1979 hostage crisis: Iran’s long history of antagonism

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The storming of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 sparked tumult in the Middle East, turning Iran into an international outcast. (Supplied)
Updated 04 November 2018

1979 hostage crisis: Iran’s long history of antagonism

  • Looking back: on this day 39 years ago, Iranian students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took more than 60 Americans hostage
  • The date coincides with the same day the US set for a second set of sanctions to be reinstated on Iran after Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal

DUBAI: When a group of Iranian students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran 39 years ago this Sunday, taking more than 60 Americans hostage, it marked the start of a long and precipitous decline in relations between then two countries.
Now, almost four decades later, the anniversary of the embassy takeover coincides with a fresh round of economic sanctions to be imposed on the Islamic republic. The sanctions follow the US withdrawal from the 2015 international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, and will hit Iran’s shipping, finance and energy sectors.
In 1979, the American hostages were seized by Iranian students demanding the extradition of Iran’s ruler, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who was in the US receiving treatment for cancer (he had fled from Iran to Egypt in January). The issue escalated rapidly after the storming of the embassy. The following day Iran ended military treaties with the US and the Soviet Union, which allowed for military intervention. Then, on Nov. 6, Ayatollah Khomeini took power.
“The hostage crisis was the first time the American public acquired a negative view of Iran,” Mark Katz, professor of government and politics at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, said this week.
“Of course, many Iranians had long had a negative view of the US, stemming from the 1953 Mossadegh episode (the overthrow of Iran’s prime minister) and the subsequent US support for the shah. I well remember how Iranian students frequently demonstrated against the shah’s regime and US support for it during the 1970s.”
Matters worsened when US president Jimmy Carter sent former attorney general Ramsey Clark and Senate Intelligence Committee staff director William Miller to Iran on Nov. 7 to negotiate the release of the hostages, and Khomeini refused to meet with them. One week later, Iranian assets in US banks were frozen — the first of many restrictions on the Islamic republic.
“The hostage crisis had a profound effect on American views of Iran,” Katz said. “Before the Iranian revolution, Iran was seen as an ally; afterwards it was seen as unremittingly hostile and even irrational. This was partly because most Americans had no notion of Iranian grievances against the US.”
On Nov. 19 and 20, women and African-American hostages were freed, leaving 53 Americans captive in the embassy. Although the United Nations had passed a resolution in early December 1979 calling for Iran to release the hostages, President Carter cut diplomatic ties with Iran in April 1980, imposing more sanctions and ordering all Iranian diplomats to leave the US.
“The hostage-taking marked the moment American-Iranian relations began deteriorating,” said Riad Kahwaji, founder and CEO of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai. “But relations were not always the way they are today. When the shah was in power, relations were extremely good between both countries — Iran was more or less Washington’s main strategic ally in the region.”
Kahwaji said Iran had a status that was equivalent, if not higher, than Israel with respect to the US. “The weapons given to the shah were even more advanced than those given to Israel,” he said. “So it was a high-level strategic relationship. At that time, Iran was openly and publicly, with US knowledge and indirect support, starting its own nuclear program as well.”
The hostage-taking came as a major shock. “The revolution was a blunder on the part of American intelligence, which didn’t expect it to happen,” Kahwaji said. “So the revolution and the subsequent hostage-taking was a major setback in relations between the two countries.”
On Jan. 20, 1981, 444 days after the storming of the embassy, the US hostages were released and flown to Wiesbaden air base in Germany. The release was negotiated after the US and Iran signed an agreement to free Iranian assets.
Today, as Iran prepares to face a new set of sanctions imposed by the US, experts look back on the events of 1979 as among the most significant and far-reaching in the region.
“Iran was the number one ally to Israel in the region and it became the number one enemy,” Kahwaji said. “So, with the revolution, Iran shifted 180 degrees and all of its previous allies became its main enemies, and vice versa.”
New alliances emerged in the region. “Subsequently, with the Iran-Iraq war, we had Iran on the side of everything that opposed the US and the West, and it still is today,” he said. “The whole political landscape in the Middle East changed.”
On Friday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the new sanctions would deprive Iran of the revenues “that it uses to spread death and destruction around the world. Our ultimate aim is to compel Iran to permanently abandon its well-documented outlaw activities and behave as a normal country.”
He said the sanctions were a part of a US government effort to change the behavior of the Iranian regime.
“On Nov. 5, the US will reimpose sanctions that were lifted as part of the nuclear deal on Iran’s energy, ship-building, shipping and banking sectors,” he said.
“These sanctions hit at the core areas of Iran’s economy. They are necessary to spur changes we seek on the part of the regime and our actions today are targeted at the regime, not the people of Iran, who have suffered grievously under it.”

