Social and Cultural Issues That Lead to the Iranian Revolution Essay

In the mid 20th century, the people of Iran were going through many changes. In 1953, a coup was organized and with Britain and America’s help, Muhammad Mossedeq was arrested and taken out of power. With Reza Shah as the main authority in the country, he acts as a puppet to Western influence. Shah reigned through fear and force with the help of the State Information and Security Organization (SAVAK). The Shah fled Iran to the United States because of the followers Ayotollah Khomeini rounded up against him in 1979, giving the Iranian population a fresh look at things.

Thus, through all of these drastic changes within society, culture and government power, Iran experienced an Islamic revolution in 1979. This revolution had been a long-time coming given that the last few decades angered the people of Iran to the point where violence was their answer. Because of the political, economical and especially social tensions built up over time, a two day street fight is what ended the 2,500 year old monarchy. After Mossedeq was overthrown by the military coup sponsored by the CIA in 1953, Muhammad Reza Shah was the sole power-holder.

With this, the Shah was very easily influenced by Westerners, mainly the United States. He chose to rule by instilling fear into people and kept them in check through the SAVAK (L 5/9/12). The SAVAK was organized in 1957 and those who were in it were ordered to arrest anyone in opposition to the shah. There were no exceptions in society to whose life was in danger. If there was any resistance by a person, the SAVAK would take care of this. Obviously, the shah was not setting a good tone for himself and was not gaining any followers that he did not previously have.

The SAVAK was responsible for a fire that was set to a cinema that was believed to hold people who opposed the Shah in August 1978 (L 5/9/12). Reza Shah intended to hide that he was responsible for the fire by taking a ‘vacation’ while this act was occurring. The people of Iran were not fooled, however and realized the dangers of the shah, which contributes significantly to their revolt in the 1970’s. Reza Shah, determined to use his power to bring changes about larger society, did just that. He first began with smaller projects and ones that his father had started while he was in power.

Reza Shah criticized Westerns about their laziness, low sense of morality, their low payments for oil and the standard that they raise their children (Abrahamian 131). This angered those who he lectured and they immediate bashed his ‘lack of sanity. ’ For this, the Iranians are viewed as a population under an unfit ruler, who would eventually be thrown out of power. The shah then organized the White Revolution, in which was a modernization movement in 1963. This movement contained a lot of changes which helped some but did not sit well with others.

The centerpiece for this revolution was land reform. Premier Amini had begun this process a year prior and intended to limit landlords to a single village (Abrahamian 131). With the shah’s plan, land reform undercut the notables, while some families found a way around this and became profitable commercial farmers (Abrahamian 132). This included the Pahlavi family as well as some other large landowners. In order for the peasants to gain land, they had to join rural cooperatives given by the ministries of agriculture. The amount of control the government set up during this time is immense.

A Europen anthropologist visiting the Boir Ahmadis once noted, “Land is contracted for cash by the government; fruits get sprayed, crops fertilized, animals fed, beehives set up, carpets woven, goods and babies born, populations controlled, women organized, religion taught and diseases controlled – all by the intervention of the government” (Abrahamian 133). Throughout this revolution, the government is able to squeeze themselves into nearly everyone’s daily lives. The nomadic population of Iran decreased vastly and the small tribes that once occupied Iran vanished.

Those who supported the White Revolution were from the middle class, yet this was a very small population at this time. During this time and all of these changes, the notables felt threatened. The two groups who were alienated by the movement were the notables as well as the clerics. The clerics felt as though the secularization that was taking place was not a modernization, yet a westernization. This group of people coined the term “westoxification” to symbolize that the White Revolution was only about western influence (L 5/9/12).

This influence was something that the clerics felt was unnecessary and ‘toxic’ to their culture Social programs were also the face of the White Revolution, including more children enrolling in education programs and women’s rights were enhanced greatly. Women were given the right to vote, run for office and to be lawyers (Abrahamian 134). With women gaining this power in society, men also lost their macho authority that allowed them the right to get divorced, marry multiple women and gain custody of a child from the pass of the Family Protection Law in 1967 (Abrahamian 134).

These changes to the law marked a very valuable time in history for women having control over their own lives. Through all of these changes with social ratings, a new class structure was formed. The peak of Iran’s population belonged to the upper class families linked to the Pahlavi court, the royal family, government officials and military officers. This higher class was only about 0. 1 percent of the population The middle class of society was constructed of two classes, the traditional middle class and a modern middle class that involved white-collar employees and college-educated professionals.

This class was comprised of about 23 percent of the working population (Abrahamian 138). The urban class, miners, oil workers, truck drivers, etcetera, was 32 percent of the overall working population while the rural population which was comprised of farmers, smallholders and village laborers, was about 45 percent of the labor force. All of the modifications in society brought about some social tensions. Change to the social classes was an issue since two of the classes grew much larger in size.

These two classes, the salaried middle class and the urban working class have posed a threat to the Pahlavi’s in the past. Also, the new land reform brought on by the white revolution allowed for the notables to suffer who had always had absolute control over the peasants and tribesmen in the past. With the land reform, independent farmers had grown in size which could allow for possible political loose cannons. The intended Red Revolution had turned into an easy way for an Islamic Revolution to break loose (Abrahamian 140).

The regime now had a ton of social issues that had never been present in the past. In 1960, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was formed. This oil boom was a mixed blessing. The downfall of this was that Iran’s population suffered from high inflation. The Pentagon journal noted that the oil boom brought ‘inequality’ and ‘corruption to a boiling point’ (Abrahamian 141). The White Revolution combined with this oil boom led people to believe that things were going to get better.

With high expectations, needless to say, the Iranian population found themselves surrounded with disappointment. From the revolution, most peasants did not receive land and if they did, it was very little. The villages were mostly without electricity, piped water, rural roads, schools and other things (Abrahamian 142). The growth of the economy affected some people positively by giving them modern materials like televisions, telephones, refrigerators and other things but this only separated society even further.

The rich were becoming richer while the poor was only suffering. Tehran, Iran was the city that seemed to be prospering most since about 10% of the residents owned a car whereas the figure was around 2% everywhere else. Needless to say, the people of Iran were flocking to Tehran. All of this instability can be blamed on the Shah for all of the underdevelopment. The demanding oppositions began to come forth in full throttle in 1977 when the shah loosened up strict police controls (Abrahamian 157).

The middle class developed organizations comprised of lawyers, judges, academic, journalists, intellectuals, bazaar merchants and former political leaders that criticized the Resurgence Party. Protests flooded the streets for months and although some were arrested, they were let off with petty charges. Reza Shah, now seemingly weak and powerless from his battle of cancer, had lost so many followers throughout the years. Khomeini had voiced things that much of the population agreed with. With the authority weakened, thousands of civilians swarmed the streets with machine guns and other weapons to begin a protest that only lasted two days.

These two days had ended the dynasty that had lasted for 53 years as well as the 2,500 year old monarchy (Abrahamian 162). It turned out that the voice of the people of Iran had proven to be much stronger than the Pahlavi monarchy, thus the Islamic Revolution prevailed. The Islamic Revolution was not something that happened suddenly, this was a long-time coming event. The revolution happened quickly, however, because all of the economic, political and especially social pressures had been built up over the last few decades.