How much do you know about Iran? You probably know that it’s in the Middle East and that the president/prime minister/important person is on everybody’s bad side for waving their nuclear capabilities around. Is that pretty much it? Iran crops up enough in the news that we thought it was about time to remedy this woeful lack of knowledge. So here it is: A Beginner’s Guide to Iran.
Iran began as one of the most powerful and oldest empires in the world – Persia. It was home to different empires in the first few centuries A.D., and in 644 A.D. was overturned by Muslims (called either “the dawn of Islam” or “the attack of the Arabs”, depending on whose side you take). The previous empires of Persia had mostly been Zoroastrian, one of the largest religions of the time. Persia contributed greatly to the Golden Age of Islam when advances in science, medicine and philosophy were made. Meanwhile, Europeans were arguing and firing arrows into each others’ eyes.
Fast forward 700 years (you aren’t missing much) and we arrive in the late 19th century when Iran was a Shia Muslim state, caught between the British and Russian Empires trying to colonise as much of the Middle East as they could. The dynasty ruling at the time were weakened and overthrown by Reza Khan, who became Shah (king) and set about modernising the country. This was much to the delight of Britain and the USSR, who promptly invaded the country to make use of its new railroads in World War II.
After the Second World War, and following the assassination of a previous Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh was elected to the office and continued modernisation. Whilst his plans, including the nationalisation of Iran’s large oil industry, would cultivate popularity in his own country, the West didn’t think much of him. What to do? Well, the USA swiftly implemented Operation Ajax to overthrown him (as you do). This resulted in autocratic rule by the Shah (now Raza Khan’s son) and the suppression of political opposition. One notable protester, a certain Ayatollah Khomeini, was arrested and eventually exiled by the Shah. But Koheini would not be beaten that easily.
Widespread protests culminated in the Iranian Revolution of 1979 when the Shah was forced into exile. Two weeks later, Khomeini returned to become Supreme Leader of the Republic of Iran, much to the chagrin of the US. Iran remained in a fairly steady, relatively-liberal trend until the 2005 elections when the much more conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took to power (where he remains today).
Popular opinion of Ahmadinejad is mixed at best. Most apparent is the international community’s disapproval of Iran’s nuclear program. Currently, Iran has acknowledged a domestic program used to enrich uranium for fuel but there is widespread concern that Iran could produce, or has already produced, nuclear weapons. The UN have enforced sanctions to the effect of preventing Iran enriching uranium; the Supreme Leader also issued a fatwa in 2005 against the production of nuclear weapons.
2009 saw more controversy when the Presidential elections resulted in the re-election of Admadinejad. Corruption was suspected, but never proven. Admadinejad continues to be a source of suspicion outside Iran, both for the nuclear program and for diminishing his people’s human rights.
What does the future hold for Iran? Nobody can be sure. Admadinejad has made many enemies around the world and risks harsh reprisals if he pushes boundaries further. This month the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency – they have a suitably ‘G’ website) published a report stating that Iran has recently conducted experiments to develop nuclear weapons capabilities.
With the increasing likelihood of preemptive military action by the United States, some are convinced that Iran is already secretly under attack – and it’s easy to see why. It is quite a coincidence that three of Iran’s top nuclear scientists have been assassinated, and that Iran’s computer systems have been attacked three times in the last two years by a virus reported in The New York Times as created by the CIA.
We do not know whether Iran is producing nuclear weapons or simply telling the truth and producing only nuclear fuel. The more worrying ways we might find that out do not bear thinking about. One thing is for sure: a lot of powerful people are eyeing Iran with intense suspicion. That won’t be changing any time soon.