The Revolution Which At First, Was Not
As late as September 28, 1978, several months before one of the major revolutions of the twentieth century, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency reported that the shah “is expected to remain actively in power over the next ten years.” The 1979 Iranian Revolution stunned the world dramatizing just how vast a change in government orientation could be imposed. The change seemed to move Iran from a Western-allied monarchy based on Persian nationalism to an Islamic revolutionary theocracy based on Shiite Moslem fundamentalism.
Middle East revolutions are usually instigated by discontented religious, ethnic, and/or ideological forces. Upon seizing power they ruthlessly dismantle existing institutions establishing new ones to secure their rule as occurred in Iraq in 1958. But in Iran, contrary to Western perceptions, swift institutional change did not come about immediately. Well entrenched bureaucratic and military infrastructures and elite were too vast and powerful to be swiftly eliminated by revolutionaries seeking to impose an Islamic Republic. As a result, Iranian behavior in domestic and foreign affairs continued to mirror in many ways the Pahlavi monarchy despite the new leadership’s fundamentalist rhetoric.
In the West, government is often characterized by incrementalism where change comes about in small slow steps, if at all. Past institutional habits are unconsciously imbedded throughout institutions to block change at the implementation stage when new leaders arise. Newly elected leaders realize insurmountable barriers and resistance to their agenda.
In the third world, authoritarian regimes can impose change arbitrarily and speedily. But change often depends on how well entrenched the former bureuracratic and military elite are and the new leadership’s willingness to risk dismantling the country’s security and operational structure to secure political power. In the 1958 Iraqi Revolution, the British imposed Hashemite monarchy replanted from Arabia, was small and not well entrenched, and therefore easily but brutally discarded. But in Iran, despite the zeal of revolutionary religious dogma against the monarchy, change proved difficult due to the country’s dependence on well entrenched bureaucratic and military institutions.
In examining the Iranian Revolution, Westerners were too focused on what did change rather than on what remained the same therefore missing an opportunity to influence a more favorable course of relations. In many ways we didn’t do our history homework to identify an Iranian historical trend that allowed mercenary elites to not only infiltrate the dynasties they eventually seized but also to survive their very own ouster. The Qajar dynasty, long vassals of the Safavid dynasty, infiltrated the royal state apparatus enough by the 17th century to eventually seize the throne for themselves. A look back two regimes earlier would prove that just as Qajar dynasty elites transitioned themselves into the Pahlavi monarchy so too did Pahlavi dynasty elites transition themselves into the Islamic Republic.
As Iran’s Revolution was in full swing in the early 1980s the Cultural School of Organization Theory was articulated in the field of Public Administration. The Cultural School’s approach to organizational behavior will help us understand the gap between the Iranian revolutionary rhetoric voiced by Iran’s new ayatollah rulers and the actual behavior of Iranian institutions still very much operating as if the Pahlavi monarchy never ceased.
Elite Holdovers: Qajars & Pahlavis
Iranian political tradition of the modern era shows the absorption of former regime elites. Qajar dynasty elites continued to participate in the affairs of state throughout the Pahlavi monarchy. In 1925, Reza Shah, former commander of the Iranian Cossack Brigade and Prime Minister under the last Qajar monarch seized power as a Constitutional Assembly ended the dynasty and declared him the new Shah.
Following world war two and the succession of his son Mohammad Reza, Iran was gripped by economic and political crisis. Prime Minister Mossadegh sought to nationalize the oil industry and oust the Shah in a showdown with Western petroleum interests. The Shah ultimately prevailed in ousting Mossadegh through a CIA instigated coup. Mossadegh was the son of a Qajar princess and a wealthy aristocratic father who served as Minister of Finance to Qajar King Ahmad Shah. Mossaegh’s Qajar background made his rivalry with the second Pahlavi monarch natural reflecting tensions inherent in the dynasty change thirty years earlier. The Qajar element in government affairs remained active under the Pahlavi monarchy as demonstrated by Houshang Davalloa, a Qajar prince, who participated in the Shah’s entourage during the monarch’s European visit in 1972.
