Notable events of 1979 include the Iranian hostage crisis, the establishment of an Islamic Republic in Iran, and Saddam Hussein coming to power, events with long-reaching consequences into the 21st century. The year also marked some historic firsts, with Margaret Thatcher becoming the first female prime minister of Great Britain, Pope John Paul II becoming the first pope to visit a communist country, and Pluto entering Neptune's orbit for the first time in recorded history.
Also in 1979, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi fled Iran on January 16 and relocated temporarily to Egypt, beginning a worldwide search for a home with long-term international implications. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from exile to lead the Iranian revolution on February 1 and quickly established an Islamic Republic that officially assumed power in April.
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin signed the Camp David Accords, establishing peace between the two nations on March 26. On May 4, British voters elected the Conservatives to power, and Margaret Thatcher became the country’s first female prime minister, an office she retained for 12 years. Pope John Paul II became the first pope to visit a communist country on June 2, when he arrived in Poland. On June 18, President Jimmy Carter signed the SALT II Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, and then he authorized covert aid to fight Soviet-backed forces in Afghanistan.
Saddam Hussein became president of Iraq on July 16. On November 4, Iranian radicals seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. On December 24, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, prompting President Jimmy Carter to lead a boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games held in Moscow.