Alireza Jafarzadeh: The 1979 anti-monarchy revolution buried the Pahlavi dynasty forever

45 Years Since Shah Fled and Monarchy Was Buried in Iran

BEHIND THE IRAN HEADLINES Series, January 16, 2024, Alireza Jafarzadeh, NCRI-US Deputy Director

Forty-five years ago today, on January 16, 1979, after decades of corruption, despotic rule, and mismanagement, which had led to nationwide popular uprisings against his rule, the Shah was forced to flee the country. With him, the monarchial rule was buried in Iran for good.

A few months earlier, following months of million-strong anti-monarchic protests in streets across Iran, the Shah had wept on national TV, begging Iranians to let him stay in power.

Broken and defeated, he said, “You, the people of Iran, have risen against oppression and corruption. … I will pledge never to repeat the mistakes, unlawfulness, oppression, and corruption of the past.” But it was too late.

In 1953, following the CIA-engineered coup and in collaboration with the fundamentalist clergies, the sole democratic functioning government in Iran’s contemporary history headed by Dr. Mohammad Mosaddeq was overthrown, and the deposed Shah was reinstalled.

He began ruling with an iron fist, creating a despised secret police, the SAVAK, which for decades brutally murdered and tortured political activists and intellectuals, including authors, academics, artists, and poets.

In November 1976, Amnesty International reported about Shah’s torture methods, including beatings, hanging upside down, rape, electric shock, pulling nails, pulling teeth, and using a hot iron rod to burn the mouth.

On March 3, 1975, the Shah spoke on national television, and the State-run newspaper “Etela’at” published Shah’s speech with the headline: “His Majesty declared the formation of the single-political-party.” Indeed, the arrogant Shah had put his own downfall in motion.

Today, millions of Iranians believe the Shah’s suppression of pro-democracy opponents and the destruction of democratic institutions paved the way for the mullahs, whose network was strengthened by the Shah, to eventually usurp the leadership of a genuine pro-democracy 1979 popular revolution and assume power. The Iranian people see the mullahs’ regime as the theocratic version of the Pahlavi dictatorship.

That is why one of the most popular slogans chanted across Iran in uprisings since 2017 has been “Down with the oppressor, be it the Shah or the [Supreme] Leader [Khamenei].”

For Iranians, who are advancing a forward-looking democratic revolution, the choice is not the lesser of the two evils of monarchs or ayatollahs. Rather, they are seeking a democratic and representative republic based on the separation of religion and state. And that is why a free democratic republic in Iran is imminent.


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