Islamic Revolution (1979)

  • Killed: Estimates range from 2,000 to more than 3,000
  • Detained: Thousands
  • Flashpoint: Social Injustice, Political Repression, Corruption, and Religious Motives
  • Location and Scope: Protests spread to nearly all major cities and included millions of participants


Major protests against the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi began in January 1978 after an Iranian newspaper, Ettelaat, published a front-page editorial insulting Ruhollah Khomeini, a well-respected cleric, at the direction of the Shah. In reaction to the publication, several thousand protesters attacked symbols of the monarchy and clashed with security forces in the conservative city of Qom.


The opposition movement attracted millions of Iranians from all social strata. The monarchy was brutal, repressive and did not have popular support. Leftists wanted a more democratic system of government. Conservatives opposed the monarchy’s rapid westernization and secular outlook. High unemployment and rising inflation after the 1977 economic collapse, exacerbated tensions.


Between March and May 1978, the unrest spread to more than three dozen Iranian cities. On September 8, 1978, a day known as “Black Friday,” the regime imposed martial law and security forces opened fire on demonstrators in Tehran’s Jaleh Square, killing more than 100. By December 1978, protests had spread to nearly all of Iran’s major cities and dozens of smaller towns.


The Shah and his family fled the country for Egypt on January 16, 1979. Khomeini returned from exile and was welcomed by millions of people in the streets of Tehran. Khomeini officially took control of the government after a referendum establishing the Islamic Republic on April 1, 1979.