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Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini

The inspiration for the new Islamic Republic of Iran came from Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, who first began formulating his concept of an Islamic government in the early 1970s, while in exile in the Shia Islam learning and pilgrimage center of An Najaf in Iraq. Khomeini's principal objective was that government should be entrusted to Islamic clergy who had been appropriately trained in Islamic theology and jurisprudence. He referred to this ideal government as a velayat-e faqih, or the guardianship of the religious jurist.

In 1978, domestic turmoil swept the country as a result of religious and political opposition to the Shah's rule and programs, especially SAVAK, the hated internal security and intelligence service. In January 1979, the Shah left Iran. He would die abroad several years after. On 1 February 1979, exiled religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from France to direct a revolution resulting in a new, theocratic republic guided by Islamic principles. Back in Iran after 15 years in exile in Turkey, Iraq, and France, he became Iran's national religious leader.

Ayatollah Khomeini arrived in Tehran from Paris on 1 February 1979, received a rapturous welcome from millions of Iranians, and announced he would "smash in the mouth of the Bakhtiar government." He labeled the government illegal and called for the strikes and demonstrations to continue. A girls' secondary school at which Khomeini established his headquarters in Tehran became the center of opposition activity. A multitude of decisions, and the coordination of the opposition movement, were handled here by what came to be known as the komiteh-ye Imam, or the Imam's committee. On 5 February 1979, Khomeini named Mehdi Bazargan as prime minister of a provisional government. Although Bazargan did not immediately announce a cabinet, the move reinforced the conditions of dual authority that increasingly came to characterize the closing days of the Pahlavi monarchy.

In many large urban centers local komitehs (revolutionary committees) had assumed responsibility for municipal functions, including neighborhood security and the distribution of such basic necessities as fuel oil. Government ministries and such services as the customs and the posts remained largely paralyzed. Bakhtiar's cabinet ministers proved unable to assert their authority or, in many instances, even to enter their offices. The loyalty of the armed forces was being seriously eroded by months of confrontation with the people on the streets. There were instances of troops who refused to fire on the crowds, and desertions were rising. In late January 1979, Air Force technicians at the Khatami Air Base in Esfahan had become involved in a confrontation with their officers.

In his statements, Khomeini had attempted to win the army rank and file over to the side of the opposition. Following Khomeini's arrival in Tehran, clandestine contacts took place between Khomeini's representatives and a number of military commanders. These contacts were encouraged by United States ambassador William Sullivan, who had no confidence in the Bakhtiar government, thought the triumph of the Khomeini forces inevitable, and believed future stability in Iran could be assured only if an accommodation could be reached between the armed forces and the Khomeini camp. Contacts between the military chiefs and the Khomeini camp were also being encouraged by United States General Robert E. Huyser, who had arrived in Tehran on 4 January 1979, as President Carter's special emissary. Huyser's assignment was to keep the Iranian army intact, to encourage the military to maintain support for the Bakhtiar government, and to prepare the army for a takeover, should that become necessary. Huyser began a round of almost daily meetings with the service chiefs of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, plus heads of the National Police and the Gendarmerie who were sometimes joined by the chief of SAVAK. He dissuaded those so inclined from attempting a coup immediately upon Khomeini's return to Iran, but he failed to get the commanders to take any other concerted action. He left Iran on 3 February 1979, before the final confrontation between the Army and the revolutionary forces occured.

On 8 February 1979, uniformed airmen appeared at Khomeini's home and publicly pledged their allegiance to him. On 9 February 1979, Air Force technicians at the Doshan Tappeh Air Base outside Tehran mutinied. Units of the Imperial Guard failed to put down the insurrection. The next day, the arsenal was opened, and weapons were distributed to crowds outside the air base. The government announced a curfew beginning in the afternoon, but the curfew was universally ignored. Over the next twenty-four hours, revolutionaries seized police barracks, prisons, and buildings. On 11 February 1979, 22 senior military commanders met and announced that the armed forces would observe neutrality in the confrontation between the government and the people. The Army's withdrawal from the streets was tantamount to a withdrawal of support for the Bakhtiar government and acted as a trigger for a general uprising. By late afternoon on 12 February 1979, Bakhtiar was in hiding, and key points throughout the capital were in rebel hands. The Pahlavi monarchy had collapsed.

By the time Khomeini issued his judicial decree, the armed opposition had been suppressed. Although isolated acts of terrorism continued to take place after December 1982, the political elite no longer perceived such incidents as threatening to the regime. Both religious and lay leaders remained generally intolerant of dissent, but a gradual decline was noted in government abuses of civil liberties in line with the provisions of the eight-point decree. As preoccupation with internal security abated, the leaders began to establish consensus on the procedures that they believed were necessary to ensure the continuity of the new political institutions. Accordingly, elections were held for the Assembly of Experts, which chose a successor to Khomeini, and regulations were promulgated for the smooth functioning of the ministerial bureaucracies. The politicians also were determined to restore relative normalcy to society, albeit within prescribed Islamic bounds. Thus, they permitted the universities, which had been closed in 1980, to reopen, and they tried to control the excesses of the hezbollahis (self-described members of the Party of God, who represented many independant revolutionary militia formed in the chaos).

Following Khomeini's death on 3 June 1989, the Assembly of Experts, an elected body of senior clerics, chose the outgoing president of the republic, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, to be successor as national religious leader in what proved to be a smooth transition.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:45:56 ZULU