The Iranian People's 100-Year Struggle for Freedom

Women run away from anti-riot police during a protest of the death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, who had been detained for violating the country's conservative dress code, in downtown Tehran on Sept. 19. AP

What began as spontaneous protests over the brutal murder of a young Iranian Kurdish woman named Mahsa Amini by Iran’s dreaded morality police has now escalated into a massive nationwide revolution against the Islamic Republic. Iran, of course, has had three major revolutions over the course of the last century—in 1979, 1953, and 1906. But it is the first of those revolutions, the Constitutional Revolution of 1906, that provides the best historical analogy, not only for how the current uprising may succeed in its ultimate goal of bringing down the regime, but also what the rest of the world could do to help in that cause.

At the dawn of the 20th century, Iran faced a situation of rapid economic and cultural decline. The country’s natural resources were being parceled out to the British and Russians, its textile and manufacturing industries subsumed by unchecked imports from Europe. The people were left to fend for themselves, as a succession of debauched monarchs—the shahs—steadily sold off bits of the country to pay for their own extravagances. What few protections citizens enjoyed under the law were wholly at the whim of whichever shah sat upon the throne. For a great many Iranians, equity and social justice were as unattainable as bread and basic foodstuffs.

It was at this moment in history that a new generation of young, politically active men and women rose to the challenge. Their solution to the intolerable situation in which the people had found themselves was simple: the transfer of power from the monarch to the nation; from the few to the many. In other words, democracy.

Starting in 1905, a coalition of young revolutionaries, progressive clergy, and business leaders banded together to launch what would become the first democratic revolution in the Middle East. The goal was nothing less than equality before the law, regardless of race, class, or creed. One year later their efforts resulted in the drafting of a constitution laying out the rights and privileges of all citizens, and the establishment of an elected parliament where, to quote one delegate, “justice will be given to all the people, and the king and the poor treated equally.”

For a brief time, the Iranian Constitutional Revolution became the most successful anti-imperialist struggle in the world, drawing the attention of the international press.

“Persia has a parliament!” shouted the London Independent.

“Merchants and Mullahs Compel the Shah to Grant Reforms” cheered the New York Times.