Lessons from a Theocratic State

This year is the 30th Anniversary of the Iranian revolution.

I have written an article on “How Iran became a Theocratic State”. The whole paper is quite long, about 7 pages of single spacing , and so I would not post it here. I would however write a summary and my conclusions in this post.

There is a saying that ‘history is a mirror”. From history we can learn a lot of lessons. In particular, how Iran became a theocratic state can be a valubale lesson to all of us in Malaysia.

Iran has more than 70 million population , 89% of them Muslims, mainly Shiite Muslims. It has a history dating back to as long as 5 thousands years ago. In 632 AD, when the Muslim army defeated the Persian Army (Iran was formerly known as Persia) at the Battle of Al Qadisiyah, it had slowly revolved into a Muslim State. There were many dynasties over the years, and at the turn of the 10th centruy , it was ruled by the Qajar Dynasty.

In 1905, after a series of defeats by the Imperial Russian Army and the British Army, coupled with a very corrupt rule by the Qajar Shah, there was a massive revolt and protest by the people. The Qajar Shah had to give up his power of rule to save his throne and establish a Parliament and Iran became a Constitutional Monarchy…

In 1921, an army general Reza Shah ( the father of the last Shah of Iran) staged a coup detat and seized the power of the government, and became the Commander in Chief. He became the power behind the throne. In 1925, he overthrew the Qajar Shah, and became the Shah of a new Dynasty, Pahlavi Dynasty.. (** Note Mao’s famous saying: power comes from the barrels of the guns). Iran , however, remain a Constutional Monarchy.

In 1941, Reza Shah had to abdicate after British and USSR invaded Iran as Iran was siding the Nazis. Reza’s son, Mohammad Reza , became the Shah ..(The last Shah of Iran)..

In 1951, a new Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadeq was elected as head of government. He immediately nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, a British company mainly, and incurred the wrath of both the USA and Britain. Meanwhile, the Last Shah and the PM clasehed over appointment of a minister of War. The PM turned to the people and there was a massive show of support from the people.

In the end, the last Shah had to back down. But in cohort with the CIA, they planned a coup and overthrew the government of Mossadeq….

After overthrowing the elected govenrment, The Shah suspended Parliament and Iran became a autocratic state with the Shah ruled with the help of his ministers…

Under the rule of the Last Shah, there were repressive laws and detention of dissidents without trials. There were wide spread corruptions, and the oil money and policies benefited only about a thousand families, and Iran was effectively a oligarchy..

There were suppression of the clerics, and Ayatollay Khomeni was exiled in 1964 after being put under house arrest in 1963.

The Shah also implemented certain rules that were not popular with the muslims population, such as allowing women the right to votes; a husband had to obtain permission fromt he wife before taking the second wife; and legal matter involving families were transfered to the juridiction of the civil court and not the religious court.

Because of the oil money and mismanagement of the economy, Iran had a run away Inflation, and people simply had  no money to buy things… There were massive demonstraions in Teheran and elsewhere, to which the Shah used not only tear gas, but live bullets. Army and police were ordered to shoot into the crowd.

Those around my age would recall the massive demonstrations of a few million people in Teheran and elsewhere in Iran late 1978 and January 1979. They made newspaper headlines for many days in a row, as far as I can recall..In December 1998, 3 millions were in the streets , and refused to move. The soldiers had by then refused to obey the shooting order, and many became part of the demonstrating crowd.

In the end, the SHah went on National radio to apologise and promise a new rule. But it was too late. He had no choice but leave Iran on the 6th of January 1979. Khomeini returned in February and establish a theocratic government , in which the president is subjected to the highest religious council called the Council of the Guardians, which became the most powerful council overseeing the President and the council of ministers. The Grand Ayatollah became the most powerful man and his word is the final law…

In conclusion, the reasons why the Shah was overthrown as I have analysed it would be posted below.. This can serve as a lesson to all of us in Malaysia that no matter how powerful you are and how much control you have of government apparatus, ultimately an unpopular government will be overthrown. These are my conclusions:

  • Unpopular autocratic rule. Since the coup de’tat supported by covert operation of CIA in 1953, the Shah had ruled as an absolute monarchy in a land that was a Constitutional Monarchy for many decades before. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely; the Shah’s rule led to abuses and corruption.
  • Suppression and Brutality. There was a total suppression of any dissent and dissidents were arrested without trials; many were killed at the hands of the secret intelligence service SAVAK. Demonstrations were brutally put down with army and police personnel asked to shoot into crowds. The populace came to regard the Shah as a tyrant and any resistance to this tyrannical rule was deemed to be better than the autocratic rule.
  • Poor economic management. Despite the fact that Iran was having an oil boom, few in the populace benefited from the boom. In fact, inflation was in double digits and people simply could not cope with their meager pay. On top of that, unemployment was increasing and a hungry person was always willing to go against the establishment. The Shah’s regime was in fact viewed as an oligarchy, with the economic advances benefited only a selected few, around a thousand families.Huge amount of money was spent on arms at a time when people were suffering from high inflation and unemployment. The widening gap between the few rich and the poor populace fueled more discontent. Shortages of food and necessities were commonly experienced by the masses, whereas the rich led a lifestyle of extravagance
  • The rise of the clerics. Because of the unpopular rule and the introduction of policies that were seemed contrary to the teachings of Islam, the mostly Muslim populace (89% of Iranians were Muslims) turned increasing to the clerics for direction and guidance. Those who died at the hands of the Shah were viewed as martyrs. The Shah’s suppression and attempt at modernization of the social fabric of Iran created the opposite effects of fuelling the conservative Islamic revival.
  • Foreign intervention. Iran before 1953 was a constitutional monarchy. It was overthrown through the cooperation of the Shah and the CIA via Operation Ajax, following the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company by the then Prime Minister. The toppling of a democratically elected government effectively stifled the rule of laws and Iran became a classic case of ‘rule by man’ with the resultant abuses. The presence of foreign workers and more than 50,000 Americans in Iranian soil added to the anger and hatred towards the Shah.