The major event in modern Iranian history is the 1979 revolution sometimes known as the Islamic Revolution. The roots of this revolution are debatable. There are different theories, interpretations of what brought about the revolution. One obvious issue is the economic crisis, the economic dislocations in 1977, ‘78, the difficulties of inflation, of unemployment, of disruptions in the economic situation in the country. This is, obviously, very much associated with the 1979 revolution. Now, what caused those economic crisis is then controversial.
Some people argued that it was the slight decline in oil revenues because the Saudis were flooding the market with oil. This caused the decline in oil prices and this, then, fueled the economic crisis in Iran. I would argue that, actually, the fall in oil prices and oil revenues was not that great to cause a revolution in Iran. This was a minor, really, decline in general increase in oil prices, oil revenues. So, there were economic problems in 1978, ’79 but there weren’t really so much due to the slight fall in oil revenues.
There is also, I think, the very, the shadow of the 1953 coup because the national hero of the country, Mossaddegh, was overthrown by the coup, by the Shah. The Shah was seen from ’53, in a way, part mainly as illegitimate. He’d come to power by overthrowing the national leader and in an age of nationalism, of course, national ideology, national legitimacy can carry much more weight than the weight of a medieval monarchy. The other factor that compounded this was, of course, in the nature of nationalism. The Shah had been brought back by the imperial powers, by Britain and the United States. Therefore, the Shah from ’53 onwards was seen as a stooge of foreign powers and therefore, by definition, lacked legitimacy.
The [1979 revolution] obviously had many different currents in it. On one had you had conservative clerics, some of them to the notion of velayat-e faqih, some not subsrcibing to it but still thinking in terms of a clerical republic. Then, you had much more liberal, secular thinkers who thought they would have much more of a democratic western oriented state. And as long as there was the war, there was external crisis, these differences were, in a way, muted, but with the end of the Iraqi war and the death of Khomeini, what you find is that in Iranian politics, you get eventually a division, what you could call — one could call on one hand, conservative clerical. On the other hand, much more liberal, but they don’t like to use the word liberal. It sounds western, so terms of either progressive or reformist.