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Iran today: 1979 revolution redux?

Reformers hope to fulfill the work they began 30 years ago.

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The events we are witnessing in Iran are not the makings of another revolution, but rather a continuation of the struggle for reform that began in 1979 and has not yet ended. This is the latest installment in Iran's unresolved revolution.

The shorthand narrative of the 1979 revolution tells us that the Iranian people, under the charismatic leadership of Ayatollah Khomanei, rose up against an unpopular shah, a dictator whose misguided reforms alienated large swaths of his country.

But it is important to remember what happened after the shah was overthrown. There were two phases to the revolution that began in 1979. After Iran's diverse segments from both rural and urban classes – students, professionals, the religious establishment, the bazaaris (Iran's commercial class) – came together to overthrow the Pahavli dynasty, another, more meaningful, struggle began.

Traditionalists and reformers, after working together to overthrow the dictator, became pitted against each other. The hard-line religious establishment and the bazaaris originally triumphed against the more secular, democracy-minded reformers. But these reformers never really gave in and have sought over the years to usher in a more democratic Iran, along the original ideals of the revolution that got away from them. The recent protests are merely the latest manifestation of this long process of change.

Consider the student uprisings in the late 1990s, the disappointed expectations of reform under former President Khatami, the countless activists who continued to agitate against the clerical regime. These are not isolated incidents or actions, nor are they failed or fizzled reform movements. They are a part of the continuous struggle of Iran's reformers that began in 1979.

But there are key differences that distinguish the recent unrest from past steps along the path to revolutionary change, leading many to believe that the election controversy of 2009 could be the turning point to finally realizing the reformers' goals for change that began 30 years ago.


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