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Pahlavi Dynasty 1925 - 1979

1925 - 1941
The new era in Iran's history opened in the 1920s with the coming to power of Reza Khan, a towering figure whose unique personality and unique career left a deep imprint upon the life of his nation. After centuries of misrule by its former rulers and the ravages of the war waged by foreign belligerents on its soil from 1914 to 1919, Iran in 1921 was prostrate, ruined, and on the verge of disintegration. The last of the shahs of the Qajar dynasty, Ahmad Shah, was young and incompetent, and the Cabinet was weak and corrupt. Patriotic and nationalist elements had long been outraged at the domination of Iran by foreign powers, especially Great Britain and Russia, both of which had strong commercial and strategic interest in the country. This situation led Reza Khan to decide on an attempt at putting an end to the chaos by taking over power and forming a strong government, bolstered by an effective and disciplined military force. He contacted some young, progressive elements and on Feb. 21, 1921, occupied Tehran at the head of 1,200 men. A young journalist, Sayyid Zia od-Din Tabataba'i, became prime minister, while Reza Khan took command of all the military forces and was appointed minister of war a few weeks after.
The sovereign, Ahmad Shah, was ill and undergoing a lengthy cure in Europe. In spite of the entreaties of Reza Khan and the speaker of the Majles (Iranian parliament), the Shah refused to return to Iran. Reza Khan then considered proclaiming a republic but was dissuaded by the strong opposition to the idea by the majority of the clerical leaders. In 1925 the Majles deposed the absentee monarch, and a constituent assembly elected Reza Khan as shah, vesting sovereignty in the new Pahlavi dynasty.
Reza Khan's rapid ascent from common soldier to King could be compared with the rise of Napoleon in France or Bernadotte in Sweden. Reza Shah's first priority was to strengthen the authority of the central government by creating a disciplined standing army and restraining the autonomy of the tribal chiefs. After his coronation in April 1926, Reza Shah continued the radical reforms he had embarked on while prime minister. He initiated Iran's first industrialization program and dramatically improved Iran's infrastructure by building numerous roads, bridges and state-owned factories. He built the Trans-Iranian Railway and started branch lines toward the principal cities (1927-38). In 1928 he put an end to the one-sided agreements and treaties with foreign powers, abolishing all special privileges. He emancipated women and required them to discard their veils (1935). He took control of the country's finances and communications, which up to then had been virtually in foreign hands. He built schools, and hospitals and opened the first university (1934). He opened the schools to women and brought them into the work force. His measures were directed at the same time toward the democratization of the country and its emancipation from foreign interference.
In 1935, he officially requested all foreign governments to no longer refer to Iran as Persia, but as Iran. The Iranian people themselves had always referred to their country as Iran.
With the outbreak of W.W. II (1941), Reza Shah, wanting to remain neutral, refused to side with the Allies. In need of the Trans-Iranian railway to supply the soviets with wartime materials, the Allies invaded and occupied Iran for the duration of the war. Reza Shah then decided to abdicate, to allow his son and heir, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to adopt a policy appropriate to the new situation, and to preserve his dynasty. He wanted to go to Canada, but the British government sent him first to Mauritius and then to Johannesburg, where he died in July 1944.

1941 - 1979
Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1919-80) was born in Tehran on October 26, 1919, the eldest son of Reza Shah. He received his schooling in Switzerland, returning home in 1935. He replaced his father on the throne on September 16, 1941, shortly before his 22nd birthday. He continued the reform policies of his father, but a contest for control of the government soon erupted between the shah and an older professional politician, the nationalistic Mohammad Mossadeg.


Mossadegh and oil nationalization

From 1949 on, sentiment for nationalization of Iran's oil industry grew. Politically conscious Iranians were aware that the British government derived more revenue from taxing the concessionaire, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC - formerly the Anglo-Persian Oil Company), than the Iranian government derived from royalties. In November 1950, the Majles committee concerned with oil matters, headed by Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, rejected a draft agreement in which the AIOC had offered the government slightly improved terms. These terms did not include the fifty-fifty profit-sharing provision that was part of other new Persian Gulf oil concessions.
Subsequent negotiations with the AIOC were unsuccessful, partly because General Ali Razmara, who became prime minister in June 1950, failed to persuade the oil company of the strength of nationalist feeling in the country and in the Majles. When the AIOC finally offered fifty-fifty profit-sharing in February 1951, sentiment for nationalization of the oil industry had become widespread. Razmara advised against nationalization on technical grounds and was assassinated in March 1951. On March 15, the Majlis voted to nationalize the oil industry. In April the Shah yielded to Majles pressure and demonstrations in the streets by naming Mossadeq prime minister.
Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh

Oil production came to a virtual standstill as British technicians left the country, and Britain imposed a worldwide embargo on the purchase of Iranian oil. In September 1951, Britain froze Iran's sterling assets and banned export of goods to Iran. It challenged the legality of the oil nationalization and took its case against Iran to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The court found in Iran's favor, but the dispute between Iran and the AIOC remained unsettled.

