Whose Revolution? Re-assessing the Impact of the 1979 Iranian Revolution on Sunni Islamism

Principal Investigators:
Dr Toby Matthiesen, Dr Raphaël Lefèvre
Duration: 1 June 2020–31 May 2022
Supported by: The Henry Luce Foundation

Men in demonstrations during the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. 

On the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, much has already been written about this watershed moment of Middle Eastern politics. Scholars have explored the features of the new revolutionary Shia Islamist regime that took over, and have looked at the ways in which the new rulers in Tehran inspired and bolstered Shia Islamist groups in the region. 

Yet, to what extent and through which mechanisms has the 1979 Iranian Revolution informed the evolution of Sunni Islamism in the Arab world? While a handful of scholarly works mention the general enthusiasm which the coming to power of a revolutionary Islamist government in Tehran initially drew from Islamist movements throughout the region, much of this literature is limited or outdated, and does not consider the revolution’s deeper, more long-term and multifaceted effects, including its impact on Sunni Islamic movements. 

Building on previous work on both transnational Islamist networks, and through qualitative interviews, this project conducts an in-depth study of the Iranian Revolution’s ideological, political and social impact on a sample of four case studies deemed representative of Sunni Islamism’s regional, organisational and ideational diversity. They comprise Tunisia’s “post-Islamist” Ennahda movement, Morocco’s Muslim Brotherhood-aligned PJD party, Lebanon’s “Sunni Khomeynist” Tawheed militia and Palestine’s “Islamo-Marxists” of Islamic Jihad.

In doing so, this project aims to contribute to the existing scholarship and to the upcoming public debate about the effects of the Iranian revolution forty years later.

This project is funded by an award from the Henry Luce Foundation.

Research Team


Dr Toby Matthiesen | Principal Investigator

Toby is Visiting Fellow at the LSE Middle East Centre and Senior Research Fellow in the International Relations of the Middle East, Oxford University. 


Dr Raphaël Lefèvre | Principal Investigator

Raphaël is Visiting Fellow at the LSE Middle East Centre and Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Politics and International Relations, Oxford University. 



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