Following a decision in Parliament to
nationalize the oil industry, a military coup was
carried out in which the Prime Minister was ousted in
1953, and the Shah became one-ruler. He focused on
modernizing the country, but most Iranians remained
poor. A growing opposition gathered leftists and
religious forces, and in 1979 the Shah overthrew.
Ayatolla Ruhollah Khomeini then became the leader of an
Islamic "state of God" where there was little room for
dissent. A devastating war raged against Iraq in
1980–1988. In the 2000s, the Western world tightened its
sanctions on Iran because of suspicions that the country
is trying to develop nuclear weapons.
When World War II broke out, Iran declared itself
neutral but was occupied by Britain and the Soviet Union
in 1941. Ruler Reza Shah was forced to abdicate in favor
of his son, Mohammad Reza. The British troops left Iran
in March 1946. The Soviet Union withdrew a few months
later after pressure from the UN. At the same time, US
oil interests had grown stronger. In 1947, a treaty was
signed between Iran and the United States on military
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Iran. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
During a wave of nationalism and concern, the shah
was forced to appoint Mohammad Mossadeq as prime
minister in 1951. Mossadeq was backed by the Communist
Party Tudeh and had broad support from the people. He
broke the agreement concluded in 1933 with the British
oil company Anglo-Iranian and nationalized the company's
oil assets. Mossadeq was deposed in 1953 by shah-loyal
soldiers who were assisted by the US intelligence
service CIA. The oil crisis was resolved through an
agreement that gave the Iranian state and a
British-American consortium half of the oil revenue.
After Mossadeq's fall, political power resumed with
the Shah and the land-owning upper class. With the help
of the army and the secret police Savak, the Tudeh Party
was incubated. The Shah gradually acquired dictatorial
power at the same time as he wanted to transform Iran
into a modern industrial nation.
In 1959, Iran entered into military and economic
cooperation with the United States, which contributed to
extensive military armaments. But Iran also wanted to
improve relations with the USSR in the north and
therefore pledged in 1962 not to open its territory to
foreign military bases.
The Shah began a comprehensive reform program, the
White Revolution, from 1962 to 1963. Important elements
were land reform and reading and writing education.
Women were given increased rights, including voting
rights. The distribution of land to the peasants caused
the Shah to lose his former strong support of the
land-owning class. At the same time, the Shah's close
contacts with the United States and his efforts to
reform Iran according to a Western model created
opposition from the religious leaders. When the reform
program was approved by Parliament in 1963, it triggered
a brief but bloody uprising led by Shi'ite Muslim
scholars. One of these was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
He was arrested and expelled from the country.
Between 1965 and 1977, Iran experienced a seemingly
stable period. From 1973 to 1974, oil revenues increased
significantly. These used the Shah, among other things,
for industrial investments and weapons purchases. Growth
was high; there was even a shortage of labor. But it was
only a few. The gaps in society increased. Unrealistic
prestige projects devoured large sums, while neglected
agriculture could not produce enough to meet the needs
of the population. The peasants were hit hard by low
agricultural prices, while violent inflation drove other
prices up. In the cities, the merchants and craftsmen of
the bazaars considered themselves to be disadvantaged by
The mosques became natural rallying points for the
opposition, which was brutally persecuted. In 1975, the
Shah responded by dissolving the political parties and
introducing one-party rule. The protests developed into
a nationwide revolutionary movement. In January 1979,
the ill-fated Shah felt compelled to leave Iran
From his exile, Ayatolla Khomeini had become a
unifying symbol for both religious and political
opposition. On February 1, 1979, shortly after the
Shah's escape, Khomeini returned to Tehran, where he was
greeted by cheering crowds. Just over a week later, the
military declared itself neutral in the conflict between
the Shah's followers and Khomeini and the road was open
to an Islamic revolution.
Following a referendum in April 1979, Iran was
proclaimed Islamic Republic and ruled by a special
Revolutionary Council, formed by Khomeini. Those who had
worked for the overthrown ruler were imprisoned. Many
were executed after summary trials. The Shah's ally the
United States, "the great Satan," became the object of
hateful propaganda. In November 1979, Iranian students
stormed the US embassy and took the staff hostage. Only
14 months later, after intense diplomatic activity, the
last 52 Americans were held hostage.
The revolutionary movement that had driven the Shah
away consisted of various political and religious
forces. But Khomeini and the scribes soon learned that
they were not prepared to share power. They eliminated
rivals by striking down those who did not wholeheartedly
support an irreconcilable line to the Western world.
