John Rogers’s dispatch from Tehran, 12 February 1979, via Reuters

John Rogers, one of News-Decoder’s correspondents, was a young reporter for Reuters in 1979 when events in Iran changed the face of that country, the Middle East and the world.

Rogers witnessed the collapse of the Shah’s royal regime, which crumbled when guerrillas and rebel troops overwhelmed troops loyal to the monarch, bringing the leader of the Islamic opposition, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to power.

The Iranian Revolution reshaped that ancient nation and the Middle East. Its shock waves continue to reverberate through geopolitics. Even today, the United States is leading a conference in Warsaw that has Iran as the main focus and which critics say will only drive Washington and Tehran — antagonists since the Revolution — farther apart.

Below are some of John Rogers’s reflections on the Revolution, 40 years on.

By John Rogers

Random reflections and questions about the momentous events in Iran four decades ago:

  • It was a genuine revolution, overthrowing an authoritarian ruler (himself established in power by a coup in 1953). It had backing from the people and the armed forces and established a new system of government, as did the French (1789) and Russian (1917) revolutions.
  • One can query whether the Shah would have been overthrown if the figurehead of the Islamic opposition, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, had not been an impressive physical presence and had not been exiled thousands of kilometres away in France before returning.
  • Heavy-handed security under the Shah fuelled the opposition movement (notably the Jaleh Square massacre in Teheran in September 1978, where soldiers shot dead some 80 protesters and wounded more than 200 people).
  • Martial law and night-time curfews in Teheran (where chants of “Allahu-Akbar,” or “God is great,” echoed through the streets the nights before Khomeini’s return) also helped fuel the opposition.
  • Many Western journalists and officials read the revolution wrong, failing to realise the powerful attraction for many Iranians of a republic based on religion. When Khomeini returned to Iran from France, many expected a liberal, social democratic government to emerge from the revolution. Wishful thinking? In the Islamic Republic, the first prime minister, Mehdi Bazargan, who would have fitted that profile, lasted only nine months. He resigned after militant students took over the U.S. Embassy, seizing 52 hostages. The anti-Western, fundamentalist colours of the new rulers had become clear.


  1. Why did Iranians rise up against the Shah?
  2. Why are Iran and the United States enemies?
  3. What are some similarities and differences between the Iranian, French and Russian revolutions?

John Rogers worked for more than 35 years as a Reuters correspondent, bureau chief or editor, with postings in India, Algeria, Thailand, Iran, Canada, Egypt and Vietnam, and stints as London-based diplomatic correspondent and senior desk editor in London and Washington. His biggest story was the 1978-79 revolution in Iran. In retirement, he taught an undergraduate course on International News at City University, London, from 2004 to 2012.

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HistoryThe Iranian Revolution remembered, 40 years on
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