The fall of the shah.

In this paper I will give an overview of the major events and social phenomena that took place from W.W.II up until the fall of the Iranian monarchy in the late 1970's. To do this I will have to supply some historical, cultural and religious background. This paper will be presented as I would present it to an intro class studying this subject.

Iran is an area in what we culturally call the middle east. People from this area however don't identify wholly with the middle east (it was just a military term used by English speaking countries during W.W.II). The Iranians (as a whole) don't see themselves as Arabs nor Palestinians, they don't tend to claim identification with much of the middle eastern world. Most Iranians I know see themselves as Iranians, Iranian Aryans as a matter of fact (I will come to this interesting tid bit a little later). Much of Azerbaijan (used to be Iran), I must point out, does identify more with Turkey then current day Iran.

The area is best described as semi-arid , mountainous land, historically occupied by







nomadic pasturalists. Iran's main exports for many years (prior to oil) Included carpets, sheep , skins, nuts and fruits, plus from an anthropological perspective it is an area filled with relics dating back to early civilization - hot spot for diggers.

The people are proud. They are proud of their "high culture", proud they had running water and bathes before the Europeans, they are proud of their common history and their triumphs in literature, art, engineering and battle.

Iranians tend to see themselves as generous, polite, and loyal (they will tell you so themselves). Some important aspects of their cultural lives include: Honor, dignity, reputation, "boost American first impression and networking times ten and that's the Arab culture" (Holt,99) plus a deep love for family and family values. Nepotism runes rampant. Women have few rights ,though they have much better lives and opportunities then those in places like Afghanistan, and spend most of their time and efforts within the home and inner social settings, where as men put their energy into the work place and the outer circles of society. The first born male tends to receive the most attention and enjoys the most freedoms. While the young girls are trained to care for their brothers and perform many social tasks by the time they are three. ("Generally women are diss empowered in Islam however, try to find some place where women aren't diss empowered." (Holt,99))

Languages that are commonly known in this area include Pharsy, Arabic, French, Turkish and English.

A few years ago 70 - 80 % of the populous were villagers. Today less than 50% of people live in village areas - the people are all moving into the cities.

The centers of towns built prior to the last few hundred years tend to have some similar characteristics. In the center lies a mosque sometimes connected to or next to the citadel, which is surrounded by the market and bazaars. In the same area there will tend to be the major post offices, other major buildings, roads and at the out skirts , the starts of homes. Encompassing the entire complex will be a city wall. The religious groups in the cities are broken into quarters. The Jews live in one area and the Christians in another, at Christmas time there is only one section of town that tends to have decorations, and if you want to purchase pork products... that's the place to go.

The Islamic faith has the strongest hold on the populous. Islam is an ancient tradition that stretches back thousands of years, purportedly to the original patriarch Abraham (the same patriarch held by the Jews). The Koran is taught in the schools and promoted by the government. People who are "followers of the book" i.e. Jews and Christians, are accepted in society. That is, as long as they accept Muslim sovereignty. If on the other hand a Muslim converts from the Islamic faith, he is punishable by death. "Anyone can kill you. They think that if they kill you , you still get to go to heaven. You'll never make it to the courts" (Pezeshki,99). Shia Islam dominates the area of Iran with a scattering of Suni. "You wouldn't believe how much hate there is between these two groups and how similar they are. Its like the Protestants and the Catholics. Killing each other." (Pezeshki,99) The major break off between these two groups is the decision of who became the leader of the faith after the death of their prophet Mohammed.

All Shia Muslims believe there are seven pillars of faith, which detail the acts necessary to demonstrate and reinforce faith. The first five of these pillars are shared with Sunni Muslims. They are shahada, or the confession of faith; namaz, or ritualized prayer; zakat, or almsgiving; sawm, fasting and contemplation during daylight hours during the lunar month of Ramazan; and hajj, or pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina once in a lifetime if financially feasible. The other two pillars, which are not shared with Sunnis, are first jihad-- or crusade to protect Islamic lands, beliefs, and institutions, and second the requirement to do good works and to avoid all evil thoughts, words, and deeds. (

1921 and the era of the Raza shah.