Liberals, socialists and Marxists were attacked, but
also scribes who did not share Khomeini's political
The situation also caused concern among the Kurds,
who took up arms and demanded autonomy. In the Khuzestan
oil province, there was a guerrilla movement among the
Arab population, backed by Iraq. Border intermeasures
with the Iraqis occurred more and more frequently. At
the same time, the Iranian armed forces were in
disrepair as it underwent bloody purges by officers who
served the Shah.
In the outside world, many people believed that the
Islamic Republic was near collapse. One of them was
Iraq's dictator Saddam Hussein, who in 1980 surprisingly
attacked north of the Shatt al-Arab border. One of the
reasons was the fear that Iran was trying to spread the
revolution to the Shiite Muslim majority in Iraq. Iraqi
troops managed to conquer much of Khuzestan. However,
Iran's armed forces and the Revolutionary Guard offered
surprisingly tough opposition. After a few weeks, a
deadlock had occurred along a 48-mile front.
Iraq's attack strengthened popular support for the
Islamic Republic. But at the same time, leading
politicians began to criticize elements of the
revolution. There was no political reconciliation. In
the first half of the 1980s, about 10,000 oppositionists
are estimated to have been executed, many of whom were
members of the Islamic Left Movement, the People's
The war on Iraq continued to demand huge losses on
both sides. Iraq also exposed its opponent to chemical
warfare. In the spring of 1988, Iran was hit by backlash
on the battlefield and interest in continuing the war
waned. A political battle over who would succeed the
aged Khomeini took off. In July 1988, Iran surprised the
outside world by unconditionally accepting a UN
resolution tabled a year earlier, demanding ceasefire
and retreat from occupied land. So the war was over.
Over one million people are estimated to have been
killed or injured in the fighting, most Iranians.
At the same time, Ayatolla Khomeini acted so that
conflicts arose with several countries. He issued a
fatwa (religious judgment) against author Salman
Rushdie with effects long after the Ayatollan's own
death. For Khomeini, Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses
appeared as a pagan and it reached far beyond Iran when
the Ayatollah stormed the book. In Japan, the translator
was murdered. The publisher who published the book in
Norwegian was subjected to a murder trial in 1993. The
Satanic verses are a novel, but the phrase hints at a
very old story of false Qur'anic words that should have
called for idolatry.
In June 1989, Ayatolla Khomeini died. As new
spiritual leader, President Ali Khamenei was appointed,
although he was not one of the foremost among the
scribes. The presidential post was taken over by
Parliament's President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
As President 1989-1997, Rafsanjani sought to pursue a
pragmatic, balancing policy and to bring about economic
reform and better relations with the Western world. Most
reforms were watered down or stopped, either by
conservative forces in Parliament or by the Guardian
Council (see Political system).
The 1997 presidential election became a landslide
victory for Mohammad Khatami, who was primarily active
in culture and education. Many were attracted by his
promises of a more open and more democratic society. But
the Khatami government also came to face stiff
opposition from strictly religious groups, which blocked
disingenuous proposals. Harassment of reform supporters
and newspapers continued. President Khatami nevertheless
decided to stand for re-election in 2001, winning 77
percent of the vote.
Prior to the 2004 parliamentary elections, as in
previous elections, "unsuitable" candidates were
rejected. Nearly half of the 8,000 who signed up were
rejected, including some 70 parliamentarians and other
leading reformists. Over a third of the members resigned
in protest, and most of the reform movement's groups
decided to boycott the election. It helped the
Conservatives gain strong dominance in Parliament. One
year remained of President Khatami's term, but the
reform work now stopped completely.
Khatami was the first true reformist in power in
Iran, but his change of mind created tensions with other
power agencies that almost made open revolt. Khamenei is
considered to have been forced to curb the reform agenda
so that the system would not collapse. The strengthening
of the hard-working, uncompromising groups was also seen
as a result of US more aggressive policies against Iran
from 2002 (see Foreign Policy and Defense).
In the 2005 presidential election, the pre-drafted
Rafsanjani won in the first round. But in the second
round, he was unexpectedly defeated by Tehran Mayor
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who became the first president of
the Islamic Republic without religious education. The
strictly conservative Ahmadinejad was supported mainly
by the poor of the rural and metropolitan areas. During
the election campaign, Ahmadinejad had promised to put a
stop to liberalization and reintroduce "pure moral
values" by returning to Ayatollah Khomeini's ideas.
