Iran since 1979

By | December 16, 2021

The Islamic Republic of Iran, proclaimed on 1 April 1979, has overcome numerous moments of crisis in twenty years of existence: the first, which started a very long period of tension with the United States, was determined by the occupation of the American embassy in Teherān: many of the officials taken hostage remained prisoners of revolutionary students from November 1979 to January 1981. Subsequently, the long and devastating war with Iraq (198088) required enormous sacrifices from the country, both in economic terms and in terms of human lives. At the same time, the local conflicts that have fueled tension in the Gulf region for many years came to light (territorial disputes with the United Arab Emirates, border frictions with the ṭālibānafghani), and the country’s internal life and foreign relations were also strongly influenced by the accusation leveled at Iran from the United States to be the instigator and main organizer of Islamic terrorism in the world. Nevertheless, even in a rigid political context hostile to change and in an economic situation that is at times very difficult, at the end of the 1990s Iranian society showed an unusual capacity for transformation, unimaginable just a decade earlier, when the regime declared openly his will to close himself to any contact with the outside by hurling violent anathemas against the West. For Iran travel information, please check

The end of the 1980s symbolically marked the changing of the guard at the political-religious leaders of the country, with the disappearance of the great protagonists of the revolution: the āyatollāh Khomeini (H̠omeynī), who died in June 1989, was replaced by President H̠āmene’ī and leader of the state became the president of Parliament, the moderate reformer ‚Alī Akbar Rafsanǧānī, architect of a coalition government between conservatives and reformists, which set itself the goal of a policy of detente towards the great Western powers. But the presidential elections of June 1993 revealed a clear dissatisfaction with the policy pursued by the government chaired by Rafsanǧānī and, while confirming him a second time in the office of head of state, recorded a significant decline in support in his favor compared to the presidential elections of 1989. In fact, already in 1992, the launch of a policy of economic liberalization, the social costs of which had caused a growth in popular discontent, produced the explosion of numerous revolts in some provincial cities, severely repressed by the security forces. The failed attempt on the life of the president in February 1994, during a meeting held in the capital, confirmed the climate of mistrust in the work of the government. The worsening recorded by the economic situation (growth in foreign debt and unemployment, depreciation of riyāl) was particularly felt by the poorest sections of the urban population, whose standard of living was drastically reduced. The fear of losing the support of the traditional basis of the regime led the government, in the spring of 1994, to partially revise the policy of economic liberalization (in particular as regards the reduction of subsidies for basic necessities). Nonetheless in the summer of 1994 protests and riots occurred in numerous cities and a real revolt against the high cost of living broke out in a suburb of Teherān in April 1995. At the end of the same month, US President Clinton announced a total freeze on trade and investment against Iran, accused of fomenting international terrorism, as well as pursuing a program to acquire nuclear weapons with the help of Russia and China.. Although rejected by Japan and some European countries, which maintained their position of ‘critical dialogue’ with Teherān, the embargo accentuated the country’s isolation and prevented it from accessing long-term financing from international credit institutions.

In foreign policy, after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, Iran was able to further extend its influence in some of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, especially in Azerbaijan (supported by Teherān in the conflict that saw him opposed to Armenia) and in Tajikistan (where the Iran played a mediating role in the war which broke out in 1992). Relations with neighboring countries remained difficult: with Iraq, indicated in December 1991 by a UN report as responsible for the outbreak of the conflict of 198088, a dispute was opened for reparations, which added to the tensions caused by the treatment reserved by the Baghdād authorities to the Shiite populations present in the southern Iraqi regions and by the Iranian support for the Kurds based in northern Iraq. The Kurdish question also affected relations with Turkey, which only improved in 1996 after the formation of an Islamic-led government in Istanbul. A new diplomatic crisis between the two states erupted in 1997, but closed before the end of the year.

