Sunday, July 19, 2009

Monarch Profile: Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

H.I.M. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi has the unhappy distinction of being the last royal ruler of Iran, the last in an ancient line of great Persian monarchs before the rise of the current Islamic Republic. Born in 1919 he grew up in the tumultuous world of Iranian politics. In 1925 his father overthrew the last Shah of Qajar dynasty and made himself Emperor with Mohammad proclaimed as "Crown Prince of Persia" (his father would later request all nations refer to the country as Iran). He studied in Switzerland before returning home to begin his military training. Within a few years he was thrust on to the world stage when British and Soviet forces invaded Iran and deposed his father in order to secure supply lines through the country and stop Iranian trade with Germany. On September 26, 1941 Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was formally declared "King of Kings, Light of the Aryans and Supreme Warlord". His reign would be one of great social and technical progress for Iran but also one of great trouble and unrest.

Early on the Shah had growing problems with the Shiite clerics who objected to his modernization efforts and the incease in social freedoms; especially for women. An alliance began to emerge between these fundamentalists and the nationalists who opposed the Shah's friendship with the West and his recognition of the State of Israel. They also resented Western meddling in Iran which was happening. The Soviets were supporting the communists in Iran but the US and UK took a more active role in bringing down the Prime Minister who nationalized Iran's oil reserves in 1951. The PM, Mohammad Mossadegh, had believed that the West was supportive of his nationalist movement but the CIA and SIS funded a coup against him. When it failed the Shah was forced to leave the country for Rome. Later he was able to return, remove Mossadegh and restore himself. The communist elements in the country had supported Mossadegh and attempted a coup which forced the Shah to leave the country again though the effort failed and the Reds turned against the former PM. Their success in street violence frightened the Islamic leadership into switching back to the Shah's camp. The Shah also survived several assassination attempts, some of which originated in the Soviet Union.

One of the best things about the late Shah was that he was a monarchists' monarch. He supported the royalists against the republicans in the civil war in Yemen, helped the Sultan of Qaboos stop communist rebels in his country, maintained good relations with the Kingdoms of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco and the Gulf emirates while fighting the socialist and Baath party republican regimes in Iraq. However, radical elements still plotted against him because of the social progress he pushed and his continued good relations with the US and United Kingdom. During his reign education was massively expanded, healthcare was expanded, women were given the right to an education and the right to vote and the national economy improved greatly. This brought new outside trends to Iran like modern fashion, Hollywood movies and dance clubs all of which the radical clerics vehemently opposed. It had taken some time but the Shah's rule seemed secure, the regime stable and Iran was quickly becoming a modern, prosperous and well educated country. It was then quite a surprise when demonstrations flared up against the monarchy in 1977 orchestrated by the Ayatollah Khomeini.

The US government under President Jimmy Carter pressured the Shah not to take action against the radical elements, promising support but never delivering on it and indeed denying the Shah vital material assistance. By 1978 strikes were gripping the country and the Prime Minister prevailed upon the Shah to leave Iran for a short time until things stabilized. After he left his security forces were dissolved and the Ayatollah organized his own government, refused to deal with the Prime Minister and announced the Islamic Revolution. On February 11, 1979 the ancient Iranian monarchy formally came to an end and the Shah would never see his homeland again. The Shah spent the rest of his life in exile, living in various countries around the world as the revolutionary regime continued to demand his return and that of his family to face execution. His health grew worse and though he lived to see many of the governments who had failed to support him regret their previous policies he always insisted that it gave him no satisfaction. He only wished things could have been different. He died in Egypt in 1980.

3 comments:

  1. This is so much more accurate than the versions whirling around in the general media, which turn the Shah into a savage dictator hated by Iranians, using SAVAK and torture to control them.
    This is a slander drummed up by Western anti-monarchists for sure, who did not appreciate the 2,500 year old unbroken tradition of kingship in Iran.
    But also leftists or liberals fostered this picture, based on the accounts of the Soviet-sponsored groups who complained about being persecuted efficiently by the Iranian security services under the Shah. This has not changed at all under the clerical regime, either!
    So the voices creating the bad image of the Shah stem from those who were disrupting society and had close ties with the KGB and its predecessors.
    I interviewed some of these people, so I learned firsthand about those close ties.
    As for the Shah himself, he was a very good man, and truly spiritual as well, though not religious in the traditional sense.
    What's interesting is how pro-monarchical the Shia clergy have always been. They did side clearly with the Shah against the socialist, unpleasant Mossadeq.
    I spent months traveling through Iran in the 1980s, and it was revealing to find people who confided that they hadn't realized how much both the Shah and his iron-tough father, Reza Shah, had done for them. But, they explained, Iranians like to complain about anything, they tend to see the negatives at the time and emotionally erupt.
    There were not really any serious grievances against the Shah. His wife, Empress Farah, was kind and compassionate, but lacked a religious belief which perhaps caused her to go astray from what was appropraite at times. She opened exhibitions of European modern art which were justifiably seen as tasteless and foreign to Iran. There were other instances of insensitivity and being out of step with the common people of Iran. But still it was not a big deal.
    The Shah worked very hard for his country all of his life, but this was not remotely appreciated at the time.
    He failed to understand however, the tricky undependability of his political allies in Washington, even after decades of being the perfect ally for the U.S in the Middle East.
    President Carter, as was well pointed out in the account here, never lifted a finger to save him; and many think the Carter Admin and others wished to get rid of the Shah because he had stood up for the first time on behalf of Iran, instead of being the obedient servant of Washington, with very close ties to Israel.

    So the clerical regime which took over after "Shah raft" - headlines of the papers, meaning he fled Iran - was much smarter about staying far away from the US, no doubt having observed how quickly it dropped the Shah. Another reason that democracies are too fickle and not to be trusted: no Carter official made even a whisper to demonstrate backbone to defend him.
    Instead, one General Huyser was despatched, unbelievably, to order the Shah's well-trained military to stay in their barracks!

    I celebrate the Shah's birthday every year, Oct 26, and from accounts that I was given, many families in Iran today quietly do too!
    But they are a really small percentage of the population: chances are little for the monarchy to return, as Reza Pahlavi is widely felt to be uninspiring and not up to his father's standards.
    But if anyone is in Cairo, a trip to visit the Shah's tomb in a beautiful mosque there is well worthwhile.

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  2. He is certainly a much maligned figure and most of it, in the media at least, is simply due to journalistic laziness. I would defy anyone to watch the numerous interviews with the Shah and conclude that he was a tyrant. He did use what might be termed 'strong-arm' tactics at times, but as I always point out these methods were used against radical enemies who could be dealt with in no other way. We see their character in how they have run Iran to this day. Personally, I have a hard time finding any sympathy for people who wail about being denied the same rights that they deny to others and having tactics used against them that they themselves use against others. As for the Crown Prince, I guess I can agree with the majority. I consider him the legitimate heir as things stand but I would certainly like to see more determined leadership on his part.

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  3. My respects to my king. The last king of Persia. A great man I know

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