Faced with an army mutiny and violent demonstrations against his rule, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was forced to flee Iran. Following Shah escape, Imam Khomeini extended his congratulation to the Iranian nation, saying it was a starting point for a great victory.
Following Shah’s escape, Imam Khomeini said in a historic message as following:
The mere exit of the Shāh is not the victory, but it is the dawn of the victory… Of course the dawn of victory is the dawn of the elimination of the foreign domination as well. (Sahifeh-ye-Imam, Vol.5, page 471)
Fourteen days later, the Ayatollah Khomeini, the spiritual and religious leader of the Islamic revolution, returned after 15 years of exile and took control of Iran.
In 1941, British and Soviet troops occupied Iran, and the first Pahlavi shah, who they regarded with suspicion, was forced to abdicate in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza. The new shah promised to act as a constitutional monarch but often meddled in the elected government’s affairs.
After a Communist plot against him was thwarted in 1949, he took on even more powers. However, in the early 1950s, the shah was eclipsed by Mohammad Mosaddeq, a zealous Iranian nationalist who convinced the Parliament to nationalize Britain’s extensive oil interests in Iran.
Mohammad Reza, who maintained close relations with Britain and the United States, opposed the decision. Nevertheless, he was forced in 1951 to appoint Mosaddeq premier, and two years of tension followed.
In August 1953, Mohammad Reza attempted to dismiss Mosaddeq, but the premier’s popular support was so great that the shah himself was forced out of Iran. A few days later, British and US intelligence agents orchestrated a stunning coup d’etat against Mosaddeq, and the shah returned to take power. He repealed Mosaddeq’s legislation and became a close Cold War ally of the United States in the Middle East.
In 1963, the shah launched his “White Revolution,” a broad government program that included land reform, infrastructure development, voting rights for women, and the reduction of illiteracy.
Imam Khomeini was critical of what he saw as the westernization of Iran. Ruhollah Khomeini, great religious authority, was particularly vocal in his criticism and called for the overthrow of the shah and the establishment of an Islamic system. In 1964, Khomeini was exiled and settled across the border in Iraq, where he sent radio messages to encourage his supporters for change and establish an Islamic-democratic system.
Religious discontent grew, and the shah became more repressive, using his brutal secret police force to suppress opposition. This alienated students and intellectuals in Iran, and support for Imam Khomeini grew. Discontent was also rampant in the poor and middle classes, who felt that the economic developments of the White Revolution had only benefited the ruling elite. In 1978, anti-shah demonstrations broke out in Iran’s major cities.
On September 8, 1978, the shah’s security force fired on a large group of demonstrators, killing hundreds and wounding thousands.
Two months later, thousands took to the streets of Tehran, rioting and destroying symbols of westernization. Imam Khomeini called for the shah’s immediate overthrow, and on December 11 a large group of soldiers mutinied and attacked the shah’s security officers. With that, his regime collapsed and the shah fled.