Let the King Reign but not Govern!

  January 10, 2024   Read time 2 min
Let the King Reign but not Govern!
The success of the Writers’ Association encouraged other associations such as the Association of Iranian Lawyers and the Iranian Committee for the Defense of Freedom and Human Rights to take a measured advantage of the emerging political opening in the country.

They organized letter-writing campaigns to government officials and international organizations for the recognition of their rights. Students of different universities in Tehran organized similar events for the members of the Writers’ Association on their respective campuses. The event at Tehran Technical University of Aryamehr, on November 16, 1977, became violent, and the university police arrested a number of students. The audience protested the arrests and staged a sit-in inside the athletics hall of the university. After twenty-four hours of negotiation, the police agreed to release the arrested students if the demonstrators dispersed.

The crowd walked out of the university in silence, but a larger crowd joined them on the streets and turned the walk into an impressive rally of ten to fifteen thousand. The young protestors shouted “Death to the fascist regime,” “Unity, struggle, victory,” “Death to the Shah.” A movement that began as an attempt for legal recognition of the Writers’ Association had now turned into a full-blown antiregime protest on a major street (incidentally, called Eisenhower) in Tehran.

At the same time, Iranian students in the United States staged a massive protest against the Shah’s visit in front of the White House. Despite the strong police presence, the students successfully disrupted the ceremony on the White House lawn. The police used tear gas but wind blew it toward the White House and gave a number of reporters the opportunity to take pictures of the Shah and President Carter in tears. The banners in front of the White House read: “Mr. Human Rights Meets the King of Torture!”

A commonplace view considers the Goethe poetry nights to be the precursor of the revolutionary movement that began a few months later. But, as Javad Tale‘ei, one of the organizers and a participant in the event recalls, “one should not forget that during the poetry reading nights, and even for months after that, we thought that the relative economic prosperity that the petro-dollar had afforded the country could not be sustained without some level of political openness. But at the time, no one could imagine that Iran would witness a revolution in a near future. During that period we wanted a reformed state structure and a guarantee of political freedom. At the time in political rallies one could not hear the name of Ayatollah Khomeini. It was the future events that change the direction of the movement toward a revolutionary path.”

Indeed, the revolutionary movement unfolded in a different series of events that occurred outside the milieu of political and intellectual circles whose central agenda was to restore the monarchy to its true constitutional roots. With the exception of the radical guerilla movement, whose operational capacity SAVAK had already destroyed, other political actors (i.e., the liberals of the National Front and Freedom Movement and communists of the Tudeh Party) followed the constitutional motto “Let the king reign but not govern!”

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