Mohammad Reza Shāh
The Iranian parliament unanimously voted to nationalize the oil industry in 1951 under the leadership of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddaq of the nationalist movement. With this move, the highly profitable Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC ) was shut down, ending an era of Britain’s economic and political hegemony in this region. Mosaddaq was elected the Prime Minister of Iran just a month after that vote.
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was born on the 26th of October 1919, in Teheran. Pahlavi was Shah of Iran between 1941 and 1979. He stood out for his foreign policies supporting the West and he worked hard to build strong economic prospects in Iran. Unfortunately, the government was rife with corruption. Added to this, the wealth of the oil was not distributed equally.
The allied forces of WW2 forced the abdication of the Shah’s father, leading to Pahlavi becoming the new Shah. Working together with Dr Mohammed Mosaddeq, who later became Prime Minister, the oil industry was nationalised. Notably, the reign of the Shah also saw the celebration of 2,500 years of continuous monarchy. The first monarchy was started under Cyrus the Great, who formed the Persian Empire. The Shah started the White Revolution, which included many economic and social reforms. He intended to turn Iran into a global superpower. His endeavours were highly successful, modernising Iran, nationalising natural resources and giving women the right to vote. However, the Shi’a clergy saw their powers diminished, which created a strong opposition.
Although Muslim himself, the Shah lost support of the Shi’a clergy, who were vehemently opposed to modernisation and secularisation. He also caused controversy when recognising the state of Israel, as well as having conflicts with traditional merchants. As a consequence, clashes with Islamists started to happen. At the same time, the region saw an increase in communist activity. In 1953, the Shah had political disagreements with Prime Minister Mosaddeq, who was eventually ousted, leading to a highly autocratic rule. Some of his new rulings included a ban on the Tudeh Party and suppression of any and all political dissent. By 1978, Amnesty International released a statement that there were over 2,000 political prisoners in the country. Eventually, the unrest turned into revolution and the Shah was exiled in 1979, after a 37 year rule. Iran then became the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Shah died in exile in 1980.
Mohammed Massadegh, Iran’s Prime Minister in 1953, was overthrown by a coup orchestrated by the US government. This was under the Eisenhower Administration, who believed that this move was strategically justifiable. The political development in Iran was severely affected by this coup, not in the least because Massadegh was very popular. As a consequence, to this day, Iranian people are highly suspicious of any American involvement in their affairs.
Following this intervention, a range of highly controversial policies were put into place. For instance, the Tudeh Party was banned and any political dissent was suppressed by the SAVAK – the Iranian intelligence agency. The situation escalated and it was reported by Amnesty International that Iran had over 2,000 political prisoners by 1978. One year on, what was political unrest escalated into a full blown revolution. On the 16th of January 1979, the Shah was forced to leave the country, after he had ruled it for 37 years. Soon after, Iran became an Islamic republic.
Mohammed Reza was born in Tehran. His father, Reza Phalavi was the Shah of the Pahlavi Dynasty. His mother, Tadj ol-Molouk was Pahlavi’s second wife. Mohammed Reza was the third of eleven children. He also had a twin sister, Ashraf Pahlavi. Four children in total were born out of the marriage of Phalavi and ol-Molouk, but as they were all born before 1925, when he became Shah, none were seen as royals.
On the 21st of February 1921, Reza Shah and Seyyed Zia’eddin Tabatabaee orchestrated a coup against the then government of the Persian Qajar dynasty. On the 12th of December 1925, Reza Shah became Shah with the blessing of the National Assembly, the Iranian Majlis. His coronation took place on the 25th of April 926, when Mohammed Reza became Crown Prince.
Mohammed Reza was well educated, attending the Swiss Institut Le Rosey, where he finished his studies in 1935. It was at this time that his father requested the international community to recognize Iran, rather than Persia. When Mohammed Reza returned to Iran, he enrolled in the Tehran military academy, where he stayed until 1938.
Ousting of his father
Reza Shah was forced to abdicate the throne to his son during World War II. Iran had declared itself neutral in the conflict of the this war, but when Nazi Germany began Operation Barbarossa, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was broken through the invasion of the then Soviet Union, impacting Iran as well. In the same year, Iran was occupied by the British and the Soviets, which was when Reza Shah had to abdicate. He was replaced by the crown prince – Mohammed Reza – on the 16th of September 1941. Iran immediately became a major conduit for the British Empire. During the war, the United States provided aid to the Soviet Union, which also came through Iran. This is when the area became known as the Persian Corridor. This corridor continued to grow right until the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Iranian Monarchy.