The Qajar holdover into the Pahlavi Dynasty no doubt foreshadowed a Pahlavi holdover into the Islamic Republic. The integration of elite holdovers conformed to each era’s context of predominant political power. The Qajar element in the Pahlavi regime was ascriptive (family/tribal) oriented while the Pahlavi element in the Khomeini regime was administrative and military. Although the Islamic Republic, like the Pahlavi dynasty before it, officially abolished its predecessor, its actual demise would take at least another decade to achieve. Entrenchment of former elites, stability and continuity of government services, incrementalism, and resistance to change succeeded in curtailing changes pursued by Ayatollah Khomeini. A look at the Iranian military and government bureaucracy proves the inability of early Islamic leaders to redirect their country’s break with the past.
The Iranian military, the staunchest supporter of the monarchy, required neutralization to lessen the threat of a countercoup and restore order against ethnic insurrection, and leftist subversion. It was the top echelons of the army that were responsible for shooting and arresting anti-Shah demonstrators as revolution spread. The army was loosely connected with the Shah’s intelligence service Savak, which had a well developed infrastructure for fighting internal and external foes.
The Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolutionary clique in Paris directing the revolution approached the Shah’s military to neutralize, if not recruit, its members for their Islamic Republic in the making in January 1979. Khomeini designated Prime Minister to be Medi Bazargan, a cabinet Minister under Mossadegh, actually held a meeting with Savak chief General Moggadam that month just before the revolutionary takeover. Amidst revolutionary protests and a feared royalist military coup, the Shah departed leaving behind a caretaker government under Prime Minister Shapour Baktier. Khomeini sought to forestall a coup and perhaps recruit intelligence officials who might be useful to his future regime. Khomeini acknowledged contacts with the army for purposes of inviting it “to rally to the people.” From his Paris headquarters Khomeini warned extremists at home “not to attack Savak agents or create panic which might justify a military coup.”
Khomeini’s return to Iran with Bahktier’s overthrow implied the end of the Pahlavi road for Iran. This road preached alignment with the West and Persian Aryan nationalism to resurrect the glory of ancient Persia. In contrast, Khomeini articulated an anti-West Shiite Islamic revolutionary stance aimed at Shiite expansionary hegemony. Radicals pursued this agenda in confronting the U.S. through the American Embassy hostage crisis and the prosecution and execution of noted figures of the Shah’s regime. The revolutionary chaos allowed all anti-Shah groups to freely come out in the open, recruit members, and seize weaponry throughout the country. Simultaneously secessionist rebellions erupted in Iran’s ethnic enclaves.
Upon the overthrow of the Shah’s appointed Prime Minister Baktier and takeover of Khomeini, the Shah’s top military officials signed a declaration of neutrality in politics promoting an atmosphere of reconciliation. Nonetheless irregular revolutionary committees sprang up arresting suspects connected to the Shah, confiscating property of the wealthy, and harassing travelers seeking emigration. Such actions prompted Khomeini’s appointed Prime Minister Bazargan to complain to the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) which ran the country about unauthorized arrests, property confiscations and dismissals of government officials. He publically protested the escalating reign of terror while offering sanctuary and protection to Baktier who eventually fled the country. Baktier, a long-term Shah opponent and former jailed political prisoner, was the departing monarch’s conciliatory gesture to the opposition.
In response to revolutionary excesses the RCC implemented several measures to limit abuses while preserving the government and military infrastructure. Revolutionary Prosecutor Hadavi cancelled several arrest warrants and property confiscations. In May 1979, Khomeini signed an order restricting executions to only those officials directly involved in killings and torture under the Shah. In order to prevent further civil havoc the new ruling ayatollahs needed the military to preserve order. As one reporter stationed in Iran during the revolution observed: “The armed forces are the last encouraging vestige of functioning authority…the military and religious leadership-both conservative- have a common interest in avoiding civil war that would only benefit their joint adversary-the nascent left.”
