Takeover in Tehran: The Inside Story of the 1979 US Embassy Capture


256 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 0-88922-443-9
DDC 955.05'4





Reviewed by Graham Adams, Jr.

Graham Adams, Jr., is a professor of American history at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.


On November 4, 1979, Iranian students captured the U.S. Embassy in
Tehran and held the American employees hostage. Author Massoumeh Ebtekar
played an important role in this operation and because of her command of
English emerged as the students’ chief spokesperson. She now presents
her account of this turbulent event.

Iran’s students took over the embassy, Ebtekar declares, in order to
protect the recent revolution, which had overthrown the ruling family
headed by Reza Shah Pahlavi. Many Iranians who wanted an Islamic
Republic viewed the Shah as a tyrant whose drive for modernization
threatened traditional Muslim culture. When the United States offered
asylum to the monarch so that he could receive medical treatment for
cancer, the students (including Ebtekar) suspected that the Americans
were plotting to restore the Shah to his throne. They decided to retain
their prisoners until the United States extradited Pahlavi to Iran.
Ebtekar emphasizes that the hostages ate quality food, bathed regularly,
and took daily exercise. At Christmas, Christian clergymen conducted
special services and prayers in the embassy. When the Shah died, the two
nations negotiated a settlement that called for release of the prisoners
who had languished in captivity for 444 days.

What did the takeover accomplish? As the author notes, students hoped
that their actions would demonstrate how Iranians had suffered under the
Shah and would win the sympathy of the American people and their
government. Instead they only angered Americans who watched the daily
television coverage of jeering mobs outside raising their fists and
crying “Death to America.” Ebtekar proclaims that “we had
shattered the image of American superiority,” but then admits that the
world is still ruled “by a single superpower.” American–Iranian
relations only worsened and, despite the author’s claims, the affair
contributed little toward solution of the many serious economic,
political, and religious problems that still plague the country.
Ebtekar’s enthusiasms to the contrary, the student venture chiefly
provided political theatre that temporarily boosted the morale of
Iranian nationalists.


Ebtekar, Massoumeh, as told to Fred A. Reed., “Takeover in Tehran: The Inside Story of the 1979 US Embassy Capture,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/8632.