The pressure against oppositionists intensified after
Ahmadinejad's entry. He cleaned out ministers and
officials and highlighted younger followers. The purpose
was, among other things, to boost the country's economy.
When progress failed, new purges followed. But
Ahmadinejad also turned out to have his own ambitions
and he came on edge even with conservative forces. The
Conservatives split in two parts before the
parliamentary elections in 2008. Ahmadinejad's
supporters became the largest group but did not get
their own majority. The reform-friendly forces remained
In the 2009 presidential election, three approved
candidates voted against Ahmadinejad. The reform-minded
Mir Hossein Moussavi seemed to have a headwind and his
followers were passing through Tehran with green flags.
Reform-minded politicians hoped that many who boycotted
the 2005 presidential election would now participate.
When the news came that Ahmadinejad had won by far, many
were convinced that it was election fraud. The early
approval of Ayatollah Khamenei at an early stage
Soon, street protests broke out. Despite
demonstration bans, hundreds of thousands of opposition
supporters participated. The regime tried to impede
transparency. Journalists were arrested, opposition
newspapers were closed and both Iranian and foreign
media were banned from reporting. However, thanks to
social media, an international audience could see some
brutal scenes. Moussavi and another defeated reform
candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, refused to accept the
election results. The protests continued during the year
but then subsided. Perhaps a few hundred people died in
what has come to be called the "green revolution".
Several thousands were arrested and beaten or harassed
and many human rights groups and media organizations
were forced to close. The reformers were badly beaten.
Despite Khamenei standing on Ahmadinejad's side
during the uprising, 2011 saw signs of a power struggle
between their respective supporters. The contradictions
between the two conservative camps also characterized
the parliamentary elections in 2012. The forces around
Khamenei won a clear majority, while the circle around
During Ahmadinejad's time in power, Iran was isolated
from the outside world. The US and EU sanctions hit the
economy hard and led to hardship for the population.
When a successor to the hard-headed Ahmadinejad was
elected in 2013, the ground was prepared for a more
compromise-oriented candidate. The Guardian Council
approved eight of 686 who attempted to register. Among
those who failed were former President Hashemi
Rafsanjani. That Rafsanjani was not accepted attracted
attention. He had held a leading role in politics since
the 1980s, was president 1989-1997 and one of Iran's
richest men, and chairman of the influential Medlar
Council. Rafsanjani was also chairman of the Expert
Assembly, but was dismissed in 2011 because of his
support for the opposition to Ahmadinejad.
The contradictions exist along the traditional
dividing line in Iranian politics, between strictly
conservative forces and more liberal reformists. The
power lies with the Conservatives. After the 2009
presidential election and the wave of protests that were
crushed, many opposition supporters became
disillusioned. Security was sharpened ahead of the 2013
elections. Internet surveillance increased and media,
both domestic and foreign, were limited in their
operating space. Several reformist parties had been
banned and the two former opposition candidates Mir
Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi were in house
Many reformists considered boycotting the election.
Mohammad Reza Aref, the first Vice President under
Mohammad Khatami, was the only reformist to pass through
the Guard's Needle Eye. He was persuaded to withdraw.
Both Khatami and Rafsanjani are believed to have been
behind the request, which aimed to strengthen Rohani's
chances. Of the six candidates who were present on
Election Day, four were considered conservative and two
as "moderate" middle politicians. The support of the
reform friends gave Rohani victory already in the first
round, he won by just over half the votes.
Many conservatives are also believed to have voted
for Rohani, who was not seen by everyone as a "real"
reformist, like Khatami, but more like a middle power.
He belongs to a large extent to the establishment and
was previously primarily known as a chief negotiator in
the nuclear energy issue (see Foreign Policy and
Rohani talked about more dialogue and less
confrontation with the western world. He advocated
women's rights and reduced state intervention in daily
life. Political prisoners would be released, freedom of
the press respected and social media less controlled.
The message of a more open society and increased
exchange with the outside world struck the voters. At
Rohani's entry in August 2013, foreign guests were
invited for the first time to attend the ceremony.
Nuclear reactor begins
Russian engineers begin construction of Iran's first nuclear reactor.
Bush: "The Shaft of Evil"
US President George W Bush said in a speech that Iran is one of three
countries in the "axis of evil" and warns that the country is developing
The President re-elected
President Mohammad Khatami is re-elected for a second term.