In February of 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini led the overthrow of the Shah (king) and succeeded to power in Iran. Iran was relatively modern in the early 20th century, however regressive conservatism imposed by the revolution, which remains today, makes it worthy of attention. I argue that implications of the revolution on Iran itself and the global community at large continue to be significant and worrisome.
In the early 20th century, constitutional values of Iran drew inspiration from the West. As early as 1925, women’s rights were on the agenda in Iran with Reza Shah Pahlavi acknowledging women’s significance in the population (Rafique & Butt 2017). Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who rose to power in 1941, succeeding his father, imposed reforms of the ‘White Revolution’. He drew inspiration from modern European values, hoping to steer ‘internal policies on women’s rights and their compulsory education’ through democratic means (Rafique & Butt 2017).
Iran is unique in the sense that it was well ahead of its time in the 20th century for a Muslim majority country. ‘Physical aptitude’ became a requirement for marriage in 1931, and the ages for marriage for a boy and girl were raised to 15 and 18 from 9 and 15 respectively (Rafique & Butt 2017). The Family Protection Act was enacted in 1967, focusing on women’s family rights, through for example, vowing to ‘handle divorce and child custody cases in a civil court’ (Rafique & Butt 2017).
A rising and conservative faction in Iran led by Khomeini, opposed to such progression. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War One in 1918 saw Muslim nations fighting for independence. Iranian conservatives preached that only through religion, could Iran express and return to its true self. The west was viewed as destructively deviant from the true identity of Iran.
Immediately after Khomeini took power in 1979, the identity of Iran began to change. The Family Protection Act was abolished immediately. A law was passed in 1983 to allow for punishment of a woman if she wasn’t wearing a black hijab, which hadn’t been required by law since 1936 (Rafique & Butt 2017). Khomeini stated that ‘women’s honor needed to be preserved’ (Khomeini, cited in Kazmir & Bell 2019) and so the guardian system was introduced. A male, preferably a family member or husband, was required to guard women at all times, and provide permission on their behalf for educational, employment, travel and social matters.
Today, domestically within Iran, implications of the revolution are evident. The Green Movement protests in 2009 reflect the discontent of people within Iran and lack of support for the regime. According to an Amnesty International study released in 2018, over 7000 political activists critical of the Republic have been arrested(Amnesty International, cited in Etehad & Mostaghim 2019). Women’s employment in the labor force is a total of 17% according to the World Bank (World Bank, cited in Etehad & Mostaghim 2019). Today, people are dissatisfied with the high level of unemployment and poor economic progress despite the oil revenues that hold the economy together.
Global implications of the revolution transpired. The United States supported Suddam Hussein, former President of Iraq, with weapons and training, helping Iraq to take control of the Iran-Iraq war. Events such as Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991, the creation of al-Qaeda terrorist network and the tragic events of 9/11 have their foundations in elements of the Iranian Revolution. Divisions in the global community remain, with the United States being once a close ally to now a distant enemy.
Perhaps the most worrisome implication that follows the revolution is the inspiration its success could potentially serve to those hoping to achieve the same. The Iranian Revolution displays that a goal of establishing an Islamic State could transform into a reality. There can always be a possibility of ‘winning’ whether it is done ethically or not. Progression and modernisation are essential to remain fluid and adaptable. However, principles of the revolution suggest that the opposite is desirable. The revolution implies that to treat women as objects and to remove their rights is acceptable and in fact in accordance with ‘religion’. I use the term ‘religion’ lightly, because the interpretation of any religion varies widely. Implications upon human rights are immense.
I believe we are some time away from seeing Iran return to its state before the revolution. However, powerful voices of the hopeful will eventually flourish at large.
Etehad, M & Mostaghim R 2019, ‘It’s been 40 years since Iran’s Islamic Revolution. Here’s how the country has chnaged’, LA Times, 11 February, viewed 14 May 2019, https://www.latimes.com
Kazmir, M & Bell, B 2019, ‘Before and After: Iran 1979’, International Policy Digest, 22 February, viewed 14 May 2019, https://intpolicydigest.org
Rafique, S & Butt, KM 2017, ‘Position of Women in Iran: An Analysis of Pre and Post Islamic Revolution’, A Research Journal of South Asian Studies, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 431-439.