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Iran's New Revolution
A generation after it seized power, Iran's revolutionary regime is deeply troubled: fractured by intense political divisions, endangered by economic disorder, discredited by rampant corruption, and smothered in social restrictions no longer acceptable to large sectors of its changing population. To the outside world the Islamic Republic of Iran often appears to be at a precipice, its unique theocratic government on the verge of imploding from internal tensions. Over the past year, its domestic drama has played out visibly, and sometimes violently, in killings by a rogue death squad, newspaper closures, student unrest, political trials, local elections, charges of espionage against the Jewish minority, and as always, relations with the United States.
Yet Iran, often in spite of the theocrats, has begun to achieve one of the revolution's original goals: empowering the people. New social and political movements are blossoming defiantly in ways that put Iran on the cutting edge of the Islamic world on issues ranging from religious reform and cultural expression to women's rights. So, although the theocratic regime that seized power in 1979 is unlikely to survive in its current, austere form because of profound internal problems, the driving force behind the revolution has proven durable and, in the end, adaptable enough to allow Iranians to go out and get for themselves what the theocracy has failed to provide.
Iran's revolution was about more than getting rid of an unpopular king or ending 2,500 years of dynastic rule. In the quest for empowerment, the upheaval of 1979 was an extension of earlier challenges to the state's central power: the 1905-11 Constitutional Revolution that diminished the monarchy's authority, and the nationalist rule between 1951 and 1953 that briefly forced the shah into exile. Both earlier attempts at evolutionary change were ultimately aborted. Thus the coalition of parties seeking a greater say in public life resorted to revolution. Iranians were not alone in trying to end autocratic rule. Iran's upheaval was part of global change, including the demise of communism in Europe, white rule in Africa, and military dictatorships in Latin America.