Mossadeq had come to office on the strength of support from the National Front and other parties in the Majles and as a result of his great popularity. His popularity, growing power, and intransigence on the oil issue were creating friction between the prime minister and the Shah. In the summer of 1952, the Shah refused the prime minister's demand for the power to appoint the minister of war (and, by implication, to control the armed forces). Mossadegh resigned, three days of pro-Mossadegh rioting followed, and the Shah was forced to reappoint Mossadegh to head the government.

The administration of President Truman initially had been sympathetic to Iran's nationalist aspirations. Under the administration of President Eisenhower, however, the United States came to accept the view of the British government that no reasonable compromise with Mossadegh was possible and that, by working with the Tudeh Party, Mossadegh was making probable a communist-inspired takeover. Mossadegh's intransigence and inclination to accept Tudeh support, the Cold War atmosphere, and the fear of Soviet influence in Iran also shaped United States thinking. In June 1953, the Eisenhower administration approved a British proposal for a joint Anglo-American operation, code-named Operation Ajax, to overthrow Mossadeq. Kermit Roosevelt of the CIA traveled secretly to Iran to coordinate plans with the Shah and the Iranian military, which was led by General Fazlollah Zahedi.

In accord with the plan, on August 13 the shah appointed Zahedi prime minister to replace Mossadegh. Mossadegh refused to step down and arrested the Shah's emissary. This triggered the second stage of Operation Ajax, which called for a military coup. The plan initially seemed to have failed, the Shah fled the country, and Zahedi went into hiding. After four days of rioting, however, the tide turned. On August 19, pro-shah army units and street crowds defeated Mossadegh's forces. The Shah returned to the country. Mossadegh was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for trying to overthrow the monarchy, but he was subsequently allowed to remain under house arrest in his village outside Tehran until his death in 1967. His minister of foreign affairs, Hoseyn Fatemi, was sentenced to death and executed. Hundreds of National Front leaders, Tudeh Party officers, and political activists were arrested; several Tudeh army officers were also sentenced to death.


The post-Mossadegh era and the Shah's white revolution

The Iranian government restored diplomatic relations with Britain in December 1953, and a new oil agreement was concluded in the following year. The Shah, fearing both Soviet influence and internal opposition, sought to bolster his regime by edging closer to Britain and the United States. In the Cold War atmosphere, relations with the Soviet Union were correct but not cordial. Internally, a period of political repression followed the overthrow of Mossadegh, as the shah concentrated power in his own hands. He banned or suppressed the Tudeh, the National Front, and other parties, muzzled the press, and strengthened the secret police, SAVAK. The Shah appointed Hosain Ala to replace Zahedi as prime minister in April 1955 and thereafter named a succession of prime ministers who were willing to do his bidding.

When martial law, which had been instituted in August 1953 after the coup, ended in 1957, the Shah ordered two of his senior officials to form a majority party and a loyal opposition as the basis for a two-party system. These became known as the Melliyun and the Mardom parties. These officially sanctioned parties did not satisfy demands for wider political representation, however. During Majles elections in 1960, contested primarily by the Melliyun and the Mardom parties, charges of widespread fraud could not be suppressed, and the Shah was forced to cancel the elections. Jafar Sharif-Emami, a staunch loyalist, became prime minister. After renewed and more strictly controlled elections, the Majles convened in February 1961. But as economic conditions worsened and political unrest grew, the Sharif-Emami government fell in May 1961.

The Shah named Ali Amini, a wealthy landlord and senior civil servant, as prime minister. Amini was known as an advocate of reform. He received a mandate from the Shah to dissolve parliament and rule for six months by cabinet decree. Amini loosened controls on the press, permitted the National Front and other political parties to resume activity, and ordered the arrest of a number of former senior officials on charges of corruption.

The Amini government, however, was beset by numerous problems. In addition, the prime minister acted in an independent manner, and the Shah and senior military and civilian officials close to the court resented this challenge to royal authority. Amini was unable to meet a large budget deficit; the Shah refused to cut the military budget, and the United States, which had previously supported Amini, refused further aid. As a result, Amini resigned in July 1962.

