Iran Between East and West

January 26, 1979

Report Outline
Iran after Shah's Departure
A Clash of Civilizations
Questions in Post-Shah Iran
Special Focus

Iran after Shah's Departure

Beginning of Political Drama's Act Two

The revolution unfolding in Iran is revealing to the world powerful historical forces that not only contend for the destiny of Iran but challenge Western assumptions about the Middle East and the Third World. Iran's deepening crisis has baffled Western observers focusing on surface political developments rather than on the underlying transformation of a whole culture. Iranians themselves, torn by ambivalence, were groping for coherence in this latest episode in the ancient conflict between East and West.

When Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, whom the United States had championed as a guardian of stability in the turbulent Middle East, left on Jan. 16 for an indefinite “vacation” that was almost universally regarded as the end of his 37-year reign, the population took to the streets in delirious expressions of joy. But the state had no authority, the economy was in shambles and rival forces prepared for a showdown.

Mass demonstrations and crippling strikes overwhelmed the shah's regime and could bring down its appointed successor, but could not establish the foundations of a new order. A new prime minister promised sweeping reforms to end corruption and repression, religious leaders called for establishment of an Islamic republic that would reverse Westernizing trends, and the shah's Western-trained army waited nervously while the populace dominated the streets and fraternized with conscript soldiers. The rest of the world watched anxiously to see what Iranians would now make of their country.

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