Freedom Movement of Iran
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The Freedom Movement of Iran (FMI), Persian: نهضت آزادی ايران, Nehzat-e Azadi-e Iran) is an Iranian political organization which was founded in 1961 by Mehdi Bazargan, Mahmoud Taleghani, Yadollah Sahabi, Mostafa Chamran, Ali Shariati, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh and some other political or religious figures. Despite being outlawed by the prevailing regime in Iran, the group continues to exist. The group's current leader is Ebrahim Yazdi since 1995. FMI is one of the major parties in the Alliance of Nationalist-Religious Activists of Iran (Etelaf-e Nirouhaye Melli Mazhabi-e Iran). Musa al-Sadr was also a close associate of the movement and of its founding members.
1953 Coup d'etat and aftermath
The group's origins go back to the early 1950s right after the 1953 coup d'état against the government of Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq, who was Prime Minister of Iran from April 1951 to August 1953 (with a very brief interruption in July 1952). That coup brought down Mossadegh and his colleagues from power and reinstalled the Shah as the dominant force in Iranian politics. The newly installed regime quickly rounded up Mossadegh's closest supporters, outlawing freedom of expression and brutally cracking down on free political activity. Mossadegh himself was placed before a military court and sentenced to three years in prison. Under these unfavorable conditions, a group of low-ranking leaders from the Mossadegh era quickly formed an underground organization calling itself the National Resistance Movement (NRM). It is significant in the context of the FMI's history because this reincarnation of the National Front (the umbrella group for Mossadegh's supporters) was constituted mainly of religious laymen, which differentiated it from the secular members of the banned National Front, including Mossadegh himself. The NRM campaigned for the 1954 Majlis to be free and fair (they were not) and attempted
Early 1960s: the creation of the Freedom Movement
In 1960, the Second National Front was formed, which mostly involved figures from the early 1950s during Mossadegh's time in office. However, in 1961, Mehdi Bazargan, Mahmud Taleghani, Yadollah Sahabi (all prominent liberals) broke away to form a more religious (and radical) counterpart to the National Front. This new group quickly gained a large following exceeding that of their rival and its leaders advocated civil disobedience such as protests, sit-ins and strikes as a way of pressuring the Shah to reinstitute democratic rule. But, after a brief period of reform under Prime Minister Ali Amini, the regime cracked down on dissent. In June 1963, a massive uprising occurred in five Iranian cities over the arrest of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a radical cleric who had been making inflammatory statements concerning the regime of the Shah and his allegedly anti-Islamic policies. Faced with this, the regime sent in the army infantry and tanks to crush the riots, which resulted in at least hundreds (some believe thousands) of deaths. Because the FMI had supported the uprising, their group was singled out for harassment and made to disappear by the mid-1960s. But, in 1964, the FMI (along with other parties) helped to form (with Mossadegh's blessings) the Third National Front which, like the FMI, took a more active and radical stance toward the Shah's regime compared to that of the more cautious Second National Front. By 1965, all legal forms of dissidence had been done away with, leaving armed violence as the only means of inflicting some sort of damage on the regime.
Events leading to the Islamic Revolution (1965-1979)
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the FMI operated mostly outside in the country, mainly in the United States and Europe. The seemingly omnipresent nature of SAVAK (the Shah's secret police force, allegedly responsible for executing, imprisoning and torturing tens of thousands of political inmates) and the stifling police state atmosphere discouraged any sort of major activity inside Iran proper. Until the mid-1970s, those Iranians who had actively opposed the Shah had been mainly of left-wing or liberal background, with the former dominating by far. But beginning in that decade, thanks partly to the FMI, the religious elements (including the mullahs) began to dominate the movement. They were able to do this because the Islamic movement had a network of over 9,000 mosques, 180,000 mullahs and millions of pious followers in Iran and it could freely operate, unlike the left-wing elements who were mercilessly crushed by SAVAK, the police and the regime's military apparatus. In January 1978, the pro-regime newspaper Ettelaat published an article accusing Khomeini of being, among other things, a reactionary and British agent. This led to an uprising in the holy city of Qom and the uprising soon spread to Tabriz, Tehran and other major cities. By the end of 1978, the regime of the Shah (once touted as possessing the fifth largest military force on Earth) had all but collapsed under the weight of massive uprisings and workers' strikes. In response to the Shah's appointment of Shapour Bakhtiar as prime minister, Khomeini appointed Mehdi Bazargan as head of the provisional government (which was not yet in power). On Feb. 11 1979, the regime fell and what became known as the Islamic Republic of Iran took its place.
Islamic Republic of Iran (1979-Present)
The Islamic Republic of Iran was proclaimed on 1 April 1979 after the results of a referendum in which allegedly more than 98% voted for this system. The Provisional Government took office on 12 February, right after the former regime fell, but it quickly became apparent that this government lacked any real power, which was instead concentrated in the Islamic Revolutionary Council (which was dominated by hard-line religious fundamentalists) and the local Islamic Komitehs (committees) which were executing thousands of Iranians. The PG was composed mainly of elements from the FMI (including Bazargan, Taleghani, Sahabi, Yazdi, Nazih and Bani-Sadr), but also included a few leaders of the National Front (Sanjabi, Ardalan, Forouhar). This period expressed the height of the LMI's influence over Iranian politics, but it was not to last. By Aug. 1979, the new regime was clamping down on dissent, outlawing nearly all political parties and instituting a campaign of terror against its critics. The Bazargan cabinet resigned en masse on 5 November 1979, and thus, ended the Interim Government of Iran. The Islamic regime (led by Ayatollah Khomeini) crushed all dissent in the country so that the oppositionists, both real and potential, either fled abroad or were murdered or imprisoned. But the LMI continued to exist as a barely tolerated force in the Majlis, where it called for an early end to the war with Iraq in 1984 (the war had started in September 1980 when Iraqi forces, under the orders of President Saddam Hussein, invaded Iran).
In 1995, Bazargan died (of natural causes) and Ibrahim Yazdi took over as leader of the organization. The group continued to exist as a tolerated party until the regime cracked down on it in the year 2000, arresting and placing on trial dozens of activists belonging to the group, making the party non-operational.
- Chehabi, H.E., Iranian Politics and Religious Modernism: The Liberation Movement of Iran Under the Shah and Khomeini, Cornell University Press, October 1990
- Abrahamian, Ervand, Iran Between Two Revolutions,Princeton University Press, July 1982.
- Siavoshi, Sussan, Liberal Nationalism in Iran: The Failure of a Movement, Westview Press, March 1990.