The Persian Constitutional Revolution or Iranian Constitutional Revolution took place between 1905 and 1911. The revolution led to the establishment of the first ever Persian parliament. This revolution although brewing in the background, was triggered by a group of individuals dissatisfied by the regimes taxes to cover for the Qajari kings tour of Russia under whose influence the dynasty exercised its iron fist. The dissenting group sought refuge in a masjid outside Tehran, and were violently dispersed by the regime and eventually lead to the killing of a Sayyed (descendant of Prophet Muhammad. S), highly respected in Iranian culture. The killing lead to 120,000 people camping out at a square adjacent to the British embassy, another influential player in the region, demanding reforms in the shape of a constitutional monarchy comprising of a parliament and bringing the shah “under the rule of law, and the crown became a divine gift given to the Shah by the people.”
The shah under pressure agreed to these terms; however his death after a few days did not bring the constitutional reforms in action as future shahs under the British and Russian directions sought every opportunity to mock and trample the constitution. Soon after the Bolshevik revolution, the dying Russian influence meant that Britain could install a new monarch at its service, starting the Pahlavi regime.
The above lesson in history is important to understand popular uprisings of today and that Ayatollah Khamenei in the past has asked students of politics and analytical minds to study this particular revolution and evaluate the reasons behind its failures. All walks of life in Iran took part in this revolution, from secular to religious, and to understand the severity of passion of the revolutionaries, religious ulemas went as far as to theologically challenge each other’s faith, as one saw the constitutional reform as fight for justice while others saw it as a British effort to get rid of the Qajars.
Imam Khomeini’s analysis has been direct in this regard as he considered the reform a failure since it lacked any religious inspiration or ideological guideline. He even went far as to claim that certain constitutional representatives were working under the British directives. Hence, it can be concluded, that mass participation of people from all walks of life does not guarantee a reformed or rectified system. It is sometimes possible for masses to recognise enemies on the other end, but fail to see the enemy within, as the Quran calls out against hypocrites and asks believers to be vigilant against them.
The recent unrest in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere would lead to nothing more than the likes of a constitutional revolution of Iran, if Ideological behaviours and religious guidance is not adopted. A constitution that will exist in writing guaranteeing rights to people but in action would be a play dough for influential powers whose roots are deeply embedded in representatives that will emerge from these ‘leaderless’ revolutions.
For this reason, Ayatollah Khamenei has reiterated that this revolution is inspired to be Islamic and that world powers want to deviate it away from Islam so that they can employ another pharaoh:
“Do not trust the political and hypocritical gestures of America and the west. They were supporting the corrupt regime until a few days ago. But now that they have despaired of keeping it in power, they are claiming to support the rights of the people. Using this cover, they are trying to replace the pawns with other pawns. And by bringing in new faces, they are trying to help those who are connected with them dominate you once again. This is an insult to the intelligence of nations. Do not tolerate them, and do not settle for anything less than the establishment of a totally independent and populist system that is faithful to Islam”
Ayatollah Khamenei also directed the Egyptian people to connect themselves with their past with the likes of Muhammad Abduh:
“It was the first Islamic country to realize the flaws of this culture and stand up against it. Egypt was the best place that Sayyid Jamal ad-Din – that great and courageous man who fought for Islam – could find for his activities. Later on his students, including Muhammad Abduh and others, continued his activities in Egypt. The movement for Islam enjoys such a record in Egypt. The Egyptians have great political and cultural figures – all of them freedom fighters. Egypt became the leader of the Arab world in intellectual and political areas. Arab countries used to follow the lead of Egypt for a long period of time. Egypt became the leader of the Arab world. That country is overflowing with the desire for independence and freedom. Of course the Egyptian people were not provided with good opportunities, except for short periods of time.”
In conclusion, from the lessons of constitutional revolution of Iran, as a short term victory for camped out Iranians, and failure to sustain on a long term basis as the voice of the people, the rising people and revolutionaries can avoid the failure by connecting to Islam and to the great revolutionaries of their past, linking their culture and religion with their politics.
Societies in the oppressed world are reforming as an awaken Ummah and the success of the Egyptians would be an inspirations for revolutionaries in the region. When Egyptians wait for reform they should align with Muhammad Abduh’s call for reform which was based on three main precepts:
-1- Religious reform aiming at liberating thought from the shackles of conventionalism.
-2- Language reform, in terms of styles and usages, aiming at evolving a modern, powerful medium of expression and an element for unifying and integrating the nation.
-3- Political reform, where a democratic line should be struck between the state’s right to obedience by the people and the latter’s right to justice by the state.
The revolution has just begun, and the path will be determined by the people. May Allah (S) help the oppressed and give us the strength to support them and the knowledge to stay on the right path.