Iran's revolution — 40 years on
The FT's Middle East editor Andrew England reflects on the celebrations in Tehran of the 1979 Islamic revolution
Filmed and written by Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Andrew England. Edited by Josh de la Mare.
On February the 11th, Iran marks the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, which sent shockwaves around the world and ended the Pahlavi dynasty, closing a chapter on 2,500 years of rule by Persian kings. It's a huge milestone for the Shia clerics that have ruled the theocratic state since. For them and their supporters, it's a vindication of their ability to withstand years of western hostility and myriad domestic challenges.
But the anniversary has been overshadowed by the deep sense of malaise in the country, following Donald Trump's decision last year to withdraw from the landmark nuclear accord Tehran signed with world powers. He then imposed what the US president has described as the toughest ever sanctions on the republic. The result - a regime grappling with what many Iranians consider to be one of its biggest crises since Ayatollah Khomeini returned from Paris to lead the uprising against the Shah.
But few are predicting the system's demise. The regime has a history of adapting to survive when threatened, from the eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s to the period of severe sanctions and pariah status the republic endured during the rule of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In Tehran, life appears to be going on as normal, shoppers packed into the city's ancient bazaar ahead of a long weekend to mark the 40th anniversary of the revolution. In glitzy malls, affluent residents took advantage of the seasonal sales. And as you can see from here, residents are still very busy.
But beneath the surface, many Iranians express a sense of hopelessness as they struggle with inflation soaring about 40 per cent, and harbour a deep resentment of what they perceive to be rampant state corruption. A student working part time in a cafe told me she felt numb. She said there were so many problems, she didn't see how they could be resolved. Yet in May 2017, she was among the millions of Iranians who took to the streets to celebrate Hassan Rouhani's election victory, which secured the president a second term.
The president had sealed a nuclear deal with six world powers in 2015, under which Iran reduced its nuclear activity in return for the lifting of many international sanctions. Mr Rouhani had promised to use the accord to gradually re-engage the Islamic republic with the outside world and revive the battered economy.
Back then, I witnessed the jubilation of Iranians as they took to the streets en masse in an expression of their thirst for change and desire for the country to open up. But Trump's decision to withdraw from the nuclear agreement last year has dashed any hopes they had that Rouhani would be able to fulfil his pledges.
The US sanctions have severed the limited financial channels that existed between Iran and the west. Many western companies have pulled out of the republic, or suspended their operations. The republic's oil exports, the country's economic lifeline, have plummeted, and the rial has lost more than 50 per cent of its value against hard currencies.
The result is that Rouhani and the reformists who backed him have been badly undermined, as their hardline rivals have sought to exploit the failure of the nuclear accord to deliver the promised economic benefits to Iran for their own benefit. One reformist politician told me that Trump, by pulling out of the nuclear agreement, had passed the ball to the hardliners.
Much will now depend on how Iran's leaders are able to navigate through the economic crisis, and whether popular frustration moves to streets on the wide scale. The clerical leadership is all too aware of the threat of mass demonstrations. It was, after all, protests that brought together the merchants, students, religious leaders, and workers that propelled them to power in 1979.
In 1979, it was the cry for social justice and political freedom that brought Iranians onto the streets. Today, many say they're still desperate for those demands to be met, and an end to the international isolation that has characterised the 40 years of the Islamic republic.