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By Micah Halpern

Tuesday July 7, 2009


In 1979 a revolution took place in Iran. Thirty years later, in 2009, although many people expected and even hoped for a revolution, the movement never took off.

Let me explain why. The revolution that took place in Iran in 1979, the revolution that overthrew and ousted the Shah from power and placed the Ayatollah Khomeini in power, was religiously based. In 1979 a theocratic state was instituted in Iran and that state is called, to this day, the Islamic Republic.

Without the backing of the clergy, a revolution has no chance of even happening, let alone being successful, in Iran. And in the post-election frenzy that possessed Iran the clergy was conspicuously absent. The mosques were silent, religious leadership was mum.

Iran's clergy had no respect for the Shah of Iran. He disgusted them, he repulsed them. The Shah of Iran was the symbolic representation of everything that was wrong with Iran from the point of view of the religious leadership. Religious loyalty was with an Ayatollah, a dynamic personality and persuasive speaker who was living in Paris - the Ayatollah Khomeini. This Ayatollah was a religious leader who spoke directly to the masses and as a person, he was held in the highest regard by every single Shiite Muslim cleric.

The clergy in Iran today is pleased with their position and with their influence. Over time the Ayatollah Khomeini was replaced by the Ayatollah Khamenei. While the change may be significant for many segments of the population in Iran and worldwide this change is insignificant for Iran's clergy.

The mosques and the Imams were not fomenting a post-election revolt. Very few clergy took a stand in favor of revolt and those who did were seen as political figures rather than religious leaders. Even those clergy who opposed a revolt were seen as political but viewed kindly and as part of the establishment which carries very different currency in Iran.

No one in the religious sphere wanted to oust the religious leadership. No one set their cross hairs on the Grand Ayatollah.

Although he was a protege of the Ayatollah Khomeini, Mir Hussein Mousavi was not worthy of the fight. He may have charisma, but Mousavi does not have the following. He does not have the religious credentials, Mousavi is a former politician, he is a poet and an architect. The clergy of Iran are not about to jeopardize their future for the man who would replace not the Ayatollah, but merely Ahmadinejad, the president.

One of the truly greatest insights and quotes of the Shah of Iran, made famous by Salman Rushdie, was: My biggest mistake was that I stopped paying the clergy. When I paid them they did what I asked. As soon as I stopped they ran to the opposition.

Religion and business run hand in hand in Iran. Without one, the other's power is diminished. And just as Iran's religious leadership was prominently absent from the 2009 revolution that wasn't, so too were Iran's merchants absent. Pivotal to the success of the 1979 Khomeini revolt was the backing of the merchant class.

Iran is a merchant-run society and the merchant class is far more significant and carries much more clout than do students or doctors or lawyers. Professionals and intellectuals have their place in Iran, but the movers and shakers are the merchants.

By definition Iranian merchants tend to be conservative. They have strong values and are motivated by business and family. Although the reformers advocated for a leadership that was more economically responsible it was a message that did not resonate with the merchant class.

The merchants were not convinced. And without merchants you have a movement with no financial backing.

No religious backing, no support from the merchant class and a move to overthrow not the religious leader but merely his mouthpiece, the president. That is not a recipe for success. And the Ayatollah understood it from the outset.

That understanding underscores why The Supreme Leader deliberately ordered the police to be very precise and to exercise restraint. Had too much blood been spilled the ire of the masses, the concern of the clergy and the pockets of the merchants might have tipped the balance and turned passionate demonstrating into true revolution. The Ayatollah would have none of that.

And that explains why the Iranian revolution of 1979 did not repeat itself in 2009.

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4 June 2017 12:13 PM in Columns

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