"Reza Shah was far from a philosopher king, and undeniably a flawed individual. But he was unquestionably the father of modern Iran and the architect of the countries twentieth - century history." (Ghani, 407)

Mohammed Raza , a Iranian general, claimed the position of shah in 1921 soon after the Bolsheviks took over Russia in 1918. Raza Shah called himself the "King of Kings" and held reign over Iran for many years. In a few modernization attempts he banned the chador for women and the ceremonial head dress for men. "Most of the effluent and educated classes loved this, the poor hated it , especially the men because they lost power. The women were wearing these terrible things in sometimes 135 degree weather" (Pezeshki,99). One of Reza Shahs first priorities was to strengthen the authority of the central government by creating a disciplined standing army and restraining the autonomy of the tribal chiefs. He embarked upon a series of modernizing and secular reforms, some of which were designed specifically to break the power of the clergy over Iran's educational and judicial systems. He provided public education, built Iran's first modern university, opened the schools to women and brought them into the work force. He initiated Iran's first industrialization program and dramatically improved Iran's infrastructure by building numerous roads, bridges, state-owned factories and Iran's first Trans. - national railway. 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.) Raza Shah also changed the alphabet to an English letter system (Turkish words with English letters)

In W.W.II Raza Shah was sympathetic with Germany in the war and Hitler claimed Iranians (and Argentineans) as members of the Aryan race. A claim that many Iranians still hold on to, to this day. This alliance with the axis powers upset America, England and Russia all of whom held many ties both within the countries and with trade relations. until this point a great deal of weapons came into Iran from the west. In Iran's choice for an ally, Iran lost a great deal of its experts in many fields who went back to their own countries and stopped supplying. As the war raged on the allied powers wanted the Trans. - Iranian railway to help defend Russia against the Germans and supply the soviets with wartime materials. Britain and Russia simultaneously invaded Iran August 26 1941 and seised power over the country. With this came the fall of Raza Shah "and his exile to an island in the Persian gulf" (Pezeshki,99). ("He died in South Africa in exile") ( The allied powers placed his son Mohammed Reza in power after his abdication.

Now we have set the historical stage for a discussion of the shah and the historical revolution.

1941 and the era of the Mohammed Raza Shah

Mohammed Raza Shah son of the previous shah born 1919 - died 1980. Was Shah of Iran from 1941-1979 (excluding a short period in 1953)

Raza Shah the first saw himself as an Aryan and was a believer in much of the doctrine of the nazi party and Hitler. He had always tried to instill "German nationalism" in his son, However Mohammed Raza was pulled towards the ways of Britain and then later towards the US. Mohammed Raza was "US Educated at a school in ....Texas. He was also trained as a US F14 pilot" said Kambiz Pezeshki, a native Iranian from Tabric. "Raza Shah II wanted to make Iran like the west, most of his laws were US Laws." Kambiz went on to say "He was going to make Iran like Paris. Like the west."

The soviet union occupied, and held most of the power within Iran until 1946 until under great American pressure, and the Truman doctrine, the soviet union chose to pull out of Iran's northwestern province. (This was the first and only time that Stalin gave back a W.W.II occupied territory.)

It took many years for the shah to consolidate his power. He was most notably threatened by Mossadeq, a prime minister and leading figure in the mujiah's (clerics) faction. It is also important to understand that in modern Iran, the Shahs power, power to reform and revenue are directly related to the oil industry and world oil prices.

From 1949 onward there was growing sentiment throughout the country to nationalize the oil industries. At this same time a man who was to become the shahs chief rival Mossadeq rose in popularity and power. As prime minister and with support of the Mujiah's, Mossadeq was able to bring about nationalization of the Iranian oil industry and oil reserves.

