In 1979, protests erupted across the nation against the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. This was triggered by the domination of foreign policy, the exploitation of Iran’s resources and wealth by foreign firms, corruption and oppressive regime. The Shah’s government’s close ties with the United States and Israel, his oppressive methods and his program of Westernization were unpopular with the Iranian people. They therefore turned to the ‘ulama as an alternative. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in exile in Paris, distributed cassette tapes of his speeches to many of the partakers in the protests. The protests were eventually included under the umbrella of Shiite Islam. The Shah was eventually overthrown and sent to exile. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran from exile. On April 1st 1979, Iran became an Islamic Republic by national referendum. In November of the same year, the infamous hostage crisis took place, wherein students stormed the United States embassy in Tehran and captured 60 US citizens in return for the extradition of the Shah who was in the United States receiving medical treatment. This incident resulted in a case at the International Court of Justice and the severing of diplomatic ties between the two states.
The Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy differed greatly from that of the Shah. It is propelled by two main ideologies. First, was the idea of “Neither East nor West, but the Islamic Republic,” which resulted in the complete elimination of any US influence within Iran. The second was the export of the revolution. The Iranian leaders sought to spread its influence within the Muslim world and rid them of their oppressive leaders as well as foreign influence.
Being the only country in the world in which Shi’ism is the state religion, the country’s policies are greatly influenced by political Islam. The politicization of the concepts of Shi'ism was first presented by Ayatollah Khomeini’s concept of velayat-e faqih (the governance of jurisprudence). According to this concept, the Supreme Leader (vali-e faqih) is the legal leader of the Islamic community and, thus, he is equal to the imam. The velayat-e faqih has been the main principle of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s political structure since the revolution.
This Shiite component is a very important element of foreign policy as it is what forms Iranian identity, along with Iranian nationalism. Shi’ism is very different from Sunni Islam. It is infinitely more religious and plays a much larger role in people’s daily lives. It is because of this that even the most secular of the political groups that partook in the revolution were still very much religious. After the coup staged by the CIA against Mossadeq, who attempted to nationalize the oil industry, the United States became highly unpopular with the Iranian people and was viewed as a counterforce to Iranian nationalism. This strongly Shiite identity is also why the referendum resulted in the...