How the 1979 revolution freed Iran from great power tutelage

  February 13, 2022   Read time 3 min
How the 1979 revolution freed Iran from great power tutelage
“Neither East, nor West, Islamic Republic!” This famous slogan encapsulated the 1979 Iran’s fervent opposition to cold war rivals: the United States and the Soviet Union, in a world sharply polarized along the East-West divide.

The slogan was inspired by ideas of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the late founder of the Islamic Republic, who blamed the two powers for many problems of Iran and the Islamic world. He believed Muslims should reject the influence of both capitalism and communism.

Imam Khomeini said, “We’re neither eastern nor western. We neither want this nor that. And we have a fight with nobody. We will have relations with anybody who is at peace with us and accepts us living independently. And we don’t want relations with anybody who doesn’t [accept] that.”

In the revolution days, many Iranians were tired of decades of exploitation that led to Iran losing big parts of its land, and hoped the upheaval would finally bring them independence.

Their collective memory remembered that in the two World Wars, the British and Russian empires occupied their country and exploited them economically.

Also etched into people’s psyche was how the US and Britain absorbed their democratic aspirations in 1953 by orchestrating a coup against a popular government and returning the autocratic Shah to the throne.

That coup consolidated the west’s imperialistic domination over Iran for a quarter of a century. In the 1970s, the Pahlavi regime was cheered by then-US president Richard Nixon as one of America’s “cops on the beat” in the Middle East, helping steer the oil-rich region away from Soviet influence.

In those days, the Pahlavi regime even obeyed the US request to support its much-criticized war in Vietnam, sending warplanes, hosting American forces and giving them jet fuel.

Henry Kissinger, the US secretary of state under Nixon, admitted following the revolution that the shah never failed to stand by the US. He described the shah as a man whom seven American presidents had lauded as a loyal ally. It was certainly a big blow for Washington to see the Shah ousted.

The newly-established government viewed both the US and the Soviet Union as malicious forces in international politics. The US was referred to as the great Satan, as it was the main backer of the Shah and posed the most immediate danger to the revolution. And the Soviet Union was regarded as the lesser Satan, as it was not seen as closely involved with the former regime.

The most dramatic symbol of the revolutionary determination to assert independence was the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran in November 1979 by a number of students. Angered by the US admission of Shah, they asked Washington to hand over the former despot, a request that was never met.

Iran's relations with the Soviet Union and its allies were also tense, although significantly less dramatic. Tehran was opposed to numerous Soviet international policies, particularly its invasion of Afghanistan.

In 1988, Imam Khomeini sent a letter to then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warning him of an imminent danger. That latter has gone down in history as an insightful and prophetic letter from the leader of an independent nation to a super power.

The letter said, “If you hope, at this juncture, to solve the economic problems of socialism and communism by appealing to the centers of the Western capitalism, you will, far from remedying any ill of your society, commit a mistake which those to come will have to erase.”

The post-revolutionary Iran has now consolidated itself regionally and globally, forming warm relations with independent countries in the region and elsewhere. With the Soviet Union gone, Iran has also pursued a look to the east policy, engaging in close collaboration with Russia and China.

The independent Iran is regarded as a regional power who has contributed a lot to stability in West Asia, demonstrated by the role it played in defeating Daesh terrorism in Iraq, Syria and beyond.

Forty three years after the revolution, Imam Khomeini’s words still resonate, and his powerful ideas of liberation from imperialistic domination, independence in domestic and foreign affairs, and embrace of social justice and harmony continue to inspire not only Iranians but the people in the region and beyond (PRESSTV).