1979: a pivotal year in the Arab-Muslim world

A series of dramatic events swept across the Arab and Muslim worlds in 1979

Afp December 17, 2018
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS: A series of dramatic events swept across the Arab and Muslim worlds in 1979, the aftershocks of which still reverberate today, 40 years later.

Here is an overview.

On January 16, Iran's last monarch, the pro-Western Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, flees the country after months of protests against his regime.

The spiritual leader who led the uprising from exile, Shia cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, makes a triumphant return on

February 1.
The shah's government falls 10 days later when the army turns against him. The following day, public radio announces the fall of the monarchy and "the end of 2,500 years of despotism".

An Islamic republic is proclaimed on April 1, its legislation based on Sharia law.

On May 5, Khomeini creates the elite Revolutionary Guards who will become the regime's elite army.

A drop in Iran's oil output during the revolution drives up prices, sparking an energy crisis in Western economies.

On March 26, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin sign in Washington the first ever peace treaty between the Jewish state and an Arab nation.

The accord, inked in the presence of US president Jimmy Carter, ends the state of war between the neighbours and sets the terms for Egypt to recover in 1982 its Sinai Peninsula, which Israel invaded in 1967.

But Arab countries slam the treaty as a betrayal and break off relations with Egypt.

Sadat, also criticised at home, is assassinated in October 1981.
On June 16, 80 Syrian military cadets are massacred in a hail of gunfire and grenades after being assembled at their academy in the northern city of Aleppo.

The men are from the Alawite sect of the Shia Islam minority, as is the president Hafez al-Assad, father of the current leader, Bashar al-Assad.

1971 debacle pushed Pakistan closer to Arab world, claims new book

The instigator of the attack is a training officer from the Sunni majority, angered by the regime's open favouritism towards Alawites.

The government reacts by cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood, which undertakes an armed uprising before being crushed in the central city of Hama in 1982 at a cost of between 10,000 and 40,000 lives.

On July 16, Saddam Hussein becomes Iraq's president as one of the strongmen of the Baath Party in power since a 1968 coup.

Iran's Khamenei blames Gulf Arab states for military parade attack

He goes on to rule with an iron fist, drawing Iraq into a string of conflicts, including war with Iran, until he is ousted in the US-led invasion of 2003 and executed three years later.

On November 4, students seize the US embassy in Tehran, demanding the extradition of the shah, who is receiving medical care in the United States.

Fifty-two diplomats will be held for 444 days. It leads to the rupture of relations between Washington and Tehran, still in place today.

On November 20, more than 400 fundamentalists storm the Holy Mosque, in Makkah, western Saudi Arabia, and take hostages from among the thousands of worshippers there.

Saudi forces launch an assault two weeks later in which at least 333 soldiers, rebels and civilians are killed.

It is the start of the rise of extremism in Saudi Arabia.

On December 27, Soviet troops invade Afghanistan to back its embattled communist government, leading to a nine-year occupation.

It triggers an armed resistance by Afghan militants backed by the United States and Saudi secret services.

US top general urges Gulf Arab unity to counter Iran

Wealthy Saudi national Osama bin Laden plays a key role, recruiting mostly Arab volunteers to the insurgency and going on to inspire a worldwide holy war, as the head of Al-Qaeda.


Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ


Most Read