Session 12: The Liberal Revolution and its Detachment from 1979

Guest Speaker: Amir Yahya Ayatollahi (Ph.D. in Political Science, University of Vechta)

JANUARY 15th, 2023 


The current revolution in Iran has coined an unprecedented road toward the post-Islamic Republic era. Its precedent goes back to the Pasargadae gathering on Cyrus the Great Day in October 2016. Since then, Iranians have shouted slogans that illustrate a separation from the 1979 Revolution. The presentation is an overview of its pretexts, causes, and intrinsic characteristics that formed a patriotic discourse based on the Iranian common sense after the downfall of the monarchy and the Iranian public idea that was born due to the historical failure of 1979 and its countless costs. The issues of continuity and Iranian self-image will be addressed concisely.

Suggested reading before the meeting

Speaker’s biography 

Amir studied traditional Islamic studies, Western philosophy, and political science. His research focuses on Middle East studies, theories on state, political power and democracy, democratization process, political philosophy, history of clericalism and religious reformation, as well as social organizations and movements.

Meeting report

In this session, Amir Yahya elaborated on the notion of Liberal-Conservative revolution and conceptual model. In his view, unlike the 1979 revolution which was anti-aristocratic and ideological, infused with religious and Shia sacralization, the current movement harbors opposite values evident in the slogans that people and younger generations have used and propagated. In this paradigm shift, the abstract and resentful vision of Leftists and militant Islamists is replaced with the one that is based on national interests and respect for principles of International Human Rights. In his frame analysis, the revolution back in the 1970s led to the derailment of the Shah’s project to build a strong nation-state and led to a theocratic dystopia which has ensnared the nation and intellectuals alike. Another component that he problematized in this regard is the attitude of Libertarian elements of the society who resented Shah’s progress plans and did not have a comprehensive and realistic view of Iranian body politics. Amir Yahya pointed out very frankly to their negative historical legacies and tendencies in the left to continue their tradition disregarding the many positive changes that happened prior to the demise of Monarchy. Further, Amir Yahya emphasized the key aspect that biased historiography of Islamists and Leftist need to be properly dissected so that labels such as forced secularization and modernization and development from above can not be readily accepted. In quite contrast to the quagmire left by the revolution and the ensuing war, it is essential to understand how a balance in incorporation of civil rights with consideration of state authority can lead to a reconceptualization of the national project, the success of the current revolution and more evolutionary model of progress of the besieged nation in Iran.

In the Q&A section, attendants questioned Amir Yahya on some of the claims and arguments he put forward in his presentation. Firstly, they asked him to elaborate further on the 1950/60 dynamics and the apology letter written by the Young Shah. In addition, he was asked to clarify on how he perceives the period following the 1940s that he characterized as proto-democratic. In response, he discussed the role of the elites such as PM Foroughi who defended the constitutional and national interests despite the numerous challenges. In his view, the most appropriate period is deemed to be 15 years with the likes of PM Amini who did not last but was a compromise on the part of the nationalist and monarchist factions. In the following questions, the questions were mostly centering on his biography, the internalization of values by the younger generation and its consequences, any source of conflict between his account and other discourses on the revolutions such as feminists and how much we need to pay attention to the Libertarians/intellectuals who are active in the current revolutionary period. In summary, Amiryaha concluded that the new generation vision is aligned with the Liberal-Conservative model he put forward and they are capable of seeking change and implementing it. In the same vein, his interpretation is not in conflict with other discourses such as feminists and nationalists and we should all strive to demystify the false narratives inherited and provide alternatives to support the people who are demanding change in Iran. It has been a pleasure to have a political philosopher and scholar who is this blunt and elaborate in his thought and unafraid to dispel historical inaccuracies in search of a more valid interpretation and search for national revival and reconstruction.