11 February 1979 is the officially proclaimed hour of victory of the Islamic Revolution, the day marking the final overthrow of the monarchy. But the revolutionaries did not in fact truly prevail until 4 November. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini would later call what happened that day "the second revolution".
The mood in Tehran that morning was agitated. "Death to America!" chanted several hundred revolution-hungry students outside the U.S. Embassy that day, dozens of them climbing the fence and forcibly entering the building. They took 66 U.S. diplomats hostage, 52 of whom would be held captive for over a year.
Khomeini's second revolution was accomplished: the provisional civilian government stepped down and the radical clergy crossed the finish line. On 4 November 1979, an enmity was thus born that many in Iran, as well as America, still consider incapable of ever being resolved.
1953: The CIA and Iran's stolen democracy
Almost 65 years ago, the CIA overthrew Iran's first democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. Recently the U.S. State Department published documents showing the full extent of U.S. involvement in the coup. By Thomas Latschan
Glowing advocate of Iranian interests: Mohammed Mossadegh was Iran's first democratically elected prime minister from 1951 – with a brief interruption – until his fall in 1953. Educated, eloquent and charismatic, he also had many admirers in the West. Daring to nationalise the British oil industry in Iran, he quickly became an icon of anti-imperialism across the Third World
Oil for the Empire: the British had had a quasi-monopoly on Iranian oil since 1909. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) – these days British Petroleum (BP) – had negotiated contracts that gave the colonisers a distinct advantage, allowing the British Empire to skim off profits in their millions every year. In return Iran received meagre royalties
Labouring under a burning sun: the British shamelessly exploited their Iranian oil workers. In Abadan, the site of the largest Iranian refinery, those who worked for the AIOC lived in slums under catastrophic conditions. The company refused to contemplate any improvement in living standards. After the Second World War, Iranian politicians attempted to renegotiate business terms but their appeals fell on deaf ears
"Nationalisation or death!" In 1951 the situation came to a head. Mohammed Mossadegh, who had just become prime minister, ordered the nationalisation of the Iranian oil industry. The British reacted with outrage, withdrawing all British expertise and imposing an oil embargo against Iran. Over the next two years, the so-called "Abadan crisis" brought Iran to the brink of bankruptcy
American ambivalence: the British also turned to the USA for help. But U.S. President Truman was against any intervention. Truman was torn: on the one hand, he didn't want to alienate his British allies. On the other, he sympathised with Mossadegh and believed that only a free, economically strong Iran could resist the communist influence of the USSR
Dwindling stability: but Iran's continuing economic crisis was having an effect: slowly, more radical currents were gaining ground – such as the communist Tudeh Party. In several mass demonstrations it called for the expulsion of Americans and British and for the country to turn towards Moscow. Yet the U.S. still believed that Mossadegh had the domestic political situation under control
Two elections changed everything: Winston Churchill regained power in London at the end of 1951. And one year later Dwight D. Eisenhower replaced Truman in Washington. Churchill skilfully presented the risk of a communist revolution in Iran. Eisenhower, who had already worked effectively with the secret services during World War II, agreed to engage the CIA to overthrow Mossadegh
"Operation Ajax" begins: in July 1953, CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt travelled to Iran. He convinced the Shah (right) to dismiss Mossadegh and appoint General Fazlollah Zahedi, a straw man of Western interests, as the new prime minister. A courier would bring the signed release papers to Mossadegh; Mossadegh himself was to be placed under house arrest immediately upon receipt
Organised chaos: at the same time, the CIA created chaos in Tehran. Its operatives bribed politicians, clergy, journalists, and workers, thus outweighing Mossadegh's supporters and opponents. The agents didn't care who would get the upper hand on the street. The only important thing was to stage the Shah as the saviour of the people, who would use his loyal army to restore peace and order
Escape to Rome: the first coup attempt on 15 August 1953, however, failed. Mossadegh had got wind of the plans. He arrested several Iranian ringleaders of the coup attempt and paid a bounty to General Zahedi, who went into hiding. When the Shah learned that the mood had turned against him, he fled the country: first to Baghdad, then to Rome
Deceptive calm: on 18 August, 1953, Mossadegh looked like the sure winner. He assumed that the Shah and the British had plotted against him, but he did not know that the USA was involved as well. Mossadegh called on his followers to stay at home the next day to prevent any further escalation of violence on Tehran's streets. Mossadegh did not expect a second coup attempt
The mood turns: CIA agent Roosevelt mobilised the masses again. On 19 August, they took to the streets for the Shah – this time without resistance from Mossadegh supporters. The Shah's release certificates were copied thousands of times and distributed among the population. More and more police and military units joined the demonstrators, who stormed the Foreign Ministry and the police headquarters
Decision time in front of Mossadegh's house: supported by a column of tanks, a crowd of people broke into Mossadegh's private house. A street battle broke out between supporters and opponents of the prime minister, killing more than 200 people. When the Shah followers stormed the house, Mossadegh fled over the garden wall. Five days later he surrendered and was arrested by his adversary General Zahedi
Under Washington's thumb: on 22 August 1953, the Shah returned from Rome. In the period that followed he established a military dictatorship, which was massively supported by the USA. With American help he also established the infamous secret police SAVAK. The nationalisation of oil production was reversed – almost half of the proceeds now went to American companies
All hope gone: after his arrest, Mossadegh was tried for treason and sentenced to three years in prison. Released from prison in December 1956, Mossadegh retreated to his private home in Ahmad Abad, guarded by SAVAK secret service personnel. Mossadegh was no longer allowed to leave his home village. He died on 5 March 1967
Some 47 years later, in March 2000, the then U.S. Secretary of State Madelaine Albright admitted for the first time that the USA had been involved in the coup d'etat. One month later, the New York Times published documents describing the CIA's key role in the coup against Mossadegh. But no action was taken in response to this avowal of guilt. The ice age between Iran and the USA that had begun with the occupation of the embassy in Tehran would not be easy to bring to an end.
Directly after the American diplomats were taken hostage in 1979, the U.S. government decided to impose an import ban on Iranian goods. But the Islamic Republic continued to run riot. Some of the diplomats were still being held hostage when war broke out against Iraq on 22 September 1980.
The Iran-Iraq war raged on for eight years: while the Islamic Republic was under a worldwide arms embargo for the entire duration, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was able to obtain weapons and materials from almost any country in the Western world. The war was at its height when 60 U.S. soldiers were killed in a terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy in Beirut on 18 April 1983. In response, President Ronald Reagan declared Iran a "sponsor of international terrorism". Again, sanctions were tightened.
No sooner was the Iran-Iraq war over than Ayatollah Khomeini issued a death fatwa against the writer Salman Rushdie in 1989 for his book "The Satanic Verses". The Islamic Republic was henceforward considered a "rogue state" not only by the U.S. government, but by many others in the Western world as well. In protest against the fatwa, all EU member states withdrew their ambassadors from Iran. Once again, sanctions would follow.
Three years later, on 17 September 1992, a death squad following orders from Tehran murdered four Iranian opposition members at the Mykonos Restaurant in Berlin. A Berlin court later noted in its ruling that nearly the entire leadership of the Islamic Republic had been involved in the assassination. In response, Germany's political parties unanimously called for an end to the European Union's "critical dialogue" with Iran. The upshot: more sanctions.
In a small fishing town in Morocco's south, wedged between the Atlantic Ocean and the Sahara, a group of idealistic young surfers are teaching local children to brave the crashing waves. By Imane Djamil