The History of U.S/Iran Relations & Iran's November 2019 Protests

Updated: Sep 4, 2020

By Sara Azmoudeh @ Medium

Last week, countless citizens took to the streets in Iran to protest the Islamic regime’s oppressive governance. Protests broke out, November 15, 2019, after the regime announced they’d once again be increasing gas prices at the pump. Government officials were reported stating, “the revenues gained will be used for cash payments to low-income households.”

Once the protests started gaining traction, the government cut-off internet access throughout Iran. As a result, Iranians were unable to share the events of the protests. The handful of photos and videos that escaped the blackout picture military groups shamelessly using violent force against protestors. Amnesty International estimates that at least 143 were killed. All the while, the blackout kept the world ignorant to the true extent of the regime’s madness.

As a first generation Iranian-American, these protests really hit home. A good amount of my family still lives in Iran; and just having to consider whether one of my cousins, aunts or uncles, decided to risk their lives in protest was hard. I’m sure the same was true for many of my Iranian-American friends. The internet blackout took a toll on Iranian diaspora. We were desperate to hear from our loved ones.

As of November 23, 2019, internet has been restored throughout Iran and the protests are technically over. But unless the regime makes some miraculous changes, I don’t think this is the last we’ll be hearing from the Iranian people. They’re fed up. I strongly believe these protests are only the beginning.

Iranians did not risk their lives in protest for lower gas prices. The gas prices were simply the last straw, underlying a much deeper problem. Iranian people organized and protested a regime that oppresses them every single damn day. A regime, who’s historical rise to power deserves some analysis; a story that unfortunately can’t be told without mentioning U.S/British involvement; and, it’s a story that, once told, may allow you to understand my perspective. That is, I believe Americans have a duty to understand and support the Iranian people in their fight for freedom.

Think I’m crazy? Perfect. Keep reading.

Iran’s history has always been curious to me. Until my grandma passed away when I was 13, my family traveled to Tehran every 3 years. I thoroughly enjoyed every trip; being surrounded by a people who spoke the language my family spoke at home tongue and shared our cultural values. Yet, during my final trip I was forced to wear a hijab, a scarf covering my hair. The Islamic regime’s laws require girls to cover their hair after turning 12. Being 13, I could be in legal trouble for not complying. And even though I had noticed all the women in Iran wearing long scarves and coats during previous trips, and my mom and female relatives wear them in the past, this was my first time realizing the significance. I didn’t want to wear the hijab. Yet, I had no choice in the matter.

When we got to my grandma’s house in Tehran I started asking questions. I’d seen photos of my mom growing up. She was never pictured wearing a hijab. When did things change? My mom gave me a vague explanation of the Islamic revolution. She told me Iran was in political turmoil her whole life. In the 50’s, Western powers intentionally disrupted Iranian politics. Then, in the 60s, an Islamic uprising took control of the country. The nation shifted from a people who were dedicated to continuing the progress of the Persian Empire, to an Islamic Republic.

My mom explained that the revolution had especially unfortunate consequences for women’s rights. The hijab is only a small part of the story. Under the current Islamic regime, married women can’t leave the country without their husband’s permission. In September the captain of Iran’s female soccer team, Niloufar Ardalan, couldn’t play in an international tournament because her husband forbade her from traveling. Women can only participate in local elections. Women cannot attend national sporting events. Women can be stoned to death for a number of said ‘moral’ crimes. Women practicing as legal professionals are constantly undermined by their male colleagues. The list goes on.

It feels backwards. The Persians were one of the first civilizations to recognize human rights. Persian philosophers, intellects, mathematicians, are historically significant and globally known. Hafez, a Persian poet, moved the world with his words. While Western civilizations were living like cavemen, the Persian people were holding democratic elections. These are the same people. It doesn’t make sense to me that the natural course of history would bring them here- fighting for basic human rights under an Islamic regime.

10 years years later, now 23 years old, I seek a deeper understanding of how Iran came to be. After all, I could have been born there, raised there, should history have gone different.

