Iran had been ruled by leaders called Shahs. The country had been strongly influenced by Shi’a clergy, who practiced a very traditional form of Islam. Despite this, a new Shah took over in 1925 and began pushing for Westernization, facing stiff opposition. By the Shah forced his program of modernization, copying Western institutions like schools, government, etc., and eliminating Islamic law. The harsh measures the Shah and, later, his son–Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi–when he became Shah, took to make his country change created much resentment. That resentment extended to the United States too, because Pahlavi was a U. S. ally during the Cold War because he wasn’t communist.
The Shah’s government was unpopular and in the late 1970’s demonstrations, strikes and campaigns of civil disobedience erupted against his regime. These protests were closely tied to Islamic fundamentalism–a movement within Islam to get back to the basics of the religion. As the people’s dissatisfaction with his rule built, in 1979, fearing for his life, the Shah and his family abdicated and fled to the United States.
Iran established a new government, based on Islamic law, making it a theocracy. The leader of the new Iran was a religious leader called Ayatollah Khomeini. This government sought to undo the changes made to Iran by the Shahs and wanted remove all Western influence. Strict censorship was imposed on the country and harsh punishment for breaking the law was strictly enforced. Women were especially effected by the changes as they were stripped of all their rights and had to be covered in public (or else face instant execution).
The Iranian Revolution of 1979 increased tension with the rest of the world, as the Ayatollah was anti-Western. Many Western nationals—mostly reporters covering the revolution—were held hostage, causing diplomatic crises.
It was also because of the Revolution that an oil crisis emerged. In response to problems in the Middle East caused by anti-Western feelings, the Organization of Petroleum Export Countries—and organization of mostly Middle Eastern countries, cut oil-production, causing a world-wide energy crisis.
In addition to the social problems within Iran with people’s rights being severely limited by the new regime, social problems for the rest of the world emerged. For instance, international travel became dangerous due to terrorism. Iran had ties to terrorist organizations—like Al-Qaeda—that committed many acts of terrorism directed at the U. S. through the 1980’s, including hijacking or blowing up planes.