Today in Middle Eastern history: February 11

Well today certainly marks an important anniversary in the annals of the modern Middle East. Yes, that’s right, 56 years ago today Great Britain organized six states in its Aden Protectorate in southern Arabia into the Federation of Arab Emirates of the South. A little more than 3 years later they would add nine more states to form the Federation of South Arabia and, well, you know the rest. Big day, this February 11.

Oh, and also, on February 11, 1979, some kind of political thing happened in Iran or something? I’m sure that was important too, in its own way?

February 11, or the 22nd of Bahman on the Iranian calendar, is known as “Victory of the Iranian Revolution Day” in Iran. It commemorates the final establishment of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s rule over Iran, following the Shah’s flight and the collapse of the interim government that succeeded him. The same day that Shah Pahlavi and his family left the country, he appointed a member of the liberal secular opposition, the National Front, Shapour Bakhtiar, as Prime Minister, hoping that this would be enough to satisfy the revolutionaries and stave off any kind of theocratic government (or, in other words, to stave off Khomeini, who was so popular in exile that he had effectively directed the revolution from Paris and would likely be handed the country when he finally returned to it). Unfortunately for Bakhtiar (who hated the Shah but shared his fear of Khomeini’s intentions), the mere act of accepting the appointment from the Shah tied him to the Shah publicly and therefore totally discredited him with the revolutionaries.

As expected, Khomeini’s return to Iran on February 1 (12 Bahman) was a momentous occasion, marked by millions of Iranians who personally turned out to welcome him back. Khomeini that same day gave a speech in which declared Bakhtiar’s government illegitimate (“I appoint the government,” he reportedly said). On February 4 he did just that, naming Mehdi Bazargan (another secular leader but one more friendly to Khomeini than Bakhtiar) as the new PM. Bakhtiar understandably wasn’t too happy about this, and openly wondered where the heck this cleric Khomeini had suddenly found the authority to appoint governments. He soon got his answer, when Khomeini ordered his supporters to take to the streets in opposition to Bakhtiar and millions of them did just that. On February 9 those demonstrations began to turn violent, and Bakhtiar found out that the Iranian army either supported Khomeini or at least wasn’t willing to fight its countrymen to defend Bakhtiar’s legitimacy. February 11 marks the day when Iran’s Supreme Military Council formally told Bakhtiar, “You’re on your own here, pal,” at which point he sensibly got the hell out of Dodge Iran and Khomeini was left indisputably in control of the country. It’s the end of the “10 Days of Dawn (fajr),” the period between Khomeini’s return and his assumption of power, and is also known as “The Day of God” or yawm Allah.

Iran wouldn’t formally become the Islamic Republic of Iran until it did so by referendum on April 1, or Farvardin 12, which is commemorated every year as “Islamic Republic Day.” Bazargan was out of a job and out of sorts, as he was really opposed to the Islamicization of the Revolution despite his relationship with Khomeini. He served in the Majles (parliament) until 1984 and died in 1995. His predecessor, Bakhtiar, made it all the way to Paris, where he founded NAMIR, the National Resistance Movement of Iran, which still exists. Bakhtiar was assassinated by Iranian agents in his home outside Paris in 1991.

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