Oil nationalization and the 1953 coup
In the beginning of the 1950s, a political crisis started to emerge in Iran. Both the British and the American intelligence agencies kept a close watch on this crisis. 1951 saw Dr. Mosaddeq come into power, and his main goals were to create a democracy, supported by a constitutional monarchy. Another of his goals was to nationalize the petroleum industry in Iran. Up to then, this industry was controlled solely by the British. Mosaddeq believed that the Americans would have no interest in the AIOC (Anglo-Iranian Oil Company) and that they would support his efforts to nationalize the industry. In fact, Hendry Grady, the American Ambassador at the time, helped construct this idea. However, the reality was that the alliance between the British and the Americans was far stronger. America also feared that the communist movement, backed by the Soviets, would seize power in Iran. As a result, the Eisenhower Administration took action to remove Mosaddeq from power. The United States saw presidential elections in 1952, but not before Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., an officer in the CIA, was invited to London to create a cooperation codenamed “Operation Ajax”, which was devised to bring down Mosaddeq.
Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. was the grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, former US President. He was high placed within the CIA and worked together with the British SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) to outline the details of Operation Ajax. The operation worked by cooperating with Shah loyalist forces in Iran. The Shah is said to have signed the orders agreeing to the dismissal of Mosadeqq and to have him replaced with General Fazlollah Zahedi. This was a choice that both the British and Americans were happy with.
The original coup described in Operation Ajax failed, which led to the Shah having to flee first to Baghdad and the Rome. He spent some time in exile in Italy, but eventually returned to Iran. This is when the second coup took place, which was successful. It is believed that the success of the second operation was due to the financial support of Morad Aryeh, a Jewish Iranian entrepreneur from the area of Kashan. Mosaddeq was arrested and given a mock trial. His sentence was three years solitary confinement in a military prison, after which he was under house arrest for the rest of his life. Zahedi was quickly installed as the new Prime Minister of Iran.
It is interesting to know that the American Embassy in Tehran had reported, even before the failed first coup, that Mosaddeq was incredibly popular and that it would be hard to depose him as he had the support of the nation. In fact, when the Prime Minister requested full control of the army, the Majlis gave it to him. The American government was supported by both Eden and Churchill to take swift action and started a committee in order to discuss the situation. Members of this committee included John Foster Dulles (Secretary of State), Allen Dulles (Director of Central Intelligence), Kermit Roosevelt, Henderson (Ambassador) and Charles Erwin Wilson (Secretary of Defense). Kermit Roosevelt was the official representative of the committee, visiting the Shah on the 13th of July 1953 and again some two weeks later on the 1st of August. He was picked up in a vehicle and driven to the palace at midnight. When approaching the palace, he covered himself with a blanket and lay down in the car, so that the guards did not see him. The Shah then joined him in the vehicle to discuss the implications of the operation. $1 million in Iranian currency was provided by the CIA. This was stored in a very large safe and was exchanged at a rate of 1500 Rial for every 15 dollars.
Naturally, the communists were none too happy and did all they could to undermine the activities of the Prime Minister. The United States had already declared that they had no confidence in him and the followers of the Prime Minister were starting to become disinterested. This lead to a reaction of the right winged part of the army, on the 16th of August 1953. It was a messy get-together of retired officers and other mobs, but they were able to get close to the palace in an attempted coup. However, they were not successful, bar being able to force the Shah into exile. Ettelaat, the largest daily newspaper in Iran as well as its publisher, Abbas Masudi, a great supporter of the Shah, provided criticism on the behavior of the Shah at that time.
Although a failed coup, the seed of doubt had been planted and the communists started to turn against Mosaddeq. Tehran suddenly saw red flags appearing and statues of Reza Shah were pulled down. Some of the more conservative clergymen, such as Kashani and Makki (both leaders of the National Front), were frightened by this behavior and felt their continued alliance to the Shah may jeopardize their own positions. However, Mosaddeq did not go quietly and he clubbed and dispersed all the Tudeh partisans on the 18th of August 1953.
The Tudeh party had to accept defeat. Zahedi is said to have then spoken to the military, declaring himself Prime Minister, according to details provided by the CIA. He also charged Mosaddeq formally with staging a coup, thereby ignoring the decree as laid out by the Shah. Ardeshir, Zahedi’s son, was the contact between Zahedi and the CIA. On the 19th of August 1953, partisans who were pro-Shah used $100,000 of CIA generated funds to march into the city center of Tehran. Coming in from the South, more and more started to join them. Members had rocks, knives and clubs and overturned Tudeh trucks, as well as attacking any activist against the Shah. Zahedi was in hiding and was being congratulated by Roosevelt as the mob came in, carrying him out into the street on their shoulders. That same evening, Ambassador Henderson pleaded that Mosaddeq should not be harmed. The $900,000 left in the Operation Ajax funds were given to Zahedi on completion of the overthrow of Mosaddeq.
Following this, the Shah once again came to power. However, his status was never to be as elite as it once was anymore, particularly now that highly educated Iranians, who had studied abroad, starting to come back into the country. The classes were irritated by this shift in power, as it left them without the ability to take part in the decision making processes.
The Iran Scout Organization always had support of the Shah. In fact, in 1956, a stamp was issued with the Shah in a Scout uniform. In 1960, the Shah took place in a state visit and was awarded the Pfadfiner Österreichs (Silberner Steinbock am rotweiß- rotten Band) award. This is the highest award that can be given by the Austrian National Scout Organization.