A Saudi accelerator removes roadblocks from the path of female entrepreneurs 

Updated 28 November 2020

A Saudi accelerator removes roadblocks from the path of female entrepreneurs 

  • Founded by Emon Shakoor, Blossom has mentored 300-plus female-focused startups and arranged three events 
  • Its programs help women develop business models, entrepreneurship, lean principles, marketing and finance

JEDDAH: From cultural or self-imposed barriers to age-old beliefs, gender-role stereotyping remains one of the biggest obstacles to women’s progress in the workplace and one of the main reasons for the lack of female representation at the executive level and in startup culture in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Despite ongoing progress in the startup scene, the region still faces some unique challenges. These include the lowest female labor force participation rate (LFPR) in the world — at 24.6 percent, it trails far behind the global average of 47.8 percent.

According to Emon Shakoor, CEO of the region’s first female-focused accelerator, Blossom, women’s participation in professional and technical jobs is not on a par with men’s. “As it is, starting a company is pretty difficult, but starting a company as a woman often had additional challenges. Gender biases and cultural beliefs added an extra layer of difficulty for women who wanted to launch their own business,” Shakoor said.

Since its launch, Blossom has mentored more than 300 female-focused startups and arranged three events. (Supplied)

In 2017, when she was just 23, Shakoor launched her own venture for a strong entrepreneurial network in Saudi Arabia. However, she found it especially hard to network with the upper echelons, which is when the idea for Blossom emerged.

“At that time in Saudi Arabia, there weren’t any startup accelerators or network platforms that offered startup advice, especially ones that catered to women,” Shakoor said. “That’s when I realized that women who launched their own business in KSA faced a different set of challenges than the average Saudi male founder.

“With Blossom, I wanted to tailor an experience that met the needs of female founders while enabling and equipping them with everything they need to know to overcome the barriers they might face along the way. This is a global phenomenon; it happens even in Silicon Valley.”


Female workplace progress

* 24.6% Female labor force participation rate in MENA.

* $36m Total funding for startups founded by women in 2019.

As noted in a recent MAGNiTT report in relation to MENA, “5.1 percent ($36 million) of total funding went to startups with only female founders in 2019, which is close to double the figure in the US. Beyond that, startups with only female founders accounted for 4.5 percent of all deals in 2019, more than twice the percentage in the US.”

While Shakoor acknowledges there have been noteworthy efforts to increase female participation in the economy, “we still have a long way to go.” The Jeddah-based accelerator gives early-stage startups the opportunity to participate in a boot camp and a demo day while also providing them with resources, knowledge, networking and access to mentors, speakers and investors.

“Startups get mentorship on everything — from business models, introduction to entrepreneurship, lean principles, hands-on implementation, marketing and finance, and a lot more,” Shakoor said.

“We believe one of our differentiation points here at Blossom is our heavily mentored programs that give access to mentors and speakers from both Silicon Valley and the region. Having that international exposure, alongside local expertise, gives our female-focused startups a 360-picture of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

The Jeddah-based accelerator gives early-stage startups the opportunity to participate in a boot camp and a demo day while also providing them with resources, knowledge, networking and access to mentors, speakers and investors. (Supplied)

Since its launch, Blossom has mentored more than 300 female-focused startups and arranged three events: Techpreneurship Sprint (a one-day business plan competition for technology startup ideas), SELLA (a technology entrepreneurship function focused on idea-sharing, inspiration and networking), and THIQAH (a female-empowerment event teaching women how to be more confident and create the company they deserve). And a fourth virtual event is underway.

“The coronavirus has motivated us to take our event online. Going virtual means reaching more startups across the globe and expanding our Blossom network worldwide. We always had the idea for the online accelerator, but the virus expedited the process for us,” Shakoor said.

Blossom continues to grow and evolve, with mentorship programs spanning the GCC and MENA, but Shakoor says she is just getting started. “I see Blossom being the accelerator and platform for female founders in MENA, the place for any woman who wants to start or grow a company to go to and ultimately scale and succeed.

“We’re also planning on starting our own fund to grow our business and network and eventually invest in multiple talents across this part of the world.”


This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.