Three decades after its tumultuous revolution, the world is still trying to come to terms with the religious theocracy in Iran. Throughout the spring of 1979 Iran was plunged into violence; the Shah had fled abroad, his regency government rendered ineffective and helpless by the wave of support for the returning Ayatollah Khomeini, and Iran would change for ever.
As the days passed and the religious fervour on the streets refused to abate, the Ayatollah strengthened his grip. Then, his supporters took the step which would rupture relations with America and change attitudes in the west for years to come. In November, students besieged the US embassy, taking 53 diplomats and staff hostage. It proved the downfall of Jimmy Carter, and years of rancour culminated in George Bush declaring Iran part of his so-called Axis of Evil in 2002. Last year’s celebrations for the revolution seemed as passionate as ever, but the arrival of Barack Obama in the White House has prompted hopes of a thaw in relations. Obama campaigned on the promise that he would talk to Tehran without conditions. In his inuguration speech he said he held out the hand of friendship to any country which would unclench its fist. But there are those who say the Iranian revolution is far from run. “No, the revolution has not been stopped,” said analyst Abbas Salimi Namin. “If we really want to gain independence in cultural and economic fields, we should still defend our nation’s rights in the world.” The moderate former leader Mohammed Khatami has announced he will be a candidate in this June’s presidential elections, challenging the populist Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Rumours say ordinary people are tired of Iran’s pursuit of headline-grabbing projects, that a country with rich oil reserves needs to import fuel while the government concentrates on the rush for nuclear power. Last week’s successful satellite launch put Iran at the top table of space powers, but also prompted fears it is on the verge of producing ballistic missiles. America and Israel are believed to have discussed military strikes against Iran’s nuclear plants. Those plans were shelved as the new US president took office and pledged to review foreign policy. But the West’s fears will not go away, and many believe only fundamental change in Iran will ease the tension.