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Timeline of Iran’s Journey of Liberal to Conservative Dictators

The recent wave of protests against the government in Iran might herald another revolution in the country, but this time in an opposite direction. From Mohammad Raza Pahlavi’s compulsive modernization to Ruhollah Khomeini’s forced conservatism, Iran has proved that anything implemented through coercion and against the will of people can’t stand the test of time. People resist the government if it tries to impose its will on them. It doesn’t matter whether such pressure comes from a liberal like Muhammad Raza Pahlavi, or a staunch self-proclaimed Islamist like Ruhollah Khomeini.

Here is a timeline of Iran’s journey from the rule of liberal to conservative dictatorships and reaction from the people.

Muhammad Raza Pahlavi’s Rule (1941-1979)

The modern history of Iran dates back to the time of Muhammad Raza Pahlavi who came to power on 16 September 1941 during the World War II. Known as Shah of Iran or the Shah, Raza Pahlavi implemented liberal social and economic policies. He attempted to modernize Iran through secularization, granting women suffrage and nationalizing few industries. Such liberal policies conflicted with the tradition of Persian nation. Members of working class, Shia clergy, and the public who didn’t like the Shah’s secularization opposed his regime.

Further, Pro-America and Pro-Israel policies also made religious classes and public to criticize Shah of Iran

White Revolution- January 1963

It was in January 1963 when Muhammad Raza Pahlavi announced his popular white revolution. Few of the reforms introduced in the revolution were deemed as an onslaught on country’s traditions. Sections of society like members of Shia clergy opposed such changes.

Khomeini’s Call for Cancelation of Nawruz – March 21, 1963

Khomeini who was a strong proponent of Islamization condemned the government policies. On March 21, 1963, he asked people to cancel Nawruz for protesting against the Shah’s white revolution.

Khomeini as Supreme Leader of Islamic Public of Iran- December 3, 1979

A series of reactions followed by Khomeini and people who protested against the liberal policies of the Shah. Khomeini also remained in exile for almost 14 years. On 17 January 1979, he returned to Iran and received a warm welcome from millions of people. The shah had already fled the country before his arrival. Khomeini finally abolished the monarchy of the Shah and took charge as Supreme Leader of Islamic Republic of Iran on December 3, 1979.


Iran- Iraq War (1980-1988)

Soon after taking charge, Khomeini attempted to unite the Muslim world against the USA and Israel. During the same time, Iraq’s secular leader Saddam Hussain attacked Iran in an attempt to occupy its oilfields; this followed the eight years long war that continued from 1980-1988. The war claimed nearly one million lives. Iran got hold of its invaded areas after the war. As a result, Khomeini emerged as a leader towards which nation would see for the stabilization.

Ali Khamenei Became Supreme Leader of Iran after the Death of Khomeini – June 1989

After the death of Khomeini, Ali Khamenei who was President since 1981, became the Supreme Leader of Iran. After Khamenei, Akbar Hashmi Rafsanjani became the President. He got re-elected in 1993.

Protests by Students for Secularism In 1999

In May 1997 Mohammad won the election for president against the conservative opponents. During his reign, protests started in the country for secularism. Many students who took part in such demonstrations lost their lives. From here, liberal Iranian factions who couldn’t tolerate forced Islamization started rising.

Conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Becomes President- 2005

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president of Iran in 2005. He took a strict response against the United States and Israel. He also promoted country’s nuclear program.

Protests in Iran in 2009

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad again elected as president in 2009. During his tenure, protests erupted in the country. Protestors demanded secular policies.

Hassan Rouhani’s Re-election as President and Opposition- 2017

In May 2017 Hassan Rouhani got re-elected as Iran’s president; he started facing criticism for not implementing the promised reforms. Hence protests began on December 28, 2017. The recent wave of agitation shows that youth is coming out in robust favor of a secular regime. American President Donald Trump has welcomed such protests by the Irani people, through his Twitter statement.

It is not sure if the recent wave of objections to Iran’s Islamization policies which are implemented in the country since, Khomeini’s era, is backed by some foreign powers or not. The agitation can be on the pattern of anti-capitalist G20 protests in Germany that took place last year.  But, its timing is much essential. Ongoing Middle East crises and deteriorating relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia can also be a potent force for making Irani people fight for the reforms to appeal to their will.

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