Every once in a while I close my eyes and imagine how history would have unfolded if the U.S and England stayed out of Iranian affairs. It breaks my heart. What would Iran look like today if the American coup never took place? How dare Eisenhower justify undermining a nation’s sovereignty- igniting meditated chaos and replacing their democratically elected leader- with bogus Communist threats. What are the chances the Islamic Revolution would have taken place without it? Religious leaders were happy with the nation’s separation of church and state for so long. What happened?

Let’s take a look.

Qajar Dynasty 1794–1925

The Qajar Dynasty took control of Iran in 1794. Disposing Lotf’ Ali Khan, the last ruler of the Zand dynasty, the Qajar Dynasty re-asserted Iranian sovereignty over large parts of the Caucasus. They maintained their rule until 1925; Ahmad Shah was the Qajar Dynasty’s final ruler.

During the 1900’s Iran encountered a series of progressive changes and foreign interventions. On one hand, Iran was only Middle Eastern nation to adopt a Western style of governance and in 1906 the Iranian constitution was introduced. Composed of a Western parliament and democratic system of voting, the constitution formally limited the historical absolutist power had by rulers.

On the other hand, in 1908, oil was discovered in Iran. The British caught wind of this news; and just one year later, on April 13, 1909, the Anglo Persian Oil Company- later named the Anglo Iranian Oil Company (AIOC)- was formed in Tehran. Founded by businessmen from London, AIOC strategically signed into agreements, allowing the British to control Iran’s oil production. The agreement only allowed Iranians to gain 30% of the AIOC’s annual profits.

1925–1951 Pahlavi Dynasty

1925–1941 Pahlavi Dynasty: ruled by Reza Shah

In 1925, Reza Shah Pahlavi rose to power and the Qajar Dynasty was replaced by the Pahlavi Dynasty. During his rule, in 1935, Iran became the official name of the nation. The Shah attempted pushing Iran in a ‘modern’ direction. He introduced a number of radical policies such as a legal ban against hijabs and urging men to wear Western brimmed hats when attending mosque. His attempts were met with strong opposition from religious leaders. While, critics argue his national agenda was ‘too fast’ and ‘superficial’.

1941–1951 Pahlavi Dynasty: ruled by Mohammad Reza Shah

Then, in 1941, during World War II and the Anglo-Russian occupation of Iran, the British forced Reza Shah Pahlavi to stand down in favour of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Mohammed Reza carried on his father’s progressive agenda by introducing the White Revolution, a series of economic, social, and political reforms with said intentions of transforming Iran into a global power and modernizing the nation.

Overtime, Pahlavi’s modern agenda caused him to lose support from religious leaders and the working class. Put bluntly: Iranians were over him.

Meanwhile, Mohammed Mossadegh became increasingly popular among Iranian voters. After re-entering the political arena in 1941, Mossadegh preached plans centered around social reform and nationalizing Iran’s oil industry. His message spoke to Iranians across the country and in April of 1951 the Iranian Parliament (i.e Majlis) nominated and confirmed Mossadegh to the seat of Prime Minister.

1951 Mossadegh Appointed as Prime Minister

In 1951, the Shah appointed Mohammed Mossadegh as Prime Minister. Mossadegh was a nationalist, committed to national sovereignty and liberal democracy. He campaigned on the promise of nationalizing Iran’s oil industry. And almost immediately after taking his seat as Prime Minister, Mossadegh challenged the AIOC by canceling their oil concession.

The British fought back. They hoped to get the international community on their side and brought their case before the UN general security council in NY. To their dismay, Mossadegh didn’t allow the British to control the narrative. He flew himself to the hearing before the UN council and presented Iran’s case. Mossadegh made clear his request: the AIOC must give Iran 50% of their profits. He refused to allow the AIOC to continue their oil production in Iran if they continued to only give the 30% they had originally agreed to. He argued the original agreement took advantage of Iran’s natural resources and exploited the Iranian economy.

The UN General Security council favored Mossadegh’s case and denied the AIOC’s request. Angered by the court’s decision, they appealed to the Hague in Geneva. Once again, Mossadegh attended the hearing to defend Iran’s case; and once again, the AIOC’s request was denied and the international community ruled in Iran’s favor.