This action greatly angered Britain , whose interests were directly affected, and to a lesser degree other western powers. As a reaction British engineers left, and the oil facilities started to shut down. People lost jobs , and money stopped coming in. Without the British know how, no one knew how to run the oil fields. This caused a slight recession

Despite or perhaps because of these changes Mossadeq's power and popularity continued to grow, especially among the Mujiah's. In 1952 the legislative branch of the Mujiah's granted Mossadeq full power over the government, excluding power over the military which was retained by the shah. The Shah was threatened now as never before.

Mossadeq had gained incredible popular favor within Iran , but portrayed as a rabid nationalist, rightist, communist by American and British press. To remove Mossadeq from power the shah, with the substantial aid of outside intelligence agencies, money, and influence, Primarily / overwhelmingly orchestrated by the US CIA lead by Kirt Roosevelt, undertook "Project Ajax". On August 13th 1953 the shah appointed Zahedi as the new prime Minister, replacing Mossadeq and operation Ajax went into full effect. Mossadeq resisted but, after several days of heavy conflict Kirt Roosevelt won and the Shah resumed his position on August 19th. Mossadeq was put under house arrest in his home village, where he eventually died. Kirt Roosevelt later went on to write a book on how he overthrew a government.

The shah rules for the next twenty six years. I have found little information on his personality or his feelings. I can only read into the events that are recorded. I would freely state however, that whoever he was, he was not a paragon of virtue. He had all the evil downfalls that seem to be the prime tool box for most dictators, despots and monarchs. From what I've read He seemed to rule with a vision, a vision of how he wanted Iran to become. Sadly, even though he had strong vision, he only had to a lesser degree, the know how by which to arrive at his destination.

The shah seemed to be often controlled by events , rather than controlling them. whether events of his own creation (by pursuing foreign policies and internal reforms beyond the economic capabilities of the country) Or the activities of his opponents who were numerous and often only united by their opposition against him.

With all of his faults the shah still appeals a great deal to my western perspective. First the shah himself liked western ways and Second I can certainly see him as the lesser of two evils.

Post Mossadeq era

1955 -At this point the shah had consolidated his power which allowed him to start making some social reforms. One early change was the signing "Baghdad Pact" within which Iran joined in alliance with other nations.

In 1961 John F. Kennedy was elected the president of the United States of America. Kennedy had a plan to prevent the Soviet Union from acquiring more communist surrogate countries, He felt that is he gave countries foreign aid and intelligence they would be happy, and happy people (Kennedy felt) don't become communist.

The Shah for many years had held an interest in having social reform (as did his father) and becoming more western but, had been in an economic recession for the last two years (it lasted from 59-63). In '61 Kennedy gave the shah the incentive he needed. ""You want the latest American toys? You have to have some structured westernization and no communism". "The Iranian Nationalists at this point were saying: Why is Iran so stagnant, why aren't we moving along like everyone else?"" (Holt,99)

In 1963 the Shah went forward into heavy land reform. "I don't want a red revolution" said the shah, "I want a white revolution." And so the white revolution began, with women's suffrage, land reforms, rural health programs, National resources are nationalized including a number of national forests. Large numbers of nationalized industries are created and then sold off to capitalist organizations for profit sharing.

His reforms did not develop as planned due to "poor execution." In a series of public speeches, Ayatollah Khomeini attacked the shahs reforms. The Ayatollah Khomeini was a member of the cleric class and an Imam. An Imam is basically a cleric who had reached the highest level and has memorized the Koran. Due to the deep routed beliefs of the people, an imams words were taken very heavily. Khomeini was arrested and exiled. (He spent the next few years in Iraq).

At this time the shah started to go through a viscous cycle that he would follow until the end.

1) Initiates social change with development plans

2) There is social unrest. People don't like change, it scares them and they feel that they are loosing their culture.

3) The shah puts a muzzle on the press and takes away the freedoms of all the mass media press.

4) Raza Shah strengthens the Savac

5) this creates an era when the opponents of the shah gain power. People no longer trust the formal media so they start reading and trusting the informal presses. The information passed down to them from the clerics becomes truth.

6) The shah backs down on reforms/ changes the prime minister or members of the court . Then makes every effort to placate the oppressors (and or the west).