As chaos mounted the governing RCC had a change of heart recognizing their need for the Shah’s inherited infrastructure threatened by deserting soldiers and fleeing skilled professionals. In June 1979, the RCC issued an amnesty for the Shah’s loyal personnel in the armed forces declaring “without an amnesty, authorities could not expect the divided security forces in disarray since the ouster of the Shah, to resume their responsibilities.” The amnesty allowed military and intelligence officers to return to their posts without fear of persecution for their pro-Shah sympathies. The RCC, in a circular issued by Ayatollah Beheshti, further restricted revolutionary courts forbidding further execution without his written approval. Simultaneusly, the RCC invoked an old retirement law enacted by the Shah in 1965, allowing the military to be purged through forced retirement granting full veteran rights including pensions.
The Islamic Republic facing subversion from the Soviet backed Iranian leftists quickly turned to the Shah’s veteran Savak remnants, who were well versed in intelligence against these mutual adversaries. Deepening Soviet influence in Iraq and Afghanistan gave Iran a feeling of encirclement as ethnic unrest historically associated with its northern neighbor also escalated. Savak officials recruited by the Islamic Republic included the Shah’s best friend and former deputy chief of Savak General Hussein Fardust, Savak agent Munucher Ghorbanifar, and the Savak chief for the city of Arak. Fardust, initially arrested by revolutionaries resurfaced not at the firing squad of his fellow colleagues, but as head of Savana, the newly created intelligence service of the Islamic Republic. Ghorbanifar, cautiously taking up residency in France, was granted an unofficial post as Iran’s European chief of intelligence. He was later exposed in the Reagan administration’s Iran contra scandal as the intermediary with Israel for weapons purchases.
The Islamic Republic grew more dependent on the military for maintaining order following the outbreaks of ethnic unrest which threatened to dismember the country. The regime rewarded officers formerly loyal to the Shah who nonetheless proved effective in quelling the ethnic rebellions. Read Admiral Madani was promoted to Navy Commander for enforcing Islamic rule in Arab speaking Khuzestan, where he was governor. Sayad Shirazi, a junior army officer, was appointed Commander of Ground Forces for his success in quelling rebellion in Kurdistan. In contrast to the army, left suspect for its shootings of revolutionary protestors, the navy and air force which had taken no part against the revolution was left virtually intact and granted autonomy and continuity in its operations.
But the uncovering of plots of subversion pressured the Khomeini regime to wiggle back from its intermittent leniency toward the Pahlavi infrastructure it inherited. In September 1979 Moustafa Chamran was appointed Defense Minister and given a mandate to purge the army of “Zionists.” Under the Shah, Israel, a religious pariah in the Moslem clerics’ theology, had built, trained, and collaborated extensively with the military and the intelligence services. Chomran established committees in the Ministry of Defense to review personnel records to target staff for dismissal but promised they could go with the entitlement “to enjoy human dignity.”
Military officials appointed by the Shah were slowly targeted for replacement as they became suspect in uncovered plots to overthrow the new regime, especially during the hostage crisis. The April 1980 failed American rescue mission of its embassy hostages implicated several military elites as conspirators. Air Force Commander General Bahman Bagheri was one suspect, after he ordered the bombing of the Tabbas airfield site where the American rescue team had suffered a helicopter collision. The collision prompted President Carter to call off the rescue mission. The American soldiers abandoned the site leaving behind documents revealing the identities of Iranian coconspirators. The Bagheri ordered bombing destroyed any evidence implicating conspirators against the regime. Khomeini revolutionaries used another military attempted coup in June 1980 staged from a northern army cadet garrison as reason to dismiss several military suspects, including Bagheri. Khomeini’s introduction of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard force to secure its position promoted an alternative to the pro-Shah military it sought to eventually replace.
The September1980 Iraqi invasion of Saddam Hussein postponed the Islamic Republic’s hopes of further weakening the Iranian military. As the Iraqi army advanced deep inside Iran, the Khomeini leadership was forced to compromise its ideological stance to defend the country. A severe manpower and equipment shortage plagued a desperate Iran embargoed by the West for its refusal to release American hostages. President Bani-Sadr released American trained pilots from prison to undertake raids against Iraq. The
Air Force with its American made fleet and under Iraqi attack was soon grounded. Iran’s new revolutionary allies Syria and Libya, equipped with Soviet weaponry, proved too unreliable to assist with the country’s American arsenal. With this predicament, the Air Force turned to its past benefactor Israel for desperately needed supplies.