Rafsanǧānī’s eight years of presidential mandate disappointed the expectations of those who hoped in his mediation to initiate a form of normalization of the regime which, finally abandoning certain manifestations of religious fanaticism, would allow Iran to break the international isolation. On the contrary, the country that had emerged from the Rafsanǧānī era was overall poorer, less free – especially with respect to the needs matured among the new generations – and the victim of an apparently no way out of isolation. The contradiction between the actual modernization initiated in the region was evident (literacy, connection of electricity and running water in the villages, raising of life expectancy,

In particular, the participation of women in political and social life increased significantly compared to the times of the Pahlavī dynasty, giving a glimpse of a united front of struggle for the recognition of the equality of the sexes and against a rigid interpretation of the Koranic texts. Even the very young generations – in Iran there is a vote at sixteen – have caused a rift pregnant with consequences on the anti-American and anti-Western front. In fact, despite the prohibitions and censorships, almost twenty years after the Islamic revolution, the interests of the younger generations, once protagonists of the rebellion against the West, they seem to revolve almost exclusively around the cultural models of the Western world. This impatience of young people – according to the census of 1996 people aged between 15 and 3 0 years have 17 million ie approximately 58 % of the electorate – to the cultural policy of the most obscurantist religious has helped boost the political clout of the reformists.

In the legislative elections of March-April 1996, the Conservatives suffered a considerable decline in support for the benefit of the pro-government reformists tacitly backed by President Rafsanǧānī.

But the most significant turning point in the life of the country was determined by the results of the presidential elections of 23 May 1997. Surprisingly, Sayyed Muḥammad H̠atamī, former Minister of Culture between 1981 and 1992, was right by the strongest candidate, the President of Parliament, leader of the conservative wing, ‚Alī Aḥmad Nāṭiq Nūrī. Accused by many of liberalism and opposed by religious leaders for having dared to challenge the regime in 1992 by resigning because in disagreement with the conservative government, H̠atamī had no longer held any important position until the day of his investiture as sole candidate of the reformist alliance. Its unexpected success, with beyond the 69 % of the votes, confirmed the vitality of a part of Iranian society, especially women and young people, who after years of silence came out of the closet supporting the reformist candidate from the columns of some press organs. The real defeat in the presidential election was the so-called Bazaar faction, once the undisputed ruler of political competition. On that occasion, the conservative Iranian right seemed to have lost its influence over entrepreneurs, administrators and the new Islamic technocracy, by now determined to distance themselves from the most intransigent clergy, which had always been rooted in the ranks of the bourgeoisie of the Bazaar faction.

After the elections, a first sign of the great transformations taking place was the declaration of esteem to the American people made by H̠atamī in December 1997 and reaffirmed less than a month later in a television interview (January 7, 1998). In the summer of 1998, the brake imposed by H̠atamī on anti-American propaganda pushed the United States, after decades of chronic mutual conflict, to use more conciliatory tones towards Iran, hoping for a constructive dialogue between the two countries. But the most sensational step was the Iranian decision to distance itself from the death sentence pronounced by Khomeini in February 1989 against S. Rushdie, author of the novel Satanic Verses: in September 1998, Foreign Minister Kamāl H̠arrazī announced this publicly during a session of the United Nations.

At the end of 1998, despite the wide international recognition, the role of H̠atamī and the political weight of his choices were somehow compromised by the evident dualism of powers that dominates the political life of the country; it should not be forgotten that in Iran the president of the Republic, democratically elected, can, in principle, be removed from his office by the highest spiritual guide of the country, who is chosen by a Council of experts made up of just over eighty religious.

In September 1998, the discovery of the bodies of some Iranian diplomats in Mazār-i Sherīf, the Afghan city recaptured by the ṭālibān just a few days earlier, increased the tension between the two countries causing the positioning of Iranian troops on the borders with Afghānistān.

Between November and December 1998 a mysterious chain of murders struck some dissidents and liberal intellectuals engaged in the front line in the battle for the secularization of the regime. The investigations brought to light the involvement of some agents of the powerful Ministry of Information, responsible for the secret services, which has always been a stronghold of the conservatives and able to act with impunity, especially in the past, outside government control. In February 1999 the results of the elections of the municipal councils, already foreseen by the Iranian Constitution of 1979 but never came into operation, they represented an important step in the process of rooting reforms in the country: the high turnout at the polls rewarded the supporters of President H̠atamī, who won 13 out of 15 seats in Teherān.

In July 1999, the protest demonstrations by Iranian students in favor of freedom of the press and against the closure of the Salām newspaper very close to President H̠atamī, resulted, after the violent assault on the university campus of Teherān by the police forces and Islamic extremists of the Ansar-i Hezbollāh, in a real student revolt in the squares and universities of the capital, firmly repressed.

Iran since 1979