The Foreign Service Journal - October 2017

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | OCTOBER 2017 21 on outsiders for high-end items. Its manufacturers also produce and export excellent drones, some of which are reverse- engineered from captured American models. Although Iran is a mid- level power, with a gross domestic product some- what larger than Norway's and sightly smaller than Austria’s, it has a 2,500-year imperial history and perceives itself as a world power. Its self-importance may be exaggerated, but its geostrategic weight in the Persian Gulf area is not. Its population of 82 million is double that of the six Gulf Cooperation Council states combined, even including their expatriate workers. In the most recent election, the number of Iranians who voted for President Hassan Rouhani was greater than the entire citizen population of the GCC. Iran also occupies a vital piece of real estate that is one of the anchors of the new Chinese “Belt and Road Initiative,” a re-creation of the ancient Silk Road. Specifically, it dominates the northern littoral of the Persian Gulf and the strategic Strait of Hormuz. It has a well-organized and experienced military that has limited capacity to project power outside its bor- ders, but would be a formidable opponent for any would-be invader. A History of Political Upheaval One characteristic of Iran that often goes unnoticed is its rebellious citizenry. Iran has experienced at least five major political upheavals in just 100 years. In the early 20th century, the Constitu- tional Revolution imposed a written constitution on its monarch. In 1925, Reza Shah seized the throne, ousted the cor- rupt Qajar dynasty and instituted a series of fundamental reforms that attempted to emulate those of Kemal Ataturk in neighboring Turkey. And in the early 1950s, Prime Minister MohammedMos- sadegh led a popular movement to nationalize the oil industry, a move that unnervedMohammad Reza Pahlavi, the ruling son of Reza Shah, who fled the country temporarily. Although the shah was restored to the throne in 1953 with the assistance of the CIA and Britain’s MI-6, nationalization of the oil industry was sustained, and he was forced to introduce major reforms in the formof his ownWhite Revolution. In 1979, he was again overthrown by a mass popular uprising—a true revolu- tion—and replaced by a unique combination of theocratic rule and the trappings of a representative democracy. That systemwas challenged by a massive outpouring of popular anger at what was perceived to be a fraudulent election in 2009 (a century after the Five revolts in a century, all aspiring to greater civil liberty and democratic reform— though largely thwarted in each case—give Iran a remarkable record of political activism. AIEMAN (FLICKR) [CCBY2.0]/WIKIMEDIACOMMONS In Tehran, women protest gender discrimination in 2006.