The Air Force, still largely intact, had veterans who were Israeli trained and experienced a working relationship with the Jewish state under the Shah. The first arms sales from Israel were for tires of Iran’s American F-15 fighter jets. The Air Force also targeted Sadaam Hussein’s Tammuz 17 nuclear reactor and provided Israel with aerial photos of the site to encourage the reactor’s destruction. Following Israel’s successful raid and destruction of the Iraqi facility in June 1981, Iraq hinted to a joint operation in which the Jewish state’s air force was using Iranian airbases to launch attack on the reactor at the beginning of the war in September 1980. Despite, the Islamic Republic’s official denial, Saddam pointed to a Jewish-Persian conspiracy. “I am able to affirm that originally Iran bombed these nuclear plants with …Israel. We struck down their planes and the captured Iranian pilots confessed. However, other pilots (Israelis) shot down we could not capture as the safety button to eject the pilots was removed bringing about their sudden death and our inability to identify them.”
In response to the Israeli announced successful raid the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council issued a statement labeling the attack a joint operation. “The Zionist enemy participated on more than one occasion directly and indirectly with Iran. Zionist enemy planes also raided Iraq in the early days of the war in collusion with the suspect regime in Iran.” Israeli arms sales to the Islamic Republic were frequently publicized by the media
throughout the war through documentation showing the new Iran-Israel liaison being conducted through the Islamic Republic’s Air Force Logistics Centre in London. Yaakov Nimrodi, the Israeli military attaché to Tehran during the Shah, was coordinating most of Iran’s weaponry procurement, on Israel’s behalf, from abroad.
Despite regime change the Iran-Iraq war revitalized a strategic alliance achieved under the Shah. Israel, for its part exchanged arms for isolated and persecuted Iranian Jews while also hoping to enhance its traditional military friends at the expense of the growing Revolutionary Guard force. Simultaneously at the front tension mounted between the Revolutionary Guard and the traditional military which mockingly referred to the undisciplined ragtag ill trained youngsters as SSlam an analogy to Hitler’s Schutzstafflel.
The Iranian bureaucracy was groomed in the image of any large Western government infrastructure under the Shah’s White Revolution. The White Revolution was the Shah’s modernization program of the 1960s to which the large public sector grew. This large bureaucracy was targeted for revolutionary purges throughout the 1980s. Like the military, Islamic revolutionary leaders sought to consolidate their power by working with experienced civil servants inherited from the monarchy.
A comparison of Iranian ministries before and after the revolution shows little changed at first. The Islamic Republic simply added new agencies to the existing government structure to promote their constituency and agenda. New agencies included the Ministry of Revolutionary Guard and the Ministry of Islamic Guidance. The Ministry of Revolutionary Guard replaced the Shah’s former “palace guard” serving as a protection force for revolutionary leaders. Semi-official government organs like the Iranian Red Crescent, Kayan newspaper, Iran Air, and Bank Melli continued. The Islamic leaders dismantled the Pahlavi endowment foundations and replaced them with their own. Their charitable institutions included the Foundation of the Martyrs and the Oppressed and the Hajj Pilgrimage Organization. The later organization continued serving Israeli Moslems by providing them transportation to Mecca, an initiative established under the Shah. The White Revolution’s Revolutionary Corps, an endowment organization of the Shah was replaced by the Religious Requests Endowment. The Literacy Corps, another product of the Shah’s White Revolution continued under Khomeini.
The well entrenched bureaucracy left from the Shah no doubt irked the revolutionary ayatollahs. Shaul Bakhash’s Reign of the Ayatollahs describes how the Iranian civil service for the most part conducted business as usual well into the post-revolutionary period. “The revolutionaries came into possession of a state apparatus and bureaucracy with a strong administrative tradition and capabilities. They did not so much transfer as seize control of the government organizations. They stripped away the upper echelons of the civil service… and placed their own members in positions of influence…nevertheless the bureaucratic apparatus remained in place…the bureaucrats kept the machinery of government going…in the early days of the revolution. Later they taught newcomers to manage the balance of payments, write budgets, keep national accounts, and negotiate foreign trade agreements. In due course the natural conservatism of the bureaucracy and its insistence on regulations and procedures acted as a check on more impractical inclinations of the revolutionaries; and as new men took over the state apparatus they themselves became advocates of orderly as against “revolutionary” action.”
