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History, Growing Opposition to the Shah

Velayat-e faqih, Iranian cities, Ruhollah Khomeini, Strong relations, diplomatic status

Because of his collaboration with the CIA to overthrow Mosaddeq in 1953, the shah was never able to overcome a popular perception that he was merely a tool for foreign interests. Mosaddeq’s ouster had shocked the nation, and over the years his image as a national hero had grown stronger despite the fact that the shah’s government had banned any publications that mentioned his name. Furthermore, because of the CIA’s role in the overthrow, most Iranians saw the United States, even more so than Britain or the USSR, as a threat to Iran's national interests. Strong relations between the United States and Iran at the official level, especially an alliance whereby the United States assisted in the buildup of Iran's military, fed the public’s fears. In the early 1960s the shah's government drafted legislation granting diplomatic status to U.S. military personnel stationed in Iran. Nationalists denounced the bill as a reversion to the detested extraterritorial legal privileges accorded to British and Russian citizens in Iran before 1925.

One of the shah’s most vocal opponents was the leading Shia scholar, or ayatollah, Ruhollah Khomeini. Khomeini was arrested in 1962 after publicly speaking out against the bill, and his arrest instantly elevated him to the status of national hero. Although released the following year, he refused to keep silent. He instead broadened his criticisms of the regime to include corruption, violations of the constitution, and rigging of elections. Khomeini’s second arrest in June 1963 led to three days of rioting in many Iranian cities; the military suppressed the riots only after more than 600 people had been killed and more than 2,000 injured. Fearing that Khomeini would assume martyr status if he were kept in prison or executed for treason, the shah exiled him to Turkey in 1964. Khomeini eventually settled in the Shia theological center of An Najaf in Iraq. From there he maintained regular contact with his former students in the Iranian city of Qum. These students formed the nucleus of a covert anti-shah movement that was growing among the clergy. In 1971 Khomeini published a book, Velayat-e faqih, that provided the religious justification for an Islamic government in Iran.

The shah also failed to win mass support among the secular middle class of professionals, bureaucrats, teachers, and intellectuals. This social group, created as a result of his father’s reforms and expanded during the 1960s and 1970s due to the shah’s own development plans, tended to be highly nationalistic and looked back nostalgically to the Mosaddeq period as an era of genuine democracy. Like the clergy and the religiously inclined traditional middle class of merchants and artisans, the secular middle class resented the lack of meaningful political participation and the close ties the shah had established with the United States. They criticized the shah's promotion of Iran beginning in the late 1960s as America’s security pillar in the Persian Gulf region. Despite their commonality of views, the secular and religious groups had distrusted one another in the 1950s and 1960s. The growing severity of political repression during the 1970s gradually brought them closer together, however, and by 1977 various secular and religious opposition movements were prepared to cooperate against the shah's regime.

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