7. Initiates social change with development plans (and starts all over again.)

" To have been able to deal with the revolutionary movement the shah would have had to be creative and consistent. Tocqueville was on the mark when he wrote, "The most perilous moment for a bad government is when it seeks to mend it's ways..." (Milani, 224)

Nationalization of oil had contributed to a rise in the price of oil from about 8 dollars to around 11 dollars per barrel. This brought a great deal of money into the country. Then after the founding of OPEC the price is almost immediately raised to 20 + dollars a barrel This turned a good business into a gold mine. Due to this (and some say to the shahs reforms) there was a great deal of economic growth that took place between 1964 and 1973.

Iran set up an oil embargo against all supporters of Israel. New wealth accelerated the Shah's timetable to make Iran "catch up" with the West. The Shah's determination to modernize Iran virtually overnight and at any cost led to cultural shock, alienation of the masses, inflation, corruption, economic bottlenecks, massive urbanization, rising expectations and increasing authoritarianism in dealing with these social, economic and political problems

Richard Nixon comes into the white house in 1969. Nixons sees the shah as forward moving and a good locational ally, so with a few exchanges of intelligence and the ability to puy soviet tracking stations in Iran, the shah is granted the ability to buy any military technology from the US that he wants. The Shah sees this as an opportunity to be a statesman, a protector of nations and the leading military power in his area. Billions of American dollars (out of the Iranian national funds) are spent on American military equipment over the next few years.


The following include some of the events that added to the coming of the end.

For many years the shah had given great sums of money to the clerics. With money he had also given land for the clerics to rent out to peasants and hire cheep laborers (religious endowment estates). Between 1962-66 The shah passes a mandate and divides up many of these large estates into smaller farms, that were given to 4 million farming families. This reform was met by fierce protests from the religious leaders

Out of Iraq and with the support of other Imams and Clerics, the Ayatollah Khomeini continues to effect the public through smuggling pamphlets into the country. Pamphlets that are seen by the peasant class as having much more validity then the national press.

Due to the high economic growth the shah held extravagant parties and celebrations. At many of these events the shah would have food flown in fresh from France. The feasting would go on for extended periods of time. Most of those invited were high military leaders and diplomats from other countries, The Iranian population tended to see these parties as wasteful and abusive. One such celebration was created to commemorate the Shahs choice to change from the Islamic calendar to the Zoroastrian calendar. Many Iranians saw this as a step back. For the Iranians had won a battle in their history and changed from the Zoroastrian to the Islamic. (Soon after this, The shah changed the calendar again - to the calendar of Cyrus the Great.)

"High officials in the military, at this point, saw the Shah as their supreme leader. They owe their allegiance and their lives - not to the nation, but to the shah himself..." (Holt,99)

The shah closes down much of the bazaar's and merchant classes, fining them for profiteering. This angers the merchants and the middle classes.

There is no strong government mandate for education for many years. Most people attended no school. Some of the upper classes made it through high school. Around this time the shah puts a "educational service" in place, where a high school graduate can choose to teach first through sixth grade to the peasants instead of entering into the mandatory military service. Even so the highest education level of the masses is a grade school diploma. Most can not read nor write and their main education and world view is developed by the clerics and the national religion.

The Shah saw the disturbances created by the Ayatollah Khomeini and had the Savac tell the leader of Iraq to get rid of him. "Instead of killing him while he had a chance Sadam just sent Khomeini to exile in France" (Holt,99) In France the Ayatollah had access to the national press, to telephone and the mail system, to tape recorders and money from others in exile. Khomeini started creating audio tapes with religious messages wishing for an Islamic state. The tapes told of how any true Muslim would want an Islamic state, one run under the rules laid down by god and his prophets. The tapes went on to say that the Shah was not a Muslim and continually broke codes of the Muslim faith - "including the drinking of alcohol" (Pezeshki,99). Messages spanned from statements yelling about how the country was run by the shahs family and how they were stealing from the people, down to promises that if Khomeini was in charge "every person would receive 1 million US Dollars, and that was a lot - especially to most people who don't even have one million cents" (Pezeshki,99). These tapes were smuggled in small numbers into Iran then duplicated in mass by the Mujiah's and distributed into the populous

The rifts between the shah and the Mujiah's had grown for many years. The rift between the followers of the shah and the supporters of Khomeini had been ripping the nation at the seams.