Purges against the bureaucracy were relatively modest. Mostafa Katurai, one Islamic revolutionary leader submitted legislation to the RCC to get stricter criteria for purging government offices. Those civil servants expelled would be granted the right to appeal their cases and receive pensions. Ali Akbar Munifa, the Islamic Republic’s first Petroleum Minister, urged oil industry bureaucrats who served the Shah to remain in their positions. Munifa himself was accused by radical revolutionaries opposing his appointment of building the Shah’s vast prison systems.
The ayatollahs reacted with scorn to a bureaucracy which refused to shed its Pahlavi culture. Months after the revolution Ayatollah Khomeini denounced ministries which continued to use official government stationary bearing the royal insignia and postage stamps depicting the Shah. In a heated exchange with Prime Minister Bazargan he complained: “We are still plagued with monarchists. Our country is still a royalist country!” The Postal Service without new designs and continued demand for its service kept printing the royalist stamps placating the new leadership by slashing across pro-Pahlavi symbols and depictions and writing the words “Islamic Revolution.” As the revolution marked its second year Khomeini turned to his President Bani-Sadr demanding to know why nothing has changed in government administration concerning the 850,00 civil servants who served the Shah. Khomeini emphasized that they should be replaced if they continue their anti-Islamic attitude.
“The Law for Renewal and Manpower Resources in the Ministries” approved by the government in 1981 sought to curb abuses of purge committees in each ministry. By 1982 extremism and terror inflicted on senior management of the old order began to wane as Islamic Republic technocrats began to attribute the country’s economic ills to the haste in dismantling the upper echelons of the Shah’s government, especially in the oil industry. Thousands of professionals fled the country. A “technocrats” movement emerged advocating planning, technical expertise, management skills and fiscal responsibility. Heavy Industry Minister Nabavi enhanced this movement confessing that new plant managers appointed after the revolution had “a lot of faith, but little skill.” Parliamentary Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani addressed the country’s brain drain urging skilled Iranian professionals who served the Shah to return. “They can return to Iran…the people are prepared to forgive their past. We have great plans for building the country and we need you.” As late as 1992, the Islamic Republic recruited the Shah’s former Economics Minister appointing him as a high level economics advisor for improving the poor economy.
Ayatollah Khomeini responded to pressure to relax revolutionary excesses against government officials inherited by the regime by issuing an eight point declaration in December 1982. The declaration put the revolutionary committees under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, an agency with a tradition of securing the monarchy. As compensation to the radical revolutionaries for this maneuver the decree also established a new Ministry for Revolutionary Guards. Simultaneously, many former Shah officials were released from prison, making their way back into government service. The decree’s implementation allowed experienced bureaucrats to survive the revolution and contribute to government service without radical revolutionary interference.
Foreign Policy Regression a la Pahlavi?
The autonomy granted by the Islamic Republic to the military and quasi-government institutions allowed them to digress back to their old habits of the pre-revolutionary era especially in foreign policy. Faced with securing the country from Iraqi aggression, the defense establishment reconnected to its former Israeli patron. Israel which had trained the Iranian military under the Shah secretly resumed training in 1982 sending experts to Tehran to provide understanding in the use of American weaponry. Circumstantial evidence points to some Israeli-Iranian collusion against Iraq alongside PLO infested Lebanon in the summer of 1982. The Israelis entered Lebanon while Iran launched an offensive against Iraq retaking the Iraqi held port of Khormanshar. Iran’s offensive meant to reverse its humiliating losses at the beginning of the Iraqi invasion diverted Arab attention from PLO troubles in Lebanon, significantly harming Yasser Arafat’s movement. In February 1984, Yair Tsaban, Israeli Knesset member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee leaked that then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, architect of the Lebanon Campaign to oust the PLO, was in touch with Iranian generals and that his country continued to sell arms to Iran. Uri Lurbrani, Israel’s chief of Lebanon policy had also been Israel’s long term unofficial ambassador to Iran.
