Iran: 40 years of the Islamic Revolution

March 8, 2019 Weekly Graphs

2019 marks the 40th Anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The revolution led to rapid and profound change within the country. Following decades of royal rule, millions of Iranians protested in the streets against the regime in 1979. This resulted in the overthrow of Shah Reza Pahlavi’s monarchy. The state under his rule was formally secular. It also maintained close relations with the West. Following the revolution, the country was transformed into an Islamic Republic under Ruhollah Khomeini’s rule. Persecution of supporters of the previous regime, suppression of the opposition, and restrictions on civil liberties and women’s rights occurred during this time. In 1980, the country was invaded by Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein. This resulted in a war which lasted till 1988. Since the 1990s Iran has had held competitive presidential and parliamentary elections and governments have alternated between reformist and conservative governments. Despite this liberalization, executive power is still held by the Supreme Leader. This position was first held by Khomeini and he was succeeded by another senior cleric, Ali Khamenei who has held the office since 1989.

V-Dem’s Country Graph tool allows us to display how some indicators of freedom of expression and association have fluctuated from the period prior to the revolution to the present. During the revolutionary ferment of 1979, there was abrupt and short-term improvement. However, with the consolidation of revolutionary control of the state, there ensued abrupt declines due to the introduction of censorship of academic and cultural expression, the abolition of opposition parties and consolidation of state control of the media. There were improvements in the freedom of academic and cultural expression right after the end of the war and again with reformist rule in the mid-1990s. Both media bias and control of opposition parties was also reduced during this period. This was curtailed after 2004, when the conservatives regained power. 

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