Roads to Revolution

Article excerpt

In Iran the Shi'ite clergy rallied the discontented to trigger off the insurrection that brought down the Shah

From the beginning of the sixteenth century--the time of the foundation of the Safavid dynasty during which Shi'ism became the state religion of Iran--the Shi'ite clergy shared the governance of the country with the monarchy. Even the democratic constitution of 1906-1907 recognized the clergy's fight to name five Shi'ite mullahs to verify the conformity of state law with Islamic law, the Shar'iah. This clause in the constitution was respected during the first legislature, but after 1912 it was not implemented. It gave the clergy a pretext to claim its share of government power and legitimized its criticism of the monarchy. Furthermore, the clergy kept control over two important fields: education and justice. However, after 1921, the date when the Pahlavi dynasty was founded, this control was denied and the clergy were completely eliminated from responsibility in the field of justice. In education, they were still allowed to train mullahs, but that was all. Thus a Westernized policy replaced the clergy in all fields. This explains the immense frustration of the Shi'ite clergy towards the imperial regime.

Modernization and social disorder

During the following decades, with the acceleration of an anti-democratic modernization process and the social disorder created by it, the clergy found strong allies in the growing numbers of young people uprooted from the countryside and directed towards the towns, and in university students who were firmly kept down. Lastly, the clergy won the support of the middle class bazaar traders, who felt left out by the process of modernization.

Thus, by the mid-1960s, religion was again making a wide impact on social and economic life. …