In the aftermath of the hostage crisis, Iran’s former American patron shunned her believing the country under full control of the hostile Ayatollah Khomeini. Nonetheless senior Iranian military officials continued to supply the U.S. with intelligence. Following the U.S. bombing of Libya in 1986 as punishment for a Libyan instigated terrorist attack, the media leaked that Iranian military figures stationed in Libya passed on valuable intelligence for the operation.
The National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) under the Pahlavis bore the brunt of severe criticism for business with international pariahs-Israel and white ruled South Africa. The Shah often defended his policy once commenting “Oil is business not politics and we always separate the question of trade and politics.” The NIOC continued its dealings with both countries. The media throughout the war with Iraq released financial statements and purchase orders revealing commerce with the Jewish state. Among these documents was an invoice showing the NIOC paid the Israeli Defense Ministry $3 million for weaponry. In December 1985, a NIOC delegation arrived in white ruled South Africa to negotiate the future of a jointly owned oil refinery.
Past administrative behaviors of traditional institutions were hard to shed even when indoctrinated with the revolutionary zeal of the Islamic Republic. Even Khomeini who called for Israel’s destruction responded discreetly to his intelligence informers when told of significant weapons purchases from the Jewish state via European merchants “Well, then we are not obligated to inquire where they get their merchandise.” The Iran contra affair exposed in the late 1980s exposed that even Iranian clerics such as Khomeini aide Ayatollah Hassan Kourobi met with Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General David Kimche to receive financial and military assistance against Soviet influence, oust radical clerics, and affect change more accommodating to the West.
Explaining the Islamic Republic Paradox
Both the Neoclassical and the Cultural School of modern Public Administration can help to explain why Iran amidst revolution exhibited continued political and administrative habits and behaviors of the monarchy.
The Neo-classical school of organizational theory explains inconsistencies in institutional behavior by citing the human element inherent in all institutions. According to Neo-classicalism organizations contain individuals whose goals and aspirations may not coincide. The organization theorist Selznik recognized the concept of cooption, an organization’s process of recruiting adversaries to prevent them from harming the organization internally or externally. Selznik stressed that organizations seek maintenance of their system through environment stability, lines of authority, informal relations, and homogeneity of outlook.
The revolution inherited a vast administrative apparatus of the Pahlavis and were dumbfounded how it worked. After initial purges detrimental to Iran’s crumbling stability, the revolutionaries quickly called back former elites who knew the system and could assist them with securing power. The mullahs realized that entirely eliminating the old regime might be expedient for their revolutionary rhetoric but impractical for administering a country. The revolution was thus willing to compromise and recruit those officials of the monarchy’s state apparatus willing to switch loyalties and provide transition. The retention of these officials automatically secured past attributes of the monarchy well into the Islamic Republic.
Iran’s Islamic revolution coincided with the evolving Cultural School of organizational theory. The Cultural School rejected the basic principles of traditional organizational theory which believed that organizational processes, consensus about objectives, and methods, and coordination of information sharing were the accurate tools to study organizations. The Cultural School asserted that organizational structures and processes were the wrong tools to study organizations. The Cultural School stressed that behavior and decisions were predetermined by patterns and basic assumptions of an organization. Such patterns and assumptions blocked change when change occurred in the environment. Organizations therefore operated by ingrained cultural norms, values, and personal preferences of members, not by formal rules, structure, authority, or rational behavior.
The cultural school emphasizes symbols for guiding and managing organizations. Ambiguity and uncertainty in organizations preclude rational problem solving. Therefore people use symbols to reduce ambiguity and gain a sense of direction and identity when faced with uncertainty. An organization’s members seeking stability will refer to their past traditions during crisis as well as temporary systems. Organizations resist change when there are long developed traditions. Training programs do however serve to reinforce new culture, values, rituals, language, and stories.