In 1976 the country falls into a great economic recession. Partly due to the Shahs overspending on US military equipment and social reforms. In 1977 while still in a recession US president pushes the Shah to make changes in Human rights, including and especially in public schools.

As peoples rights go up and they feel more tastes of freedoms, they found themselves in a better position to revolt. The tapes from Khomeini and the clergy in the towns and villages urged for revolution. "1 million peasants were standing in the streets, that's close to two percent of the whole nation. Standing there barefoot in the streets, uneducated, doing what they were told, in 0 degree weather" (Pezeshki,99) The Shah's opponents, of all political affiliations, united behind the Ayatollah Khomeini.

In a final attempt to placate the opposition, Raza Shah appointed Bakhitar as prime minister. Bakhitar's position was approved by the two houses of the Mujiah's on January third 1979 .Bakhitar was previously a national front leader - who agreed to form a new Iranian government on the condition that the shah leave the country. The shah agreed and announced that he was going abroad on a short holiday. Raza shah left the country on Jan. 16, 1979. (Raza Shah died in Egypt from cancer a year later)

Bakhitar immediately took many measures to win the support of Khomeini and opposition groups. Bakhitar had no successes. Bakhitars attempt to prevent The Khomeini's eminent return to Iran even included the closing of the airport he was going to land in on Jan 26 1979. This only slowed Khomeini down, it wasn't enough to stop him.

Khomeini was committed to the establishment of a new political order, dominated by Islamic law. Khomeini went on to declare Bakhitars government illegal and when Khomeini arrived in Teheran from Paris an February first 1979 he announced he would " Smash the mouth of the Bakhitar government."

Within the next few days Khomani sets up a command base (in a girls school), and coordinated with his followers. It is interesting to note that the US, through the US Ambassador William Sullivan, encouraged secret meetings between a number of military commanders and Khomani's representatives. The US Believed that the Bakhitar government was lost and wanted to see stability in Iran. They also believed that this stability could only be achieved if "a deal" between the armed forces and the Khomani camp could be made.

President Carter hoped that he would be able to deal with Khomani and that Iranian armed forces would be left substantially intact.

On February 9th Air force Technicians at an air base outside of Teheran mutinied. Imperial guards failed to put down the mutiny. The next day the weapons from the air base were distributed to waiting crowds. Over the next 24 hours, revolutionaries seized police barracks, prisons and buildings. On February eleventh, twenty two senior military commanders announced the armed forces would observe neutrality in the confrontation.

By February 12th Bakhitar was in hiding and the Iranian monarchy had collapsed. After 2,500 years of monarchy, Iran's government was changed to a theocratic republic, The Islamic Republic of Iran


"Modern Iran Government: Islamic Republic under Constitution of 1979, with Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini as faqih for life and ultimate decision maker. Executive branch included elected president, responsible for selecting prime minister and cabinet, which must be approved by parliament, or Majlis (see Glossary), elected legislative assembly. Judiciary independent of both executive and Majlis. Council of Guardians, consisting of six religious scholars appointed by faqih and six Muslim lawyers approved by Majlis, ensured conformity of legislation with Islamic law." (


Ghani, Cyrus. Iran and the Rise of Raza Shah. Pub. I.B. Tauris 1998

Holt, Dr. Ron. lecture Middle East Area Studies Weber State University fall 1999

Milani, Mohsen M.. The Makeing of Iran's Islamic Revolution. Pub. Westview press 1988

Parsa, Misagh. Social Origins of the Iranian Revolution. Pub. Rutgers University Press 1989

Pezeshki, Kambiz Interview. He was raised in Iran, His father was a Tax Collector for the Shah.



Fall 1999

Paul W. Draper