The British were not pleased. Without the authority of the international courts to control Iran’s oil industry, they decided to take matters into their own hands and have Mossadegh overthrown. Their plan was to reinstall Mohammed Reza Shah, an ally of the British, to regain control over the region. In order to do so, the British called on assistance from their close allies- the Americans. President Truman was in office at the time and outrightly rejected their proposal. Truman didn’t believe that it was nor would ever be consistent with US values to intervene in another nation’s affairs.

In 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected as the 34th U.S president of the United States of America. Signaling to the Brits that they had a new opportunity to request U.S assistance in advancing AIOC’s agenda. They knew Eisenhower was a fierce opponent of communism, willing to take any action necessary to prevent it’s threat. So, the British warned the U.S of Mossadegh’s ‘Communist agenda’. Even though there was no evidence to prove the allegations. For Eisenhower, rumors of Communism was enough reason to undermine a nation’s sovereignty.

1952 Mossadegh: American Coup

In 1951 the U.S and the British began staging the what is known today as the American Coup. The CIA led a team arrived in Tehran in 1952 to cause civil havoc. The thought was, if Tehran were to appear out of control, Iranian’s would think Mossadegh was an unfit leader. So, the CIA hired groups to cause chaos in Tehran: riots, violent fights, protests, etc. Their efforts also included spreading mass media rumors about Mossadegh being a communist. For example, hiring terrorist groups to violently disrupt prayer buildings and public malls and scream, “Mossadegh is great, long live communism.”

1953–1979: Mohammed Reza Shah is re-installed

After a couple months and failed attempts, U.S and British forces sent in military groups to have Mossadegh removed and flew in Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi to ‘take back’ his seat as Prime Minister. It undermined Iranian’s right to self-determination. Why? — The Iranian people had already democratically elected a new leader. In a nation wide landslide vote, Mohammed Mossadegh was Iran’s chosen leader.

One of the worst parts of it all is, the operation reinstalled a leader the Iranian people had democratically chosen to replace. The Iranian people never choose Pahlavi as their leader. He was first forced on them when the British forced his father to stand down. And now, the American coup had re-installed him. Yet, that didn’t mean the Iranian people would accept the Shah’s leadership. The working class felt his relationship with the U.S and Britain was concerning. Considering the effects of US/British interference in the nation’s politics, can you blame them? When the Shah continued to remain allies with the two nations, Islamic leaders began to revolt.

Ruholla Khomeni, known to the Western world as Ayatollah Khomeini, became the face of Iran’s Islamic movement. He publicly criticized the Shah’s diplomatic relations and policies. Preaching for a change in Iran’s governance, the Shah had him exiled from Iran. Yet, that did not affect the impact Khomeini had already made on the population. Religious leaders, the working class, and even moderate Muslims, had become fond of his message. Iranians wanted control of their government. Since the Shah appeared to them as a puppet strung by the US and Britain, Khomeini’s alternative seemed much more attractive.

Protests against the Shah began in October of 1977 and intensified in January of 1978. In that time, the protest had developed into a campaign of civil resistance with both secular and religious elements. Think: air strikes, violent demonstrations and religious campaigns, all centered around religious campaigns; or otherwise, think: chaos. The Shah left Iran for exil on January 16, 1979. Then shortly after, in February, the Ayatollah’s rebel army invaded Iran and officially brought Khomeini to power.

1979–2019: Islamic Republic of Iran

Iran voted by a national referendum to become an Islamic republic on April 1, 1979. The end result: a democratic nation became an Islamic Republic. “The revolution resulted in the exile of many Iranians, and replaced a pro-Western authoritarian monarchy with an anti-Western theocracy based on the concept of Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists (or velayat-e faqih)” (wiki). One of the world’s first democracies, ruined.

Hopefully by now it is clear, Iran did not become an Islamic Republic overnight. If the U.S and British did not intervene in their politics, who knows where the Iranian people would be today. — which I sense is, ironically, the very reason they made the decision stage the Americancoup in the first place.

If this is the first time you’re hearing about the American coup, you may think it’s some sort of secret. But that’s not true; during a Presidential speech, Obama made reference to the coup and the impact it’s had on the Iranian community. It’s- the Americancoup and America’s role in the evolution of Iran’s history- just never talked about.