One way of explaining the entrenchment of organizational behavior and resistance to change can be cited by the older Classical School of organizational theory. “Those patterns of assumptions continue to exist and influence behavior because they repeatedly lead people to make decisions that usually worked for organizations. With repeated use, the assumptions slowly drop out of people’s consciousness, but continue to influence organization’s decisions and behavior-even when the organization’s environment changes. They become underlying unquestioned-but virtually forgotten reasons for “the way we do things here”-even when the ways are no longer appropriate. They are so basic, so pervasive, and so totally accepted as “the truth” that no one thinks about or remembers them. Thus a strong organization culture controls organizational behavior and can block an organization from making changes needed to adapt to a changing environment.
The Cultural School of organizational theory best serves our Iranian Revolution case study explaining how bureaucratic and military forces deterred change amidst revolution thus ensuring continuation of the monarchy’s ways. A royalist culture implanted for half a century throughout Iranian organizations was difficult to shed. While the masses identified with Shia Islamic fundamentalist revolution, the elite digested fundamentalist culture with difficulty. When senior officials were ousted they left behind their juniors still cultivated by the monarchy’s ingrained ways to run the extensive military and bureaucracy.
With the elimination of the Shah’s ruling upper echelons, the juniors had virtually no competent leadership to fill the vacuum. In the face of uncertainty as to whether the mullah regime would survive several subversion attempts, the surviving elite embraced old habits, mores, and symbols to achieve a sense, even falsely, of security and stability. These remnants reinforced old values in the face of a hostile revolutionary environment. This scenario may explain the Iranian ministries continued use of their royalist stationary and stamps. Iran Air, like other quasi-government institutions, still uses their traditional symbols and logos. The Iranian military isolated from its American patron, with the hostage crisis and forced to defend the country from Arab invasion turned to its nearby former friend, Israel, despite the clerics’ hostility.
The Islamic revolutionaries failed to have their shadow revolutionary committees successfully purge and govern the targeted ministries. Instead the well entrenched ministries probably indoctrinated their new masters with their culture or evaded their dictates by appealing to more rational outside authorities. The placing of the revolutionary committees under the auspices of a well entrenched Ministry of Interior allowed their authority to wane or at least be subordinate. Many of the new ministry officials embraced the technocratic movement urging leniency on veterans who served the Shah to enable stability. In some cases ousted officials were recalled for their knowledge and expertise on just how things operated.
Although dramatic revolutionary change gripped Iran, many immediate sought after changes were stifled by the military and administrative need for continuity. The Iran-Iraq war, a dismal economy, brain drain, and security and subversion issues all contributed to reinforcing what was left of the Pahlavi indoctrinated apparatus. But no doubt with time and the younger population explosion radical Islamization did occur forcing old elite influence to wane by retrenchment. With the conclusion of the Iran-Iraq war and the successes of Iranian directed fundamentalist movements abroad, especially in Lebanon and Iraq, the ruling mullahs have the ideological fuel to intensify their internal agenda. But much of this intensification has only sowed the seeds for resistance among a new generation who never knew the monarchy. With expanded communication to the outside world, especially internet, they recognize the gap between what the mullahs promised and what they failed to deliver. A nostalgia for a glorious Persian past associated with monarchy grips disillusioned Iranians less enthusiastic for the chauvinism and restrictions of the mullahs’ theocracy.
In summary, this review of Iran’s incorporation of former regime elite into new political structures when applied to organizational theory serves to help understand the revolution which – at first – was not. Integration of old elite into new political power structures is not new and occurred with the Russian Revolution and post-World War Two East European governments. Recognizing this subtle reality in power politics and organization theory new leaderships can better act in promoting change and overcoming stifling institutional barriers. Iranians, thirsting for change, may too have to incorporate some of the vestiges of theocracy into a new freedom loving order if they successfully seek to return Iran to its rightful tolerant heritage founded upon Cyrus the Great.
Middle East Professor Steven Goldstein, served in the U.S. Foreign Service at the American Embassy Tel Aviv during the Iran-Iraq War and is founder of Middle East program at Washington, DC area’s largest community college Community College Baltimore County.