran will help to accelerate the process of democratic change in Iran through popular uprisings.
Dr. Saeid Sajadi has actively supported the movement for freedom and democracy in Iran for decades. He did all his undergraduate and graduate studies as well as professional training in the US. Dr. Sajadi is a practicing physician in the U.S., and he is currently studying International Relations at Harvard University.