On the 11th February 1979 Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, was overthrown as a result of the Iranian Revolution. His overthrow saw the end of the 2,500 year old monarchy in Iran and ushered in a theocracy overseen by the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Under the Shah, Iran enjoyed immense wealth built on an abundant supply of oil, although the vast majority of the population continued to live in poverty. The Shah, who had come to power in 1941, tried to secure support by using oil money to modernize Iran. However these reforms, known as the ‘White Revolution’ were interpreted by some as pandering to Western ideals that went against Iran’s traditions.
Despite the establishment of the brutal SAVAK secret police, a growing number of Iranians were increasingly turning against the Shah. They found a leader in the Muslim scholar Ayatollah Khomeini who, despite being forced into exile in 1964, continued to be a vocal critic of the Shah’s government. He played down his intention to establish an Islamic government, focusing instead on his desire to overthrow the Shah.
On September 8th 1978, over 500 people were killed by soldiers on what became known as ‘Black Friday’. The Shah’s attempts to restore calm had no effect on the public, who continued to call for his removal.
Recognising that his overthrow was becoming inevitable, the Shah and his wife left Iran on January 15 for the USA. Khomeini returned to Iran two weeks later. Finally, on the 11th February the Supreme Military Council ordered all troops back to their barracks, effectively handing control to Khomeini and his supporters.