He was replaced by Asadollah Alam, one of Shah's close confidants. Building on the credit earned in the countryside and in urban areas by the land distribution program, the Shah in January 1963 submitted six measures to a national referendum. In addition to land reform, these measures included profit-sharing for industrial workers in private sector enterprises, nationalization of forests and pastureland, sale of government factories to finance land reform, amendment of the electoral law to give more representation on supervisory councils to workers and farmers, and establishment of a Literacy Corps to allow young men to satisfy their military service requirement by working as village literacy teachers. The Shah described the package as his White Revolution, and when the referendum votes were counted, the government announced a 99% majority in favor of the program. In addition to these other reforms, the Shah announced in February that he was extending the right to vote to women.


Mansour's government

In March 1964, Alam resigned and the Shah appointed Hassan Ali Mansour prime minister. In carrying out economic and administrative reforms, Mansour created four new ministries and transferred the authority for drawing up the budget from the Ministry of Finance to the newly created Budget Bureau. The bureau was attached to the Plan Organization and was responsible directly to the prime minister. In subsequent years it introduced greater rationality in planning and budgeting. Mansour appointed younger technocrats to senior civil service posts, a policy continued by his successor. He also created the Health Corps, modeled after the Literacy Corps, to provide primary health care to rural areas.

In the Majles the government enjoyed a comfortable majority, and the nominal opposition, the Mardom Party, generally voted with the government party. An exception, however, was the general response to the Status of Forces bill, a measure forced upon Iran by the American government and which granted diplomatic immunity to United States military personnel serving in Iran, as well as to their staffs and families. In effect, the bill would allow these U.S. personnel to be tried by the United States rather than Iranian courts for crimes committed on Iranian soil. For all Iranians, the bill vividly recalled the humiliating capitulatory concessions extracted from our country by the imperial powers in the nineteenth century and which had been abolished by Reza Shah. Feeling against the bill was sufficiently strong that sixty-five deputies absented themselves from the legislature, and sixty-one opposed the bill when it was put to a vote in October 1964. It would have later on have dire consequences for the United States as well as for Monarchy.

The measure also aroused strong feeling outside the Majles. Khomeyni, who had been released from house arrest in April 1964, denounced the measure in a public sermon before a huge congregation in Qom. He was arrested again in November, within days of the sermon, and sent into exile in Turkey.


The government of Amir Abbas Hoveyda

With this cash influx, the Shah was able to maintain political stability despite the assassination of his prime minister and an attempt on his own life. On January 21, 1965, Mansour was assassinated by members of a radical Islamic group. Evidence made available after the Islamic Revolution revealed that the group had affiliations with clerics close to Khomeyni. A military tribunal sentenced six of those charged to death and the others to long prison terms. In April there was also an attempt on the Shah's life, organized by a group of Iranian graduates of British universities.
Amir Abbas Hoveyda
To replace Mansour as prime minister, the Shah appointed Amir Abbas Hoveyda, a skillful former diplomat and highly competent executive of the National Iranian Oil Company. Hoveyda had helped Mansour found the Progressive Center and the Iran Novin Party and had served as his minister of finance. Hoveyda's appointment marked the beginning of more than a decade of impressive economic growth and relative political stability at home. During this period, the Shah also used Iran's enhanced economic and military strength to secure for the country a more influential role in the Persian Gulf region, and he improved relations with Iran's immediate neighbors and the Soviet Union and its allies.
Hoveyda remained in office for the next twelve years, the longest term of any of Iran's modern prime ministers. Under Hoveyda the government highly improved its administrative machinery and launched what was dubbed "the education revolution". It adopted a new civil service code and a new tax law and appointed young better qualified personnel to key posts. Hoveyda also created several additional ministries in 1967, including the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, which was intended to help meet expanded and more specialized manpower needs. In mid-1968 the government began a program that, although it did not resolve problems of overcrowding and uneven quality, increased the number of institutions of higher education substantially, brought students from provincial and lower middle-class backgrounds into the new community colleges, and created a number of institutions of high academic standing, such as Tehran's Arya Mehr Technical University.
The Shah had remarried in 1959, and the new queen, Farah Diba, had given birth to a male heir, Reza, in 1960. In 1967, because the crown prince was still very young, steps were taken to regularize the procedure for the succession. Under the constitution, if the Shah were to die before the crown prince had come of age, the Majles would meet to appoint a regent. There might be a delay in the appointment of a regent, especially if the Majles was not in session. A constituent assembly, convened in September 1967, amended the constitution, providing for the queen automatically to act as regent unless the Shah in his lifetime designated another individual. In October 1967, believing his achievements finally justified such a step, the Shah celebrated his long-postponed coronation.

To mark the occasion, the Majles conferred on the Shah the title of Arya-Mehr, or "Light of the Aryans". This glorification of the monarchy and the monarch, however, was not universally popular with the Iranians. In 1971, celebrations were held to mark what was presented as 2,500 years of uninterrupted monarchy and the twenty-fifth centennial of the founding of the Iranian empire by Cyrus the Great. The lavish ceremonies (which many compared to a Hollywood-style extravaganza), the virtual exclusion of Iranians from the celebrations in which the honored guests were foreign heads of state, and the excessive adulation of the person of the Shah in official propaganda generated much adverse domestic comment. In 1975, when the Majles, at government instigation,voted to alter the Iranian calendar so that year one of the calendar coincided with the first year of the reign of Cyrus rather than with the beginning of the Islamic era, many Iranians viewed the move first as needlessly complicating the calendar and then as an unnecessary affront to religious sensibilities. Two years later the calendar went back to the old one.

Iran, meantime, experienced a period of unprecedented and sustained economic growth. The land distribution program launched in 1962, along with steadily expanding job opportunities;greatly improved living standards, and moderate inflation between 1964 and 1973. In foreign policy, the Shah, with great ability, used the relaxation in East-West tensions to improve relations with the Soviet Union.

The Shah also began to play a larger role in Persian Gulf affairs. He supported the royalists in the Yemen Civil War (1962-70) and, beginning in 1971, assisted the sultan of Oman in putting down a rebellion. He also reached an understanding with Britain on the fate of Bahrain and three smaller islands in the Gulf that Britain had controlled since the nineteenth century but that Iran continued to claim. Britain's decision to withdraw from the Gulf by 1971 and to help organize the Trucial States into a federation of independent states (the United Arab Emirates - UAE) necessitated esolution of that situation. In 1970 the Shah agreed to give up Iran's long-standing claim to Bahrain and to abide by the desire of the majority of its inhabitants that Bahrain become an independent state. The Shah, however, continued to press his claim to three islands, Abu Musa (controlled by the shaykh of Sharjah) and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs . He secured control of Abu Musa by agreeing to pay the shaykh of Sharjah an annual subsidy, and he seized the two Tunbs by military force, immediately following Britain's withdrawal.

This incident offended perennial troublemaker Iraq which broke diplomatic relations with Iran as a result. Relations with Iraq remained strained until 1975, when Iran and Iraq signed the Algiers Agreement, under which Iraq conceded Iran's long-standing demand for equal navigation rights in the Shatt al Arab, and the Shah agreed to end support for the Kurdish rebellion in northern Iraq.

To enhance Iran's role in the Gulf, the shah also used oil revenues to expand and equip the Iranian army, air force, and navy. His desire that, in the aftermath of the British withdrawal, Iran would play the primary role in guaranteeing Gulf security coincided with President Richard M. Nixon's hopes for the region. The Nixon Doctrine, enunciated in 1969, sought to encourage United States allies to shoulder greater responsibility for regional security. Then, during his 1972 visit to Iran, Nixon took the unprecedented step of allowing the Shah to purchase any conventional weapon in the United States arsenal in the quantities believed necessary for Iran's defense. United States-Iranian military cooperation deepened when the shah allowed the United States to establish two listening posts in Iran to monitor Soviet ballistic missile launches and other military activity. The morality of this story: Do not get involved in Iranian politics and if you do, know what you are doing. Unfortunately that was not President Carter's case.

In spite of his reforms, the Shah's rule was criticized as corrupt and oppressive. Savak, his secret police, arrested and imprisoned thousands of dissidents. The most serious opposition came from Islamic fundamentalists. In December 1978, the shah finally began exploratory talks with members of the moderate opposition. Discussions with Karim Sanjabi proved unfruitful: the National Front leader was bound by his agreement with Khomeyni. At the end of December another National Front leader, Shapour Bakhtiar, agreed to form a government on condition the shah leave the country. Bakhtiar secured a vote of confidence from the two houses of the parliament on January 3, 1979, and presented his cabinet to the Shah three days later.

The Shah, announcing he was going abroad for a short holiday, left the country on January 16, 1979.


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